The NBA’s days as an owner of the New Orleans Hornets are drawing to a close. The league reached a tentative agreement early Friday morning with New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson to buy the team for $338 million, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.
The league chose Benson, who will be purchasing the team by himself, over a group of investors including businessman Raj Bhathal and former NBA head coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy, and former minority owner Gary Chouest, who had tried unsuccessfully to buy the team from majority owner George Shinn three years ago. The Bhathal group also included Larry Benson, Tom Benson’s younger brother.
Benson would be allowed under the NFL’s rules to buy the Hornets. That sport prohibits cross ownership, the rule that prompted the Denver Nuggets’ former primary owner, Stan Kroenke, to transfer ownership of the Nuggets to his son, Josh, when Stan Kroenke obtained a majority ownership stake of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.
Because the Saints and Hornets both play in New Orleans, the NFL would have no objection to Tom Benson’s purchase of the Hornets.
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below. This week’s blogtable was yesterday, but below is a special bonus Chris-Paul-just-got-traded-to-the-Clippers edition:
Now that CP3 is going to the Clippers, does that end justify David Stern’s means; nixing the deal to the Lakers last week? Did he do his job as caretaker of the Hornets, or did he stick his nose in where it didn’t belong?
Steve Aschburner: The league and commissioner David Stern “stuck their noses” where they didn’t belong the moment they bought back the Hornets from George Shinn. From that point, though, other than flipping the keys to Price Waterhouse to run in a blind trust, there was going to be meddling in the Hornets’ affairs — the same way owners meddle in GMs’ and coaches’ business all the time.
So I wasn’t surprised — and certainly wasn’t outraged, like some overly emotional souls in the media — by what Stern did in blocking the Lakers-Rockets deal. I liked that outcome on the court better for all involved but taking back fat contracts and guys in their 30s is no way to spiff up a jalopy of a franchise for a potential buyer. The Clippers package is better for that, for selling now and winning later. (Of course, Dell Demps could have parlayed Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom into younger assets too. Just maybe not by the time New Orleans was brought to market.)
Chris Paul didn’t get harmed; he was working on an extension that ran through 2012-13 with an opt-out, so as long as he got paid, the Hornets were honoring the deal. Paul didn’t have a right to be traded to the Lakers or anywhere else. Laker fans are in a tizzy but that’s because they’re spoiled by so much going their way through the years. (They never properly thanked Minneapolis for the franchise in the first place, if you ask me.)
Stern did right by the Hornets. His move had the collateral benefit of pleasing many of the league’s owners and fans, who would have gagged on a “have” franchise adding the NBA’s best pure point guard within days of a costly labor dispute staged in part to avoid that very outcome. The Clippers don’t seem “big market” because of their history and their knack for screwing up even promising beginnings. The league got a little more interesting and, well, if Stern and the other 29 aren’t nervous about New Orleans’ long-term viability, I won’t lose sleep over it either.
Fran Blinebury: No. It all started from the uncomfortable premise that the league has ownership of an individual franchise and could act as a forthright and honest broker. That led to G.M. Dell Demps being told that he had full authority to make deals, a message that clearly wasn’t true, but was disseminated throughout the league. No one told the Lakers or the Rockets or any other club interested in trading for Chris Paul that the league office would have to sign off on the deal. If Stern was going to intervene and run the show, it should have been before the N.O.-L.A.-Houston deal was agreed upon. When Stern trampled in after the fact, it undermined the league’s credibility, gave rise to suspicion that he was reacting to anti-big-market, anti-Lakers outcry from some team owners and, most important, did real damage to the Lakers and Rockets teams.
Yes, Stern ultimately got the Hornets a much better deal from the Clippers, but after a long, ugly and silly lockout, at a cost of the league’s credibility.
Scott Howard-Cooper: He did his job as caretaker of the Hornets — but not at caretaker of the NBA. In the end, it became exactly the conflict of interest Stern should have been able to see long ago as a potential perception problem for the league. If he had stayed out of sight and the initial trade had gone through, the uproar would have been how the league-owned team delivered Chris Paul to the Lakers. It would have been a fair deal negotiated according to the rules by the personnel departments of three teams, and it still would be created problems. Putting the Veto stamp on Lakers-Hornets-Rockets created another set of problems. The image of the league should not have been at risk in the first place. New Orleans ended up with as good a return as could be expected under the circumstances, and the commissioner ended up looking bad to a lot of people.
Shaun Powell: In the end, the Hornets got a better deal than before. That’s all that counts. They didn’t get Lamar Odom, who would’ve pouted all year, or a one-dimensional Kevin Martin, or Luis Scola‘s big contract (which is a crippler to a small-market team that’s up for sale). While the basketball world knee-jerked and screamed and said the NBA blew it because the Hornets would never get anything better, New Orleans did just that. They got one of the best young guards in basketball in Eric Gordon, an up-and-comer in Al-Farouq Aminu, trade bait in Chris Kaman and Minny’s unprotected No. 1 which will be gold in next summer’s draft. All assets and all (relatively) cheap. Of course, the bigger issue is the NBA being in a caretaker role. That must change, pronto, because this is a terrible conflict of interest for the league.
The best the NBA can do for the Hornets, other than the just-completed trade, is to put the franchise incapable hands and wash its own hands of being an owner/general manager. Sell this club to anyone except the second coming of George Shinn, who is a bigger villain in this situation than David Stern could ever be.
