NEW YORK – With labor strife quelled for nearly the next five years — until the league’s hard-fought collective bargaining agreement can be reopened in 2017 — the business of this week’s Board of Governors meeting might seem less pressing than the sessions that preceded this post-lockout season.
But don’t tell that to the NBA fans in Sacramento and New Orleans.
The long-term viability of both franchises was in play as the owners met in midtown Manhattan Thursday and Friday. There also was expected to be discussion of a controversial marketing initiative — selling sponsorship space on game jerseys. And then there is the nagging matter of commissioner David Stern’s exit strategy, which could trigger in a matter of months or, more likely, the next few seasons. Stern has said repeatedly that he will retire before the next CBA gets negotiated.
For now, the commissioner probably would be happy just to shed his owner/CEO role with the Hornets, an arrangement that reached its peak awkwardness in December when he stepped in to reject a trade that would have sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. Paul eventually was sent to the other L.A. team, the Clippers, amid much clamor and the goal of finding new ownership for New Orleans gained a new urgency.
The NBA has owned and operated the Hornets since December 2010. But Stern said at All-Star Weekend that two possible buyers had emerged; a winner might be announced today, Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote:
It appears the league might be ready to choose between an offer from a group headed by California swimwear manufacturer Raj Bhathal that will include former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest, and a bid from New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson.
The Board of Governors could be asked to approve the ownership transfer for the Hornets before the meeting adjourns Friday afternoon. The NBA declined to comment and the other parties couldn’t be reached for comment.
Sources close to the Bhathal group, which also included Larry Benson, Tom Benson’s youngest brother and represented in ongoing negotiations by former NBA player, coach and executive Mike Dunleavy, said Bhathal and Chouest met in New York on Monday with league officials, and possibly with Stern, while Benson reportedly also spoke with the NBA on Monday but was not in New York.
Dunleavy’s possible involvement has some wondering how that might affect the current operating tandem of general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams — Dunleavy has held both jobs at previous NBA stops. But selling the franchise — at a profit over the reported $318 million paid for it 16 months ago — is the first priority.
A transfer of ownership could be in play out West, too, where the Maloof family that owns the Sacramento Kings is being urged to sell the team and clear the way for the construction of a downtown arena in California’s state capital. A deal appeared to be in place after several meetings in Orlando over All-Star Weekend between the Maloofs, city representatives and the NBA. Now, however, Joe, Gavin and George Maloof are being accused of backing out of that handshake agreement, lacking motivation, sufficient finances or both.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star guard, was in New York Thursday on the heels of writing a no-nonsense letter to the Maloofs, critical of their balking over $3.2 million in pre-development costs and challenging them to honor the deal that existed. The Sacramento Bee reported:
Johnson … said the city isn’t budging on that deal, which was hammered out with the help of NBA Commissioner David Stern.
“Under no circumstances will the City make material adjustments to the current terms of the deal. Put simply, we have done our part,” the mayor wrote. “We are 100% committed to moving forward under the framework laid out in the term sheet.”
The mayor also said that “any representation that a deal was not reached (during All-Star weekend in Orlando, Fla.) is simply not consistent with the perspective of every other party to the negotiation nor the actual statements of the (Maloof) family.”
“In light of these facts, the ball is in your court,” the mayor wrote.
Stern’s eventual retirement and his support of deputy commissioner Adam Silver as his successor could trump the news involving both franchises, if the commissioner offers up specifics to the owners. He has held the position since 1984, the year Michael Jordan was drafted.