Odds OK for Hornets to beeline back to New Orleans

Updated: November 4, 2005, 3:07 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN Insider

The franchise formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets considers Oklahoma City its temporary home, with an emphasis on the word temporary.

But owner George Shinn has an option to stay in Oklahoma City for an extra season, and it's already becoming clear that the team's temporary home might be more viable than New Orleans as an NBA city.

Shinn and NBA commissioner David Stern both spoke at length Thursday to ESPN.com regarding the future of one of the league's most troubled franchises, allowing for an early handicapping of what's ahead for the Hornets.

Stern and Shinn both sounded committed to returning to New Orleans, though Shinn made the point that the ultimate decision on the team's future rests with the league's board of governors.

"It'll depend on the circumstances, and I'll have to wait and see," Shinn told ESPN.com. "But our goal is to come back. I'm working closely with David Stern on this, and if you know David Stern like I know David Stern, you don't mess with the pope."

Shinn said he wants to do his part to rebuild New Orleans, but he has questions about how much the population base might shrink. He has already paid out more than $4 million in refunds to ticket holders who wanted their money back.

Shinn also brought up the story of a friend from the New Orleans banking community who moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina and subsequently decided to make his relocation permanent.

"People in New Orleans accepted us in a positive way, and I have to return the favor. We're going to do our part to make that city come back," Shinn said.

But speaking of the viability of Oklahoma City as an NBA city, Shinn couldn't contain his enthusiasm.

"This is a unique place and a really well-kept secret. I've been extremely impressed," Shinn said. "It reminds me a lot of the early days in Charlotte."

Shinn said the team has sold the equivalent of more than 10,000 full season-ticket packages in Oklahoma City, ranking the Hornets among the league's top eight teams in that category. Last season, in New Orleans, the Hornets ranked last in the league in attendance.

Another hint that the Hornets are quickly warming to their temporary digs came when coach Byron Scott described the atmosphere at the team's home opener as resembling that of a playoff game in Sacramento, where Arco Arena is considered by many the league's foremost home court.

So what happens if Oklahoma City proves itself to be a better NBA city than New Orleans?

"It's unfair to New Orleans to even raise that issue," Stern said. "They are the New Orleans Hornets, and that's our intention. The issue can't be how well they're supported somewhere else. The issue is whether New Orleans is ready to have them back. If they are, they'll be back."

For now, it appears the Hornets have four options: Staying in Oklahoma City for just one season, staying for two seasons, playing a bifurcated home schedule splitting time between the two cities, or trying to make a permanent move to Oklahoma City.

Based upon Insider's reading of Shinn's and Stern's comments, and the overall situation as of Friday, here are the morning line odds on all four scenarios:

Option 1: Play in Oklahoma City for only one season. Odds: 15-1.

Shinn does not have to decide on his second-year option until July, but Stern would like him to make a decision by January. Given the uncertainty over how quickly reconstruction and rebuilding will take place in New Orleans, the earlier timetable enhances Oklahoma City's chances of keeping the team for a second season.

Option 2: Play in Oklahoma City for two seasons, then return permanently to New Orleans. Odds: Even.

Stern appears to be giving Shinn no wiggle room to stay in Oklahoma City for more than two years, and the commissioner does not want to leave a legacy of having failed twice in the Crescent City. (The Jazz played in New Orleans before moving to Utah in 1979.)

If Oklahoma City's support for the Hornets stays strong through two seasons, Stern might push for the city to be the home of a future expansion team.

Option 3: Play in Oklahoma City for one or two seasons, then play a bifurcated home schedule with half the games in Oklahoma and half in Louisiana. Odds: 40-1.

Shinn said he hadn't even considered the possibility, and Stern quickly dismissed it.

"We did that once. It's an unpleasant memory," Stern said, making a reference to the Kings' splitting their home schedule between Kansas City and Omaha for three seasons during the mid-1970s.

Option 4: Move to Oklahoma City permanently. Odds: 40-1.

Shinn has taken up more of Stern's time than any other owner over the past three years, and Shinn sounded as though he was in no mood to pick another fight. If, however, numerous other owners supported a permanent move of the Hornets for the greater good of the NBA, the issue could be brought to the board of governors for a vote.

"Right now, I can't make a decision," Shinn said. "Days, weeks and months need to go by, and lots of things need to fall into place. Then we'll make the best judgment call we can make."

Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.