Blog Entry

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Posted on: May 3, 2010 2:32 am
 

Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding the Hornets franchise currently, and then sitting back and watching the Ford Center packed to the rafters with blue shirts cheering on the Thunder in the postseason, I can't help but be a little bitter.  I find myself rolling my eyes when people continuously talk about how great Oklahoma City's fans are.  I find myself trying to disprove the Thunder as a team on the rise.  Want to know why I do that?  Because I'm jealous.  I look at the Hornets and I see a franchise struggling to stay afloat amidst financial uncertainty.  I see George Shinn shopping the team to anybody who would take them, and although primary candidate Gary Chouest is a Louisiana native and has the benjamins to back up what could possibly be a lucrative situation with the Hornets, I doubt the long term prospects of a successful operation for the Hornets in New Orleans.  And it all goes back to those people in the blue shirts in Oklahoma City.  If the Hornets were playing in front of crowds like that in the New Orleans Arena, things wouldn't be as bleak as they currently are for the team.  Had the Hornets stayed in Oklahoma City, there's no doubt in my mind they wouldn't have the struggles they are currently having.

George Shinn shocked a lot of people when he briefly flirted with the idea of keeping the Hornets in Oklahoma City following the team's two year lease with the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.  It looked like a genuine public relations nightmare.  Shinn's name (what was left of it after the Charlotte debacle, anyways) was tossed in the mud and insults were thrown at him left and right.  But look at what Shinn saw in Oklahoma City.  I'm sure he won't admit it, but Shinn has to know that the Hornets relocation to New Orleans has been a mistake.  The Hornets were such a successful and popular franchise in the mid 90s, and felt a resurgence of sorts during their two years in Oklahoma City.  In OKC, Shinn found a city and community that finally embraced one of his teams again and he felt the financial benefits of doing so.  After all, this is a business, and I'm positive Shinn knew that financial situations would be better in OKC than they would be in New Orleans.

The main basis for this argument is attendance numbers.  Contrary to popular belief, the Hornets haven't been a joke of a franchise their entire existence.  They've never been great, but they've been above average a majority of the time in this league.  There's rarely been a period of prolonged uncertainty or long term mediocrity for the Hornets, which is why I don't think the Hornets get the credit they deserve as a franchise.  This isn't a difficult team to embrace, yet they've had difficulty finding the community support in New Orleans necessary for a successful franchise.  Some people will argue it's the product on the court that's keeping the fans in New Orleans from coming, some fans stating they want a winner to watch.  But they don't understand that it can't happen if they don't show up in the first place.

Since the Hornets relocation to New Orleans in 2002, they have played six full seasons in New Orleans.  Of those six seasons, four have resulted in postseason births for the Hornets.  In 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2009, the team made the playoffs with a rebuilding 2005 and injury ridden 2010 resulting in the team missing the playoffs those years.  However, the attendance didn't reflect the Hornets on court success.  In 2003, the Hornets inagular season in New Orleans, the team finished 19th out of 29 teams.  That's the best attendance number they've gotten since relocating to New Orleans.  They would finish 28th out of 29 teams in 2004, a year where the team was in the top half of the Eastern Conference for a majority of the season, and would even post up horrible numbers in the best season in franchise history, 2008, where the Hornets finished 26th out of 30 teams in attendance, and would follow up that season by finishing 19th out of 30 teams in attendance in 2009.  We'll try and refrain from dwelling on attendance numbers during the Hornets non playoff seasons (which include finishing 30th out of 30 teams in 2005 and 26th out of 30 teams this season), but I do want to shake my head at the lack of support for legitimate postseason teams in each of those years in New Orleans. 

