NBA panel to back Hornets' departure
ORLANDO, Fla. - The NBA's relocation committee will recommend the Charlotte Hornets be allowed to move to New Orleans, Mayor Pat McCrory and two sources close to the league told The Observer Tuesday.
"We anticipated this decision because we refuse to subsidize the operating losses of an ownership group that can't afford this business," McCrory said. "We drew the line in the sand, and I'm very comfortable with where we drew the line."
NBA Commissioner David Stern has said he would forcefully lobby the league's owners to support the committee's recommendation. A vote is expected later this month.
Also Tuesday, deputy commissioner Russ Granik said it would be at least two years before the league would consider locating a replacement team in Charlotte.
Speaking in Orlando, where the Hornets beat the Magic on Tuesday in the first round of the playoffs, he said he saw nothing to stand in the way of a Hornets move to Louisiana for next season.
"Based on what we've seen in New Orleans, unless there's some real surprises, it looks like there's a great deal of support there," Granik said. "It looks like it's going that way."
Granik said the NBA's relocation committee, chaired by Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo and composed of six other powerful owners, would make its recommendation by Friday.
He added that the Hornets have made "a lot of progress" since the NBA's owners met April 9 in New York.
McCrory said Tuesday evening he learned of the recommendation "within the last day or two."
The sources who spoke to The Observer said following the decision, the committee is now preparing a lengthy report for other owners explaining the recommendation.
Hornets co-owner Ray Wooldridge declined to address Granik's comments Tuesday night.
Granik, said he's still in touch with McCrory, but the earliest the city can expect a new NBA team is 2004-05.
"We know that Charlotte's a good market," Granik said. "If at some point Charlotte is really committed to building a new arena and committed to a reasonable business arrangement with a tenant, then it might be time to have discussions.
"I don't think in our minds we're saying we're leaving Charlotte for all time. But certainly those issues are going to have to be addressed before a replacement for the Hornets would be there, if they move."
McCrory said the city has already shown it will build an arena and negotiate with a tenant, but officials first need assurances they will have a team.
"We have to have a commitment from the NBA, not vice versa," McCrory said. "If they're interested in Charlotte in the long-term, we'll be glad to listen to their proposal.
"In my mind, the NBA lost Charlotte."
City Council member Lynn Wheeler, a leading supporter of efforts to keep the Hornets here, was not surprised by Tuesday's news.
"This has been like death by a thousand cuts," Wheeler said. "Why don't they put us out of our pain?"
The Hornets will still be playing when the committee's announcement is made, preparing to open the second round of the playoffs on Sunday.
Granik said the league couldn't delay this decision to avoid a distraction for the players.
"We've got to separate (the two issues) in our minds," Granik said. "I've got to give (coach) Paul Silas and the Hornets players a great amount of credit for having put all of this out of their minds.
"I think they'll have to continue to do that and we'll have to live with the impact one way or the other. We can't hold up the report just waiting to see what happens on the (basketball) court."
Silas said before Tuesday's Game 4 that he's confident his players can block out the distraction.