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Report: NBA has a deal in place to purchase Hornets

Posted Dec 5 2010 6:29PM - Updated Dec 6 2010 8:12AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn has agreed to sell the club to the NBA and the transaction could be completed within a couple days, according to a person familiar with the decision.

The league has lined up New Orleans-born sports attorney Jac Sperling, vice chairman of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, to be the NBA's administrator of the team and oversee its sale to a more permanent owner, the person told The Associated Press Sunday on condition of anonymity because the move has not been publicly announced.

Current Hornets President Hugh Weber will continue overseeing day-to-day operations of what will be the first NBA team to be owned by the league, the person said.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank Sunday declined to comment on the sale.

Shinn has been in negotiations to sell the team to minority owner and Louisiana native Gary Chouest since last spring, but talks have been stalled for months.

Chouest, who owns 35 percent of the team, runs a business that supplies vessels to the gulf oil industry. Recently, he has become concerned about his ability to run his family business while taking over the Hornets, said the person who confirmed the NBA's planned purchase of the club.

It remained unclear on Sunday night if Chouest would keep his stake in the club if the NBA took over, or if he could be lured back to the table once the team is in the NBA's hands.

Chouest has not responded to repeated calls to his office and e-mails requesting comment on the matter since he first entered negotiations to buy Shinn's majority shares of the team.

Attendance for Hornets games has been lower than the club hoped, despite a 13-6 record heading into Sunday night's game at San Antonio. Through 10 home games, average attendance has been 13,865.

If it doesn't pick up, the Hornets could have the right to break their lease at the New Orleans Arena after this season. The lease runs through 2014, but the team is allowed to break it if average attendance falls below 14,735 during a two-year period.

The club would have to notify the state of any intent to end the lease by March 31, 2011. However, the person who spoke to The AP about the sale said the league wants the Hornets to remain in New Orleans.

First-year Hornets coach Monty Williams said before Sunday night's game that he talked to players about the potential sale, but insisted it wouldn't be a distraction during what has been one of the best starts in franchise history.

Williams said he did not know the details of the planned sale and added that he did not want to know.

"I've heard speculation since I've been in New Orleans," Williams said. "It's not news to me."

The Hornets have been based in the Big Easy since Shinn, the club's founder, moved them from Charlotte in 2002. However, the team played most of its home games in Oklahoma City for two seasons from 2005-07 because of Hurricane Katrina.

Shinn, 69, was diagnosed last year with prostate cancer, which he said has been treated successfully. He decided after that experience that he wanted to move on from NBA ownership and instead focus on his faith and on charitable efforts to promote the fight against cancer.

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