Had it not been for Oklahoma City, it's a wonder how long that rebuilding year in 2005 would have dragged out.  After Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets to temporarily call Oklahoma Citiy home, the Hornets saw a support system that they hadn't had in almost a decade.  Fans came out in droves to support a team that wasn't even there's, and the Hornets reaped the benefits financially.  Let's not discredit the team's drafting of Chris Paul in 2005 as well, but the Hornets improvement to 38 wins in 2006 and seeing the true benefits of a home court advantage had Hornets supporters (regardless of the city they played in) secretly wishing there was a chance the team could stay in Oklahoma City.  Look back at those attendance numbers in New Orleans.  While supporting two teams that missed the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the Hornets would finish 6th and 8th, respectively, in attendance in Oklahoma City.  And those attendance numbers helped encourage some very bold moves by George Shinn. 

Following the very lucrative first season in Oklahoma City, Shinn used that money to open up his wallets and make moves that the Hornets organization hadn't made in over a decade.  We saw an aggressive George Shinn, one willing to spend money to put a winner out on the court for Oklahoma City and knowing he had the financial backing in a city in order to do so.  In that 2006 offseason, Shinn signed Bobby Jackson to a 3 year, 15 million dollar deal.  He signed David West to a 5 year, 45 million dollar contract extension.  He signed Peja Stojakovic to a five year, 64 million dollar contract.  And then he traded J.R. Smith to take on the remaining 5 years and 54 million dollars remaining for a center in Tyson Chandler who was coming off a horrid season in Chicago.  Some of you may look at those players and kind of snicker, but three of those four players were hugely crucial to the best season in franchise history in 2008.

Now I'm willing to admit that I like the team in New Orleans.  I certainly wish, though, that the crowd would show up more often.  I don't think Shinn was hesitant to spend money, but he knew that if he had to fork out money to overspend past the luxury tax for the team in New Orleans, he wouldn't get that money back in attendance numbers like he did in Oklahoma City.  Outside of the James Posey signing in the 2008 offseason, the Hornets have mainly been cost cutters as opposed to the aggressive "spending to win" team that they were in 2006 following the first season in Oklahoma City.  I know injuries to a lot of key players on the team are important to why the Hornets are where they are right now, but you can't understate the importance of a home crowd to the success of a franchise.

In 2007, Chris Paul missed 18 games.  David West missed 26 games.  Bobby Jackson missed 26 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 69 games.  The Hornets still managed to win 39 games.  Oklahoma City fans still allowed for the Hornets to finish 8th out of 30 teams in attendance.  In 2010, Chris Paul missed 37 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 21 games.  The team still managed to win 37 games.  New Orleans fans finished 25th out of 30 teams in terms of attendance numbers.

Those numbers are alarming.  I see that you can't predict injuries.  Had the team stayed in Oklahoma City, I'm sure injuries still would have affected the team.  George Shinn still would have gotten prostate cancer (the big reason why he wants to move on and sell the team) and I'm sure Shinn wouldn't have been so aggressive every offseason in Oklahoma City.  But for two years, I saw a willingness to spend.  I saw fans come out in bunches to watch the Hornets play basketball.  I saw a team that mattered.  In the three years that have followed, I've seen waned interested.  I've seen empty seats in the New Orleans arena.  I saw a division champion finish 26th in attendance in 2008.  I see a team that's not appreciated.

Say what you want about Shinn, residents of New Orleans, but don't forget that he was aggressive for teams in Charlotte and Oklahoma City.  And I think the attendance numbers for those cities are a big indiciation of why he did.  I can't help but think if the Hornets had stayed in Oklahoma City, how differently things would have turned out for the team.

Comments

Since: Oct 3, 2007
Posted on: May 6, 2010 6:53 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Ok City has a larger population....and I'm willing to bet that per capita they make more money than your typical New Orleans person...New Orleans is a football town plain and simple....



Since: Nov 17, 2006
Posted on: May 6, 2010 4:18 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Oklahoma City basically knew they weren't keeping the Hornets.  David Stern wasn't going to allow the team to abandon New Orleans (especially after he saw the money the Saints made in their first season back in New Orleans) and the city basically knew they wouldn't keep the Hornets.  However, they still embraced the team while they were there. 

