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Art Garcia

Chris Paul and Monty Williams are trying to look past the team's reported sale to the NBA.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

Hornets try to keep focus amid team's sale

Posted Dec 5 2010 11:15PM - Updated Dec 6 2010 7:39PM

SAN ANTONIO -- The Hornets are trying to proceed with business as usual ... though business is anything but usual for New Orleans' NBA franchise.

As of Monday afternoon they are on the road to becoming the NBA's New Orleans franchise. Commissioner David Stern announced that the league intends to purchase the Hornets from majority owner David Shinn subject to a vote by the NBA's Board of Governors, which could occur next week.

Several Hornets of note, including All-Star point guard Chris Paul and coach Monty Williams, insist the ownership situation isn't a distraction for a team that's dropped six of eight since a rousing 11-1 start. David West, a two-time All-Star and Hornets' fixture, did admit that the situation is less than ideal.

"In all honesty, it's a mess," West said after Sunday night's 109-84 blowout loss to the Spurs. "During the summer it felt like it was going one way and I guess things started changing and who knows? It's going to be an experience, I imagine, for us, the coaching staff and all parties involved."

Who signs your check and who runs your organization has to have an impact, at some level, on the collective psyche of any workforce. And though ownership changes happen all the time in professional sports, there's always some trickle down for everyone involved.

What does it mean for Paul in the short term and the years ahead? What about the prospects of the franchise remaining in New Orleans or relocating? Is foreign ownership on the horizon? What does it mean for team employees, especially with the possibility of a lockout after this season?

And for the guys inside the locker room, does it threaten to derail the momentum of a promising start for a team that missed the playoffs last year?

"It doesn't affect my job," Hornets coach Monty Williams maintained before the game. "No matter what happens, I have to focus on my job and our players understand that.

"We've talked about that all year -- there's going to be distractions, Christmas holidays, families are coming into town. There's a number of distractions we've all dealt with in all of our lives and this is not a big thing to us."

This would appear bigger than most because so much is at stake. The Hornets have been on shaky financial ground for years. The economic viability of the franchise in New Orleans has been in question, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which forced the team to temporarily relocate to Oklahoma City for two years.

Fan turnout has always been an issue, even when the Hornets are winning. New Orleans is currently 27th in the league in average attendance. The team has an out clause in its contract with New Orleans Arena if certain attendance conditions aren't met, leaving open the possibility of relocation.

The Hornets appeared to be on their way to financial stability when a deal was announced in early May that minority owner Gary Chouest was buying the team from Shinn. Chouest has since backed out, Shinn can't afford to continue as owner and the NBA has stepped in.

Williams has met with the team about the uncertainty.

"We've talked about it briefly and guys will ask questions, and all I can do is answer the questions I can answer," he said. "I don't know the particulars and, to be honest with you, I don't want to know. I don't want it to affect my focus on my job.

"When whatever happens, happens, I'll deal with it then. But as of now, I've heard speculation since I've been in New Orleans. It's not anything new to me."

The ownership situation was in flux when Williams agreed to leave Portland for his first head-coaching job. The former Blazers assistant said the possibility of league ownership wasn't broached during those interviews.

"No, I never heard that," Williams said. "I never thought about it. When I got the job, I was excited about the job and that was it. I wasn't thinking about who the owner was or who was going to be the future owner. To me, I was happy to be employed and that was the bottom line."

The bottom line, though, is always money and the ability to generate it. The NBA involvement, according to sources, would help preserve a sense of financial normalcy and continuity until new owners can be found. (The NBA has declined to publicly comment on the matter.) The current management structure of team president Hugh Weber, general manager Dell Demps and Williams will remain in place.

"It would be a bad thing if everybody was losing their jobs," Williams said. "To me when you live in New Orleans and you see the plight of the people there, to complain about something like this would be crazy. This is not a bad thing. It'll get settled when it does, and in the meantime we've got to play games and continue to get better as a team."

Paul acknowledged a drop in confidence and absence of swagger in the last two weeks, attributing most of it to a lack of effort and focus defensively. He's more concerned with that than his future with the Hornets.

"I'm trying to figure out how we got beat so bad right now by the Spurs," he said calmly. "I control what I can control, and that's how our team plays."

Paul is under contract at least through 2012. West, who can opt out after this season, reiterated Sunday that he'll consider all factors in making a "personal business decision." As for the prospects of the only franchise the eight-year veteran has played for, West remains hopeful in spite of the mess.

"I try to be optimistic at all times, try to see the positive side of things," he said. "Something good will come out of this one way or the other. But from a player's standpoint, we really can't focus on this stuff. It's out of our control.

"Obviously, guys have opinions and guys have their futures to consider, but it's a game of basketball and ultimately what we're doing just isn't good enough on the court right now."

The bottom line, though, is always money and the ability to generate it. The NBA involvement would help preserve a sense of financial normalcy and continuity until new owners can be found. The current management structure of team president Hugh Weber, general manager Dell Demps and Williams will remain in place.

The team should continue to operate as normal, which conceivably means remaining active in assessing the personnel. Demps has made a number of moves since taking over as GM in an attempt to upgrade the roster around Paul, who has been at the center of trade speculation for months.

NBA commissioner David Stern has long been committed to keeping the Hornets in New Orleans. Spearheading the search for new ownership will be Jac Sperling, a native of New Orleans and currently vice chairmen of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. Weber will report to Sperling, who will act as the Hornets' representative on the Board of Governors.

The league owning a team is a new arrangement for the NBA, but isn't unprecedented in pro sports. Major League Baseball recently owned the Montreal Expos for several years before that franchise was moved to Washington, D.C., and eventually sold to private interests.

Hornets players, coaches and officials aren't sure what the future holds. In the meantime, they've got games to play and a playoff spot to shoot for. When asked if the ownership issues could disrupt what's been accomplished through the first quarter of the season, Williams referenced a coaching axiom used over the years by the likes of Doc Rivers, among others.

"Win. You win games," Williams said. "That's what you think about, winning. You don't think about other stuff. I think Doc said winning is the ultimate deodorant. It just covers up a lot of funk. You win games, you're not thinking about anything else but continuing to win."

But if you're not winning...

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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