Stern says 2-3 candidates to buy Hornets soon

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Hornets small logoNBA commissioner David Stern said the field of potential buyers of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets as been whitted down to 2 or 3, and a sale could be imminent.

“I’m optimistic and hopeful that we will complete the sale by the end of the month,” stern told USA Today in an intewview at NBA headquarters in Manhattan.

“We’re talking with multiple perspective buyers, but we’re anticipating the ability to close by the end of the month,” Stern said. “We’ve had offers from seven but winnowed it down to two or three, and we’re working on it.

The league’s other 29 franchises have jointly owned the Hornets since December, 2010, when George Shinn sold his majority share. Stern acted as the de facto general manager of the team when he vetoed the proposed three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round draft pick to the Hornets.

For more of USA Today writer Jeff Zilgitt’s sit-down interview with Stern, click here.

 

Rajon Rondo replaces Joe Johnson as Eastern Conference All-Star

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Rajon Rondo is in; Joe Johnson is out.

In a compressed season where the injuries have come one after another, it was nothing short of miraculous that all of the chosen 24 All-Stars were relatively healthy and would be in action Sunday.

Until now.

Johnson, a reserve on the Eastern Conference, will skip the weekend festivities to rest a sore left knee, the Atlanta Hawks announced Wednesday.

The Hawks had already Johnson would sit out Wednesday’s game at New York and Thursday’s contest vs. Orlando due to the injury. Now Johnson will skip Sunday’s midseason showcase in Orlando.

Johnson will be re-evaluated before Atlanta’s first game after the break vs. Golden State on Sadie Hawkins Day (Feb. 29).

The logical replacement choice, to some, was Josh Smith — Johnson’s teammate on the Hawks, whose 19-13 record is sixth-best in the league.

But commissioner David Stern selected  Rondo, whose Boston Celtics have lost six of seven to drop into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Rondo is averaging 14.8 and 9.5 assists (2nd in the NBA behind Steve Nash’s 11.0). Smith is averaging 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds (15th in the NBA), 3.7 assists and 2.13 blocks (5th leaguewide).

 

Bernucca: How Stern helped Lin land in New York

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commissionerDid David Stern unintentionally direct Jeremy Lin to the New York Knicks?

The commissioner vetoed the first Chris Paul trade, which would have sent Houston Rockets point guard Goran Dragic to the New Orleans Hornets.

The Rockets had five point guards in training camp – Lin, Dragic, Kyle Lowry, Jonny Flynn and Bulgarian combo guard Ibrahim Jabeer, who did not play in either preseason game. Lin didn’t exactly burn, either, getting eight total minutes.

Lowry, Dragic and Flynn had guaranteed contracts, so the odds of Lin sticking as a fourth point guard were longer than winning Powerball. Rockets GM Daryl Morey even said as much, mentioning the guarantees as an issue in a Twitter chat last week.

But if Stern hadn’t vetoed the first Paul trade, Dragic would have been in New Orleans, and Lin likely would have become Houston’s emergency point guard.

Instead, Lin was cut – on Christmas Eve – and returned to the Bay Area. The Knicks, in the Bay Area on an early road trip, signed Lin to be their third point guard behind Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby after rookie Iman Shumpert – who plays the point, but not well – was injured in the season-opening Christmas win over Boston.

Had Lin remained in Houston, there is no way to know whether or not the Rockets would have waived him before last week’s contract guarantee deadline. However, it is a virtual certainty that Lin would have remained buried on the bench behind Lowry and Dragic, both of whom have been healthy and playing well this season.

Linteresting, don’t you think?

TRIVIA: Which active NBA player has scored the most career points without making an All-Star team? Answer below.

THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: In addition to this abject insensitivity from the Evil Empire, the phenomenon surrounding Jeremy Lin has extended to a website that will make headline writing Linfinitely easier for copy desk editors everywhere.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Sacramento Kings rookie guard Isaiah Thomas – not related at all to the franchise-wrecking former coach and president of the New York Knicks – after he was booed when his name was announced at Madison Square Garden:

“I knew it was going to happen here. I was expecting something. Spike Lee told me next time you come to New York, you better change your name.”

LINE OF THE WEEK: Josh Smith, Atlanta at Phoenix, Feb. 15: 45 minutes, 12-23 FGs, 2-3 3-pointers, 4-6 FTs, 17 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, three blocks, 30 points in a 101-99 win. For the secocnd time this season, Smith seriously threatened to post the NBA’s first “five by five” game in six years. And for the second time this season, he earns this spot.

LINE OF THE WEAK: Brandon Knight, Detroit vs. Washington, Feb. 12: 31 minutes, 1-9 FGs, 0-3 3-pointers, one rebound, two assists, one steal, three turnovers, two points in a 98-77 loss. Knight’s awful showing went a long way toward ending Detroit’s season-high four-game winning streak, but that wasn’t the worst part. He was schooled by fellow Kentucky alum John Wall, who tossed his jersey to a girl wearing Knight’s jersey as he left the floor. The girl changed jerseys.