John Schuhmann: I really don’t know. On one hand, the Hornets got a better “rebuilding” deal, (the three-way trade was a better “win now” deal), and that might help the team get sold. On the other hand, a situation where the NBA office is negotiating trades is a great opportunity for conspiracy theorists to speculate about what the commissioner’s motives are. It also seems like Dell Demps wasted a lot of time working on deals, only to find out that he doesn’t really have the authority to do so. I’m just glad it’s over.
DALLAS – Mavericks owner Mark Cuban isn’t too happy with the league-owned and funded New Orleans Hornets taking back salary and sending cash in today’s trade for Sacramento forward Carl Landry. That a franchise previously on such shaky financial ground that it needed an NBA bailout earlier this season actually increased its payroll greatly irritated Cuban.
“That’s just wrong. That’s just wrong. That’s just absolutely, positively wrong,” an incredulous Cuban said before tonight’s Dallas-Utah game. “I’ll probably go against the grain from everybody else, but that is so far wrong that it’s not even close.
“There’s so few teams in the league that can afford to do that and yet we’re allowing a team that’s owned by the league to do that?”
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
The league is taking over the Hornets. Good for the Hornets? Good for New Orleans? Good for the league?
Steve Aschburner: Good? I wouldn’t say good as in a better course of action than the traditional approach (stable ownership, billionaire boss man’s deep pockets and competitive drive). But this is good compared to the alternative: George Shinn was an embarrassment, New Orleans isn’t vibrant enough economically to support the NBA these days (if ever) and the league is better off serving as the guardian of a forlorn franchise vs. letting it flounder.
Art Garcia: As harsh as this may sound, it beats George Shinn owning the team. League ownership, at this point, provides the Hornets a measure of stability, especially on the financial end, until a new buyer is found. David Stern has long been committed to making it work in New Orleans, so considering the lack of alternatives, this is best solution right now.
Fran Blinebury: It’s good for the Hornets in that it should give them stability and it will be good for New Orleans if the league truly does have the city’s best interest at heart and is willing to be a steward for whatever length of time is necessary to find a local owner. But the cynic in me has my doubts and I believe if the remaining league owners who are financing the deal could make enough of a windfall profit by selling to someone whose intention is to relocate to one of the rings of Saturn … well, laissez les bon temps roulez right out of the Big Easy.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Bad for the Hornets. The move screams instability, with the league a transitional owner and uncertainty ahead at every turn, and the last thing that franchise needs is more instability. It’s a push for New Orleans. No buyer was at the ready who would keep the team there anyway. With attendance lagging, the Hornets may have moved even without the league stepping in.
Shaun Powell: Whenever leagues take over teams, as Major League Baseball did with the Expos, doom is in the forecast. New Orleans, which lacks Fortune 500 companies and corporate dollars, is a tough town for pro sports if you’re not the Saints, who only need to fill the Dome for eight Sundays. As Thelma said to Louise once they were surrounded by cops, something’s about to go down.
John Schuhmann: I guess we’ll find out in a few years. Obviously, something needed to be done to keep the team stable for the time being, because it clearly couldn’t survive under George Shinn’s ownership. It would be great if New Orleans could keep the team in the long run, but if the fans aren’t showing up, there may be a better home for the team somewhere else. Ask me this question again in three years.
Sekou Smith: This is dangerous territory for all involved. When a league steps in and starts working both sides, you’re asking for trouble. (Anyone hoping to land Chris Paul in a trade should go ahead and tear up those plans.) I’m sure there are a million reasons this has to be done and everyone will try and reassure us that it’s for the greater good of the Hornets, New Orleans and the NBA. Too bad it doesn’t feel that way right now.
League sources said the Hornets’ brass wasn’t in agreement with Bower’s stance, and the team hastily sent out a release the next day clarifying with a statement from owner George Shinn that they plan to continue building their team around Paul.
“This is something that we felt working with Jeff that we needed to find a different way of approaching our work, and again we felt it was a good time to get a clean start,’’ team president Hugh Weber said. “You cannot do the same things and expect a fresh result. It was a matter of our organization growing in a way our ownership would feel comfortable.
“We felt we needed to be progressive and different and look at things from a prospective. Again, we talked about this before — you can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result.’’
It appeared, however, the “mutual” parting of ways caught Bower off guard as the decision occurred while he was evaluating talent on the Hornets’ Vegas Summer League roster and finalizing a deal to re-sign free-agent backup center Aaron Gray.
Bower, who still sounded a bit stunned that his tenure with the Hornets was over, said he wasn’t aware the perceived rocky relationship with Paul.
“I had a great 15 years with the organization,’’ said Bower, who interviewed to be the New Jersey Nets’ president earlier this month before withdrawing his name from consideration. “I had a chance to work just about every role, and I learned from each one of them. I’m sure that I am going to have other opportunities.’’
We pounded on Bower pretty good when he fired Byron Scott and then wound up replacing him as the Hornets’ coach. But we never had a major problem with the work he did as GM.
Sure, the Hornets overpaid for Peja Stojakovic and traded for Emeka Okafor, but every GM has a few skeletons he’ll never get rid of. Bower seemed to be holding things together during a tough time for the Hornets … and then the free agent frenzy hit and Paul’s name kept popping up in rumors.
Again, if anyone has any answers, we’re all ears here at the hideout.