While I don't disagree with your stance that you won't go to a game unless the team starts winning again, I think it's a little harsh.  As a fan, I'd be upset if my team wasn't trying to win.  I don't look at the Hornets and see a team that's not trying.  The bad contracts that they have (Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, James Posey) were all widely praised moves at the time that created a splash for the team and showed an owner willing to spend to put a winner on the court.  Those players haven't panned out.  That's not on the owner.  That's on the players.

Jeff Bower's nowhere near the greatest GM in the league, but to say he's "possibly the worst" is kind of ridiculous.  Given the Hornets financial limitations as a small market city, making absolutely no money playing in front of half empty crowds every night and having an owner not willing to pay the luxury tax because the Hornets were the only business he had, making the playoffs is a humongous accomplishment and I think a lot of credit should go to Bower and Byron Scott for getting the most out of what players they had. 

Also, you're wrong about the Thunder getting support only because they have Kevin Durant or they're an up and coming team.  Let's look at last year.  Going into last season, the Hornets were legitimate NBA title contenders going into the season, where an up and coming franchise coming off their first season in New Orleans (which had horrendous attendance figures) and the first division championship in franchise history.  Last season, Oklahoma City had the Thunder for the inagular year so they were bound to get good numbers (unless you're the Hornets, who drew only 642,000 fans their first season in New Orleans, good for 19th out of 29 teams). 

So comparing the two scenarios, attendance numbers shouldn't be that different.  But they weren't even close.  The Hornets went a dissapointing 49-33 but battled through a ton of injuries to make the playoffs and only drew 696,000 fans (19th out of 30 teams).  The Thunder won 23 games so they had reason for attendance to drop as interest would drop in a down year right?  They drew 767,000 fans (11th out of 30 teams).  That's not a huge discrepancy, but it's enough between a 49 win team and a 23 win team to let me know that attendance is a huge problem in New Orleans and the team can't necessarily eradicate this issue until they find a way to get people into the arena.

I live in San Antonio and go watch Hornets games everytime they play the Spurs (and I mean every time).  That doesn't count for the Hornets attendance numbers, I'm aware, but I have family in Louisiana and, living 10 hours away, I still see three to five Hornets games a year.  If everyone in New Orleans would just go watch the team for that kind of amount then things wouldn't be so bleak financially for the team.

That's why I say the team would be in a better situation had they stayed in Oklahoma City.



Since: Oct 3, 2007
Posted on: May 6, 2010 3:35 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Ok City didn;t know jack...no one knew IF the Hornets would stay or go....They put the full court press on to steal the Hornets...The NBA and the rest of teh civil world would not allow that to happen...so they had to settle for the Sonics instead....Pal may be have equal star=power as Durant, but the Hornets are a .500 team, the Thunder are up and coming. Shinn is a poor owner and we have maybe the worst GM in teh league in Jeff Bower...He made some real poor descisons that jammed that team up bad (peja, mo pete, etc.....)....I'm a season ticket holder and I will not buy them again until tehy show me something...I love the draft of Thornton and Collison....



Since: Nov 17, 2006
Posted on: May 6, 2010 3:30 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

What's the excuse for not selling out the New Orleans Arena more than when the Lakers and Cavaliers are in town, at one third the capacity of the Superdome, when you have 41 games to do so.  Come on now.  It's inexcusable for attendance to be such poor.  Chris Paul has just as much star power as Kevin Durant.  The fans in Oklahoma City embraced a team they all but knew would not be there for the long term whereas the Hornets are committed to New Orleans, but the city has not yet returned the favor.



Since: Oct 3, 2007
Posted on: May 6, 2010 1:37 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

What? OK City has NO major sports teams...of course they are going to sell out their seats---for a while...Oh and don;t forget that they drafted a guy named  KEVIN DURANT who may be one of the 3 best players in the NBA...yeah, that doens't help sell tickets at all....You have no idea what you are talking about...



