NEW YORK — Based on the acquisition of the Montreal Expos by Major League Baseball, there are reasons to suppose the Hornets’ state of affairs could have a happy ending . . . though not necessarily in New Orleans.
On second thought, it’s highly conceivable the franchise could go away altogether.
Should the city and state be unwilling to kick in some cash, the way they do for the Saints (that definitely appears to be the continuing case; how dare the governor prefer to fund health care, jobs and education!), there probably isn’t enough recreational spending loot to keep the Hornets afloat.
What’s more, there isn’t an available market that makes relocation sense. Seattle would be the clear-cut favorite, says a source, but the Sonics’ old home (Key Arena) still needs a major face-lift to meet NBA high-tech design or another space needs to be carved out in a hurry.
Thirdly, the 29 owners who paid George Shinn $300 million and must now subsidize the Hornets at $45 million-$50 million in perpetuity figure to be reluctant to do so beyond next season. In fact, logic dictates they’re probably leaning toward ending the funding after this one, depending on how negotiations turn out regarding a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Why advance that much cheddar to a full partner ($33 million) in the league’s national TV contract in addition to another $15 million in revenue sharing?
Will its TV partners pay the NBA any less because it doesn’t have a team in New Orleans?
Who says the NBA can’t be a 29-team league?
Don’t think for a moment profit-making owners aren’t already conspiring to bail on the Hornets and outfitting other failing franchises for dispersal drafts in order to enjoy increased success and enhanced competitive. Don’t think for a second those in the flush won’t seriously try to use it as leverage in CBA talks to eliminate 15 jobs at a shot.
When MLB bought the Expos, the presumption was it would take six months to find a buyer and a new location. Instead, it took four seasons. During that infertile period commissioner Bud Selig’s policy was strictly hands-off, except to establish a sufficient budget to run a “competitive” operation and appoint caretaker Tony Tavares — about to be installed in the same position for the NHL Dallas Stars — who was given full authority regarding trades and whatnot.
Because the Expos transferred to a top 10 city and got a completely free stadium (Nationals Park) as part of the luxuriously leveraged deal when they were finally sold in 2006 to the Lerner family of D.C. and former Hawks president Stan Kasten, the MLB recouped top dollar on its investment.
The Hornets’ situation may be akin to the Expos, but there are major differences. Stern is not looking to bail on the city and its citizens, outwardly, anyway.
Meanwhile, Shinn was still covering significant loses and in no danger of going into bankruptcy — as the MLB’s Rangers and NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. In the best interest of everyone concerned, Stern felt compelled to step in and hopes to discover a business model that will work in New Orleans.
It was the best alternative of many unappetizing options. From conversations with those in the know, it’s clear this unprecedented venture is temporary, though it could work.
Logically, nobody has more educated inside knowledge than Stern about what’s likely to happen in a stare down with the Players Association. The league might not know for sure who will crack on what issues, but it’s certainly in the best position to know.
“Don’t overlook the positive impact of a new CBA,” a former team official stresses. “Lockout or not lockout, if the league gets a good portion of what it demands, teams will be worth a great deal more afterward.”
Jac Sperling, a homegrown sports executive, was hired to serve as team chairman/governor and manage the league-imposed budget.
As with the Expos, theoretically this should defuse any impure thoughts about potential conflicts of interest and perceived favoritism.
Still, the league has a thick stake in making the Hornets as appealing as possible to prospective buyers. That might mean being forced to hold on to Chris Paul for dear life for the duration of his contract (2011-12) even if the team would improve in the long run by trading him for three rising talents to say, the Knicks.
Should Sperling want to deal within the confines of the league’s budget, Stern says it will get done. Not if it destroys the franchise’s assessed worth, I say.
OK, forget Paul, for the moment, let’s pretend the league had owned the Grizzlies when owner Michael Heisley wanted to unload Pau Gasol’s multiyear swollen contract.
What if Stern had intervened and squashed the deal to the Lakers on the grounds it would greatly shrink the value of the franchise, not to mention the team’s ability to win?
A more alarming picture, of course, would have been Stern maintaining the league’s hands-off stance.
What if his appointed caretaker had been the person to lift the Lakers to the NBA Finals (and ultimately two championships) level?
I suspect Stern would be the first to admit the NBA finds itself in an awkward situation.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.
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