TRILLION WATCH: Heat rookie Mickell Gladness topped the charts with a 5 trillion on Valentine’s Day. That doesn’t come close to cracking the top spots this season still held by Lakers forwards Devin Ebanks (9 trillion) and Jason Kapono (8 and 7).

GAME OF THE WEEK: New York at Miami, Feb. 23. On the last night before the All-Star break, the rivalry is renewed. Linsanity alights upon South Beach, where the Heat are playing perhaps their best basketball since LeBron James arrived.

GAME OF THE WEAK: Sacramento at Washington, Feb. 22. A matchup of the two teams that have changed coaches this season. It is the finale of a six-game road trip for the Kings. The Wizards have three home wins, beating Toronto twice and Charlotte. Impressive.

TWO MINUTES: Clippers star Chris Paul called himself a “dummy” after his careless pass led to Gary Neal’s game-tying 3-pointer in Saturday’s OT loss to the Spurs. But what went overlooked was Ryan Gomes’ awful inbounds pass, which gave a sprinting Paul no room to stop before committing a backcourt violation. That’s the second time this season Gomes has made a terrible inbounds pass with the game in the balance; he threw away one last week in Philadelphia that cost Los Angeles the lead, but the Clippers recovered to win. … We got a kick out of the ESPN report on Allen Iverson wanting to return to the NBA, which quoted a source as saying, “He wants to get back to the NBA and leave on his terms.” Didn’t he do that already? His terms were he wouldn’t come off the bench. Detroit and Memphis told him to leave. … Lakers coach Mike Brown got into it a bit with Metta World Peace, who told CBSSports.com that he is frustrated because the coach relies too heavily on stats to influence his personnel moves. After meeting with his small forward, Brown said, “If I were him, I’d be frustrated, too. I told him: ‘I don’t take anything personally. I’m OK with it. But if I was a stats guy, Metta, you wouldn’t be playing at all. I mean, look at your stats. And Synergy says you’re the 192nd-best defensive player in the league.’” World Peace is averaging a career-low 4.8 points and has scored in double digits twice since New Year’s Day. … Charlotte’s win at Toronto on Friday did more than end a franchise-record 16-game losing streak. The Bobcats bumped their winning percentage from .103 to .133, which may not seem like much but puts them ahead of the pace of the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73 for a winning percentage of .110. … When Dirk Nowitzki went 11-of-15 from the line in Monday’s win over the Clippers, it marked the first time he missed four free throws in a game since Dec. 30, 2008, when he was 6-of-10 vs. Minnesota. … The Eastern Conference semifinals could be ugly. Miami seems assured of finishing no lower than second, while Philadelphia and Indiana could possibly wind up anywhere from third to fifth. The 76ers have not been competitive in two games vs. the Heat, and the Pacers’ two largest halftime deficits – 29 and 23 points – have come in losses to Miami. … Warriors coach Mark Jackson is taking some strategic lumps in his first season on the sidelines. His team is 1-6 in one-possession games. … Pistons big Ben Wallace had an eventful game Tuesday vs. San Antonio. It was his 1,055th career game, surpassing Avery Johnson for the most by an undrafted player. He scored a season-high nine points, which included his seventh career 3-pointer. He also received the intentional foul treatment from Gregg Popovich and had a pair of airballs from the line. Wallace, who came in with 28 points in 399 minutes this season, tried to downplay his offensive explosion. “Three-ball – that ain’t nothing that you all haven’t seen before,” he said. “They hacked me. I made a couple free throws, shot a couple airballs – still ain’t nothing that you all have never seen before.” … The Timberwolves now appear to have two double-double machines: Kevin Love and emerging brute Nikola Pekovic, who has seven double-doubles in 10 games this month and is averaging 18.4 points and 10.7 rebounds in February. After losing to Minnesota, Charlotte coach Paul Silas said, “I thought we did OK against Kevin because he shot a lot of outside shots. “But the other kid, Pep-a-vich, his name is? Whatever, he just killed us down there.” Pekovic is the third center deployed by coach Rick Adelman after Darko Milicic and Brad Miller failed to produce. But if Minnesota wants to crash the playoff party, it has to resolve similar issues at small forward and shooting guard, where youngsters Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Martell Webster and even rookie Derrick Williams are not getting it done. … At 38 years old, Juwan Howard probably has earned the right to say, “No, thanks” when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra asks if he wants to mop up in garbage time. He should have declined the offer Tuesday at Indiana. Inserted for the last six minutes of a blowout win, he missed his only two shots and committed two turnovers and four fouls before getting ejected with 42 seconds left. … Blake Griffin’s problems at the line are becoming an issue. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle intentionally fouled him in a game this week, and among qualifiers, only Dwight Howard’s .501 percentage is worse than Griffin’s .529 mark. Furthermore, Griffin has had just one game this season where he did not miss a free throw – Jan. 17 at Utah, where he did not get to the line. The bet here is that Griffin’s struggles at the stripe cost the Clippers a playoff game. … As usual, there are no shortage of candidates for Most Improved Player. The folks in Orlando believe it’s Ryan Anderson, whose scoring average has jumped more than 6 ppg from last season to 16.8 points. He also is averaging a career-best 7.2 rebounds and is the runaway leader with 91 3-pointers. “People don’t understand that this guy is averaging 16 or 17 points without having a play called for him all season,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. … The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas was going to be a victim of budget cuts until Mavs owner Mark Cuban cut a $40,000 check to cover the expense shortfall. “I figured I had lost enough brain cells there, everybody else should get that opportunity, too,” Cuban said. The Mavs host the Spurs on March 17, so he can join the party again if he wants.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Jason Terry. … Happy 36th Birthday, Jahidi White. … It would be nice if Jeremy Lin handled the ball as well as he handled sudden stardom.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