Since: Jan 17, 2007
Posted on: May 5, 2010 6:35 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

I think it's true that having the Saints, plus a LOT of other diversions, hurts the attendance at Hornets games.  In OKC, they had never had a pro franchise before, and probably are a very long shot to have another in baseball, football, or hockey.  So the Thunder is the only game in town, literally.  The wild enthusiasm you see now will no doubt cool off somewhat over time, but there are still not a lot of other diversions in OKC as there are in NO.  I am not bashing OKC, I grew up in and love Oklahoma, but realistically, in terms of entertainment it can't compare with the Big Easy.  All that being said, I think there is a reason that pro basketball has never been supported very well in NO.  Don't forget that's where the Jazz orginated, and they left for SLC, of all places...can't get much more polar opposite than that!  Now the Hornets are struggling, and will no doubt leave sooner or later.  Maybe the good folks of NO just aren't roundball fans?



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Posted on: May 4, 2010 10:51 pm
 

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Since: Nov 17, 2006
Posted on: May 4, 2010 6:50 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

I'm not opposed to the Hornets in New Orleans.  I actually thought the Saints success would have a trickle down affect to Hornets attendance, and had the team not gotten hurt and had they actually improved as the season went on, I think it would have had a positive affect on attendance numbers.  Fact of the matter is, though, that the crowd has never really embraced the Hornets as they should.  That's why I saw the team go to Oklahoma City and play in front of consistently sold out crowds and kind of threw up my hands and asked why they couldn't get that in New Orleans. 

The fans that sold out the New Orleans Arena for the 2008 playoffs were among the best fans in the league.  That was a rowdy, loud, vocal and insanely fun crowd.  I think we all know the potential is there to have a terrific home court in New Orleans.  I think with Chouest coming in as a Louisiana native and I think with the team looking to make better strides towards becoming a consistently good team in the league, I think the fans will respond.  Attendance did improve last season (albeit very slightly) after the success of 2008, but I think the team needs more from the fans in terms of increased revenue and support.  Again, they've shown they can do it.  They just haven't done it consistently.

Then again, it could be that New Orleans is just a football town.  I'm not sold on that, but there's a lot of evidence to that point. 

One thing's for sure, though.  With Chouest coming in, the Hornets are in New Orleans to stay and we'll really get to see how the team is received among the fans the next few years.  It'll go a long way towards determining whether or not the team stays for the long term.  There's a lot to be optimistic about for Hornets fans moving forward with new ownership, a new coach coming in (Avery is a New Orleans native and is said to be Chouest's number one option, I'd be very surprised if he doesn't get the job) and with the team getting healthy, the two young rookies and with the nearly 30 million in cap relief coming next summer.  I want to see the Hornets succeed in New Orleans and this could be a true turning point to that happening.



Since: Jan 23, 2008
Posted on: May 4, 2010 4:35 pm
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Shinn was agressive before this season, but the Hornets were his only real income and he could not really afford to keep paying the luxury tax, but I think once Shinn found out he had cancer, he put that first and rightly so. Gary Chouest is buying out Shinn and maybe we will see more agressive moves this offseason.  For 1, getting a real coach in here.  Hopefully, Avery Johnson, who seems to be the favorite at the moment, can turn things around.   The attendance was low this season, i admit that.  I attended as many games as I could.  I don't think that the team is not appreciated. We love the Hornets here in New Orleans. I just think that with any sports team, when the team is not winning, the interest will decrease. It's the nature of the game and it's to be expected. As a long time Saints fan, I can tell you before the "06 season, the games use to sell out, but only because some big corporation like Entergy bought up the remaining tickets. I can't tell you how many times i went to a game and saw so many empty seats for a sold out game.  When the team is winning, you get those fans who will say, i love the Hornets/Saints or hear people say that " I am diehard fan" and as soon as they are down, they are quick to support another team.  That is the nature of fans everywhere, can't help that. 

Unfortunely, I think the Saints success actually hurt the Hornets.  It was Saints mania here for months, exactly during the heart of basketball season and they were the stepchild to the Saints.  I mean it their first time going to the superbowl, it was to be expected. Chris Paul said that he wants to give the city a champoinship and have a parade like the Saints had. Hopefully, this season will be a turing point for the better and Chris will get his wish.

I like the Thunder, hope they do well.  Glad you still support our Hornets.  Great read. 



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com