ESPN’s Marc Stein says Seattle is a ‘huge favorite’ to land Hornets

Dec 9, 2010, 5:44 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:54 pm

Chris Paul

By Michael Simeona, MyNorthwest.com intern

It has been three long years since the NBA had a franchise in Seattle, so will it take only a year to get another?

Monday, NBA commissioner David Stern (pictured below) announced the league was in the process of purchasing the New Orleans Hornets franchise from majority owner George Shinn, who was unable to sell the team himself. While the league has stated its intention to keep the team in New Orleans, ESPN NBA insider Marc Stein thinks that won’t happen.

“They’re going to move,” Stein said on Thursday’s show. “I think that’s clearly the assumption around the league, but I don’t think it’s going to be that quick.”

On Wednesday the Hornets hosted the Detroit Pistons in front of only 10,823 fans, lowering their average attendance to 14,803 for all of last season and 11 home dates this season. The Hornets have the right to break out of their lease with the New Orleans Arena if they don’t average more than 14,375 fans in a two-year timeframe by the end of January 2011. While the future of the team in New Orleans depends on local investors willing to purchase the franchise, the NBA may look at other options at the end of the season.

“All the signals we’re getting from the league is they want to give it at least the rest of the season to see if a local buyer can be found,” Stein said. “They want to cash in. David Stern guaranteed this week that they would make a profit out of all this, so they obviously want to make sure that they can build some value back into the asset.”

david-sternWhile the future of the Hornets is unclear, so is the landscape of the NBA. With no new collective bargain agreement currently in place, the league has the option to lockout this summer, which Stein clearly expects.

“Chances are we’re looking at a lockout of some length this summer,” said Stein. “If the league still owns the franchise going into the lockout, obviously one of the many things they would be able to throw at the players is ‘we might just contract this team if you don’t like what we’re saying.’ Whether or not they’re serious about contraction, the sense I get is they’d rather keep the team through the lockout and then sell it.”

Stein thinks the new CBA will be more favorable towards the owners, considering the current business model has led to some teams – such as the Hornets – to be in debt as much as $83 million.

“Franchise value should go up once there is a new collective bargaining agreement, where the assumption is that it’s going to be more of an owner friendly agreement than it is now,” according to Stein. “If this team can opt out of its lease, that takes the attractiveness of the franchise to a whole new level for people who want to buy the team.”

If the league does decide to move the Hornets franchise, where might it end up?

Kansas City and Anaheim have been mentioned as possible destinations for the team, but none is as enticing as Seattle according to Stein. “There’s no question if you went around and polled people around the league of the available options, Seattle is the one everybody likes best as far as a market. It’s a proven market – everybody knows people love the NBA there.

“Saying all that, it’s not going to happen without a new building.”

But, if anybody had the resources to finance and build a new arena it would be Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Before the Sonics left town in 2008, Ballmer showed interest to purchase the team from owner Clay Bennett by investing $150 million towards a $300 million renovation of KeyArena. While Bennett refused the offer and moved the team to Oklahoma City, commissioner Stern himself has stated how he thinks Ballmer would be a “hell of an owner ” for the league.

“If someone is going to provide the arena there, I don’t think there is any question Seattle becomes a huge, huge favorite for relocation.”

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ESPN’s Marc Stein says Seattle is a ‘huge favorite’ to land Hornets