Hornets president: Sale not hurting team
NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Hornets team president Hugh Weber said Tuesday that the slow pace of the club's planned ownership change has no bearing on the franchise's ability to make key changes aimed at building a winner around star guard Chris Paul.
Any perception that the Hornets are shrouded in uncertainty, Weber said, stemmed from little more than typical NBA "gamesmanship" on the part of other NBA clubs looking for an advantage in signing free agents or hiring general manager candidates that New Orleans also is pursuing.
"I'm totally aware of the gamesmanship that happens in this league," Weber said. "We do have an owner. It's the same uncertainty as a year ago or two years ago, which is no uncertainty."
Hornets minority partner Gary Chouest has had a verbal agreement to buy out majority owner George Shinn since early May, but the two have been slow to hammer out a final sale. Neither owner has spoken about the cause of the holdup. Weber has said only that the negotiations have been "complicated" and further slowed by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which has affected Chouest's Louisiana-based offshore oil supply business.
"Nobody had predicted ... that the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history was going to happen, which is a big part of the Chouest family's focus right now," Weber said.
Meanwhile, Shinn and Chouest have continued to collaborate on major decisions as they have since Chouest first bought a 25 percent share of the club in 2007, Weber asserted.
"Both are committed to making this team better. They're both involved."
Weber added that he has been in regular contact with Paul by text to update him on the team's plans.
"I feel comfortable ... that he appreciates the things we're doing," Weber said of Paul.
The club has undergone a significant shake-up since finishing with 37 wins and out of the playoffs last season. Jeff Bower, who was general manager and coach last season, briefly went back to the front office full-time and helped hire new coach Monty Williams. Bower also orchestrated a draft-day trade with Oklahoma City that brought late-first-round picks Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter to New Orleans in exchange for 11th overall pick Cole Aldrich.
Then last week, Bower stepped down in what Weber described as a mutual parting of ways.
On Tuesday, the Hornets held an event during a basketball camp at the University of New Orleans to introduce their two rookies, who recently completed play in the Las Vegas summer league.
Pondexter said he was not unsettled by seeing the general manager that drafted him and Brackins get fired right after they joined the club.
"We got two great acquisitions in this draft in myself and Craig, and one of the best young coaches in Monty Williams. So from an organizational standpoint, we're going to do well," Pondexter predicted. "Bower did a lot of great things for this organization, but at the same time, it's a business and sometimes you have to part ways to get a fresh start."
Weber said the search for a new general manager was going well and that he would be "disappointed" if the Hornets had not filled the position by Wednesday.
The Hornets have a short list of candidates to replace Bower, including San Antonio Spurs vice president of basketball operations Dell Demps. Other candidates are Denver vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman, former Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard, Washington vice president of basketball operations Tom Sheppard, former Phoenix vice president of basketball operations David Griffin and former Sacramento assistant general manager Jason Levien.
Whoever gets the job will have to act quickly in free agency, which began early this month, and Weber added the team expects to improve without taking on any significant new debt while the club's sale is pending. Weber noted that club will improve merely by having a healthy Chris Paul, who missed 37 games with three injuries last season.
"I'm not going to start with the premise that in order for us to get better we just have to go out and sign more guys and get more in debt," Weber said. "That's not the case. The case is, we have to work hard and diligently and to bring in people who can be creative."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press