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Report: Shinn reaches deal to sell Hornets to Chousest

Posted May 3 2010 4:49PM

New Orleans Hornets majority owner George Shinn has reached a deal to sell his shares of the team to minority owner Gary Chouest, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

The club is planning an announcement as early as Thursday afternoon, one of the people told The Associated Press on Monday. The initial plan was to introduce Chouest as the new owner on Wednesday, but that had to be pushed back because of scheduling matters unrelated to the sale.

Both people with knowledge of the sale spoke on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made by either party.

Calls to Chouest and Shinn at their offices were not immediately returned.

Chouest is a Louisiana native and owner of Edison Chouest Offshore, a company that builds and operates marine vessels for the offshore oil and gas industries.

In 2007, when the team returned from a two-year stay in Oklahoma City because of Hurricane Katrina, Chouest bought 25 percent of the club for $62 million, saying at the time his goal was to keep the Hornets in Louisiana.

Shinn, who was treated for prostate cancer in recent months, decided to sell his remaining shares during the season.

His goal all along was to sell to Chouest, but nearly two weeks ago, Shinn became frustrated with the pace of negotiations and started looking for other potential buyers.

Chouest remained the leading candidate to buy the club, however, and a deal was finally reached for an undisclosed amount.

In it's regular survey of professional franchise values, Forbes Magazine estimated last December that the Hornets were worth $285 million.

However, the magazine also listed the Charlotte Bobcats at $284 million, or $9 million more than the $275 million Michael Jordan recently paid for the club.

Because Chouest's primary source of wealth is a thriving business in the energy industry, his ownership of the Hornets is likely to stabilize a franchise which has had a tenuous stay in New Orleans since moving from Charlotte in 2002.

By the time the club came to New Orleans, it was the primary source of income for Shinn, who divested of other business interests after founding the team in North Carolina in 1988.

This past season, the team traded one starter, Rasual Butler, and several veteran role players in order to reduce payroll enough to avoid paying a the NBA's punitive luxury tax on teams that spent more than $69.9 million on player payroll this season. Depth then became a problem for the Hornets because of injuries to Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic down the stretch, and New Orleans fell out of the playoff race after being has high as sixth place in the Western Conference in late January.

The Hornets also currently operate under a lease that allows them to move if average attendance over a two-season period falls below 14,735. NBA commissioner David Stern has said he'd like the Hornets' lease situation to be more stable than that before the league awards New Orleans another All-Star game.

Shinn has said he expects now to turn his attention to charity work that will focus on cancer treatment and his faith.

Chouest's purchase of the club also is likely to alleviate concerns coaching candidates may have about joining a club with an uncertain ownership situation.

The Hornets announced after the season that general manager Jeff Bower, who stepped in as coach when Byron Scott was fired nine games into last season, was going back to the front office full time. The Hornets are looking at a number of candidates and are scheduled to interview former Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson on Tuesday in Texas.

Bower and Hornets president Hugh Weber also are interested in talking to former NBA head coaches Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, Lawrence Frank and Larry Brown; assistant coaches Tom Thibodeau, Monty Williams, Dwane Casey and Mike Budenholzer; and former player and TV analyst Mark Jackson.

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