Will Hornets' problems lead to NBA's return to Seattle?
The NBA is buying the struggling New Orleans Hornets, who are likely headed out of town eventually. But where will they land? Is Seattle a possible destination?
Seattle Times staff columnist
Oklahoma City's first NBA team is in trouble. Get-out-of-town trouble.
Because their debt is out of control and their fan base is shrinking, the New Orleans Hornets, who moved to OKC for two seasons during the post-Katrina cleanup, are in a death spiral.
Their plunge is so bad the NBA is buying the franchise from George Shinn, one of the worst owners in the history of the league. It is an extraordinarily dramatic move for the league.
Ultimately the team will be sold and, almost certainly, moved to Kansas City, or Anaheim, or ... Seattle?
Naturally, this inevitable collapse of the Hornets raises all kinds of questions about the future of the NBA in Seattle.
• Can the Hornets become the new Sonics?
• Is basketball maven Steve Ballmer, whom NBA commissioner David Stern is on record as saying he wants in the league, still willing to make the financial sacrifice needed to buy the Hornets and help pay for the renovations of old and cramped KeyArena?
• Is there enough private money in town to eventually either remodel the Key or build a new arena?
• Does Seattle even care about the NBA anymore?
For those of us who deeply miss the anticipation of game night, the news from New Orleans rekindles our NBA ardor.
The Hornets are available. Their lease agreement with New Orleans lasts until 2014, but we all know how disagreeable those leases agreements are.
New Orleans doesn't care about the NBA. It never has supported the Hornets. It's an NFL town. Period. When the Hornets leave, there barely will be a whimper.
Losing an NBA franchise wouldn't feel catastrophic to those fans the way it felt for many Seattle sports fans. New Orleans never supported the Jazz in the 1970s, and attendance this season — with a very competitive team — is down 8.4 percent and has dropped two years in a row.
Stern, of course, said that buying the Hornets gives the city the best shot at keeping the team in New Orleans. Ha! Sounds a lot like slippery Howard Schultz's declaration that selling his Sonics to Clay Bennett was Seattle's best chance of keeping the Sonics in town.
I know there is a huge, loud minority in this town who say they are done with the NBA. There are many who will forever hate Stern for the disrespect he showed Seattle.
We all know the league's business model is broken. And LeBron James' sashay to South Beach and the subsequent slow start and finger-pointing from the Miami Heat this season has been a monumental turnoff.
The success of the Oklahoma City Thunder still feels like a kick in the groin to Seattle, but I believe that, despite all of the anger toward Stern and the league, Seattle would embrace a competitive team like the Hornets.
Chris Paul's game would be appreciated in Seattle in a way it hasn't been in New Orleans. CP3 could be the next G.P.
David West's toughness would be celebrated the way this city celebrated Paul Silas, Xavier McDaniel and Shawn Kemp. Former Husky Quincy Pondexter would come home.
And one of the brightest young coaches in the game, Monty Williams, would be cheered like Seattle cheered Lenny Wilkens, George Karl and Nate McMillan.
I think, more than ever, the league needs a city as big as Seattle and an owner as hoop-friendly as Ballmer.
There is no question the NBA is a financial mess. It is heading toward a lockout next season. It needs to bring spending under control. It needs to step back and see how off-the-tracks it has gotten.
But I think the product still is dazzling. The caliber of players and coaches is as good as it ever has been.
The United States is the defending Olympic and world champion. The Americans won both gold medals by playing basketball the right way. Every night there are games worth watching.
We won't forgive Stern for what he did. But there is no satisfaction in continuing to hate him. It's time to forget.
Who knows if Ballmer wants to own an NBA team? Or if he can put together the same well-intentioned would-be-saviors who introduced a viable 11th-hour plan to keep the Sonics before they left for Oklahoma City?
Ballmer could be a hero for Seattle. He could add a touch of class for a league that could use a little.
The New Orleans Hornets are for sale.
Is Ballmer in a buying mood?
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.