NBA planning to buy out Hornets owner

Updated: December 7, 2010, 8:55 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- NBA commissioner David Stern confirmed on Monday that the league is proceeding with its plan to buy the New Orleans Hornets from majority owner George Shinn and minority owner Gary Chouest.

Shinn has been trying since last spring to sell the team to Chouest, but those negotiations stalled.

"George Shinn has been an exceptional owner for New Orleans and Gary Chouest has been extraordinarily supportive as a minority owner," Stern said. "However, in light of the uncertain economic situation in New Orleans and Louisiana, Gary has decided not to move forward with the purchase of George's majority interest.

Paul
Paul

"In the absence of any viable purchaser seeking to own the Hornets in New Orleans, I recommended to the NBA Board of Governors that the best way to assure stability and the adequate funding of the franchise would be for the league to step in, and complete the transaction and assume control."

Stern confirmed that the league has recruited New Orleans native Jac Sperling to be the NBA's administrator of the team until it can be sold to a more permanent owner. Sperling is a sports attorney and the vice chairman of the NHL's Minnesota Wild.

The Hornets will be the first NBA team owned by the league.

Stern did not say what the NBA is paying for the club but did say the franchise "has been valued in excess of $300 million."

The NBA says the sale still must be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors, which will likely vote on the matter next week.

Shinn founded the Hornets in 1988 in Charlotte and moved them to New Orleans in 2002. After Hurricane Katrina damaged much of New Orleans, the Hornets spent two season playing in Oklahoma City from 2005-07.

Stern said he has notified Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu about the NBA's takeover, adding that the league "will continue our dialogue with them about ways to strengthen the franchise for new ownership in New Orleans."

Sperling said he's been assured the Hornets will have the necessary resources to "keep the team competitive and further the team's relationship with the fans of New Orleans."

The Hornets are 13-7 under new coach Monty Williams and new general manager Dell Demps, but after a surprising 11-1 start, they have lost six of eight games.

Hornets President Hugh Weber will remain in his current role overseeing the day-to-day operations of the team.

"Our purpose and resolve will always be to build the Hornets into a championship contender," Weber said.

This unprecedented twist in the Hornets' roller-coaster history, beyond what it means for the franchise and its fans in New Orleans, is likely to revive league-wide curiosity about the future of point guard Chris Paul.

The All-Star guard can become a free agent in the summer of 2012 and has been targeted for months by rival teams believing they could capitalize on New Orleans' unsettled ownership situation to pry him away, but the Hornets' surprising 11-1 start had just begun to hush the frenzy of speculation about their ability to keep him long-term.

Yet sources with knowledge of the arrangement's specifics told ESPN senior NBA writer Marc Stein on Sunday that Paul will not be dealt this season unless the Hornets' current management team wants to move him -- and it clearly does not. One source close to the situation added that the NBA's priority is ensuring that the Hornets remain as attractive as possible to potential buyers, which presumably means keeping Paul as the face of the franchise.

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