If any entrepreneurs out there are in the market for a failing business that is going to shut down operations in a few months for a work stoppage, David Stern would like you to come forward with your best offer.
And if you'd like to keep the business in New Orleans, where things were so bad the previous owners ran out of money and credit operating it, all the better.
Oh, did we mention? Bidding starts at $300 million.
The future of the NBA in New Orleans, one of America's finest and star-crossed sports destinations, took a definite turn toward life support Monday when Stern announced that the league is stepping in to save the Hornets from themselves. The question now is: Who, if anyone, will come forward with the deep pockets and patience to keep the team in Louisiana?
The best way to answer that question is to ask yourself: If you had $300 million, is that how you would spend it?
Despite Stern's insistence Monday that the league stepping in to buy 100 percent of the Hornets from owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest was "the best opportunity for the franchise to remain in New Orleans for the long term," it's hard to see how the NBA gets from here to there.
"This was the most stabilizing force for the team in New Orleans that we could come up with," Stern said Monday.
In other words, this was the best of all available options -- especially if you consider that this was the only option.
Despite a compelling team with marketable superstar in Chris Paul who has orchestrated the best start in franchise history, the Hornets remain among the worst teams in the NBA in attendance. In fact, they are seriously in danger of triggering a clause that would allow the team to break its lease with the state if they fail to average 14,214 fans per game until Jan. 31. Even if that happens, a prospective buyer who wants to move the team presumably would still be faced with a relocation fee. That means the owner of the team -- the 29 other NBA teams -- would theoretically get less money in a sale to someone who wants to move it to Kansas City than from someone who wants to keep it in New Orleans.
But that's short-term math. And the long-term interests of the NBA are now more involved in the sale of the Hornets than ever before. Regardless of what changes are made to the league's revenue-sharing scheme in conjunction with a new collective bargaining agreement, it clearly is in nobody's interests to operate a team in a market where it is doomed to lose money forever.
That means there are three choices: 1) find someone (or a group of investors) in New Orleans who have so much money that they don't care about losing millions annually on a basketball team; 2) find international investors who, a la Mikhail Prokhorov, are willing to pay a premium for a piece of the American basketball business; or 3) find someone capable of moving the team somewhere else.
Option 2 would be fine, except remember: Prokhorov's purchase of the Nets was contingent on the move to Brooklyn being finalized. The Russian billionaire wanted no part of owning a team in East Rutherford or Newark. Though Stern said the protracted talks between Shinn and Chouest meant the Hornets were never thoroughly shopped to other potential owners in New Orleans, it tests the limits of credulity that another suitable New Orleans buyer is out there somewhere.
This point is proved by Stern's own statement Monday that it was "possible, if not likely" that the Hornets would've been sold to an owner who would've relocated them if not for the NBA stepping in. The test of the league's staying power in New Orleans begins in about a week, when the Board of Governors is expected to approve the NBA's bailout by an overwhelming margin.
"We're not in any hurry," Stern said.
Despite reports to the contrary, Stern said Chouest never raised the specter of a lockout among the reasons he decided not to go forward with purchasing Shinn's remaining 65 percent of the team. At this point, it hardly matters. The Hornets are the NBA's problem now, and Stern said it's likely that a sale won't be completed until a new CBA and revenue-sharing model are implemented.
In the meantime, everyone involved has good intentions and it's commendable to give this franchise the liquidity it needs to operate in New Orleans at least for the rest of this season. If a long-term solution can be achieved that keeps the team in Louisiana, that would be ideal. Then again, it would've been ideal to keep the SuperSonics in Seattle, too.
For a lesson in how money trumps idealism, look no farther than the Sonics' move from Seattle to Oklahoma City. According to NBA turnstile data, the Sonics brought in $457,863 in gate receipts per game in their last season in Seattle. In 2008-09, the Thunder's first year in Oklahoma City, that figure ballooned to $1,122,109. Since then, with support from the Oklahoma City business community and the inventive front-office maneuverings of GM Sam Presti, the Thunder have established themselves as a model organization -- thriving both on and off the court in a small market.
Here's hoping that two years from now, the same can be said for the Hornets. But it's difficult to see how the NBA gets from here to there in New Orleans.