October 18, 2011
When the NBA took control of the New Orleans Hornets last fall, it was a last-ditch effort to keep the franchise in the city and avoid having to sell them off to a Clay Bennett in sheep's clothing. Seattle basketball fans were obviously curious why such a deal couldn't have been reached to save the Sonics, but it was still a positive for the city of New Orleans.
The trouble with this scenario is that New Orleans is a questionable market for an NBA team, especially if other owners' current cries of financial disarray are to be believed. Luckily, it appears that several potential buyers exist. From a New Orleans Times-Picayune interview with league-appointed team president Jac Sperling (via PBT):
Actually, we've started having conversations with potential owners already. The number of potential owners has grown. I think the commissioner mentioned there were four or five, and I think the number has increased a little bit. There are some potential owners who live in New Orleans and some who live outside of New Orleans. But all of them understand that they would be buying a team that would have a long-term lease here. And that's the goal — to extend the lease to a long-term arrangement with the state as part of finding a new owner.
Whoa, there are more than a handful of potential owners? Why would so many people want to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to buy into an outdated business model? They should call up their financial advisors before it's too late!
This is great news for basketball fans in New Orleans, but it also gives the lie to the NBA's claims of financial distress. Enough people are interested in the Hornets that it has to be a decent investment, even if some of their interest may be rooted in the terms of the upcoming collective bargaining agreement rather than the current one. The Hornets are a rare case -- civic pride becomes a bigger factor when relocation lurks -- but they still play by the same rules as any other team that supposedly needs massive concessions from the players to survive. Why would there be so many potential buyers if the NBA's future were so uncertain?