Bernucca: Stern & NBA have made a mess of Hornets

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commissionerWhen it comes to running franchises, David Stern is doing a great impersonation of Ted Stepien.

Stepien owned the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980s and spent most of his time firing coaches, overpaying mediocre players and trading away so many draft picks that the NBA instituted the “Ted Stepien Rule,” which now prevents teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years.

Stepien’s mismanagement of the Cavaliers had to be fixed by the NBA. But the NBA – led by Stern – owns the mess that has become the New Orleans Hornets. So who fixes them?

The NBA has mismanaged the Hornets to a state of embarrassment. It vetoed a trade of superstar Chris Paul that would have netted four rotation players and a first-round pick while making the Hornets a legitimate playoff contender. Then it approved a second trade of Paul that landed empty assets – highlighted by an unsigned Eric Gordon – that could mire the Hornets in mediocrity for years to come.

The Hornets are at the bottom of the league in both performance and attendance as they continue to ask a dispassionate fan base to be patient. At the same time, they have been somewhat less than forthcoming about the state of their team and players.

On Monday, Jac Sperling – the man chosen by Stern to broker the sale of the Hornets – said the team’s future is very positive. He is right, because comparatively speaking, it cannot be any worse than the present.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, never one to pass up the chance to tell Stern and his sidekicks when they are not the smartest guys in the room, summed it up best earlier this week.

“Bad management gets you bad results,” he said.

Stern’s job is to make the league profitable as a whole while doing the same for as many individual owners as possible. The extent of his evaluation of players does not go beyond handing out punishment in extreme cases or selecting the occasional All-Star injury replacement.

But he scuttled the deal to send Paul to the Lakers primarily because it sent Paul to the Lakers – scant hours after reaching accord on a new collective bargaining agreement that was supposed to give smaller market teams a chance to keep their superstars.

Had the first deal been approved, the Hornets would have landed four proven players in Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom and Goran Dragic, plus a first-round pick from Houston.

At that point, Stern turned over all matters regarding Paul to operation executives Joel Litvin and Stu Jackson. Yes, that Stu Jackson, who may be as responsible as any one man for relocating the Grizzlies from Vancouver to Memphis. During his days running the Grizzlies, he gave Bryant Reeves a maximum contract extension, drafted Steve Francis and traded him for a bag of hammers and dealt a future first-round pick for Otis Thorpe that nearly became LeBron James.

So Litvin and Jackson went back to the drawing board and redirected Paul to the Clippers and immediately resigned the Hornets to a much longer and riskier path back to respectability.

The second deal landed Gordon, the expiring contract of Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu, plus an unprotected first-round pick that originally belonged to Minnesota.

There is no denying that the NBA’s intent was clearing long-term expenses off the books of the Hornets and making them more attractive to a prospective buyer. Scola and Martin have long-term eight-figure deals, and Odom has a pricy team option. Meanwhile, Gordon and Aminu are still on their rookie contracts and Kaman’s eight figures come off the books this summer.

But what may be attractive on paper forces you to look away when it is on full display. Instead of being in position to seriously contend for a playoff spot, the Hornets are by far the worst team in the Western Conference and headed for 50-plus losses in a 66-game season.

This was the starting lineup for the Hornets in Monday’s rare win over the Jazz: Trevor Ariza, Gustavo Ayon, Kaman, Marco Belinelli and Greivis Vasquez. Off the bench were Aminu, Xavier Henry, Lance Thomas and Donald Sloan.

This could have been their lineup: Ariza, Scola, Ayon, Martin and Dragic, with Odom, Belinelli and Vasquez off the bench.

As a fan, GM or prospective buyer, which lineup would you rather see on the court?

The Hornets unquestionably have been hit hard by injuries this season; Neither lineup includes rotation players Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Jason Smith. But whatever your opinion is of Scola, Martin, Odom and Dragic – and we think pretty highly of all of them – they are healthy and making measurable contributions to their current teams.

It is obvious that the NBA has decided that the Hornets should shed payroll, take their lumps and build through youth to attract a buyer. Except that buyer hasn’t materialized, because people with enough money to buy a sports team know a dog with fleas when they see one. The NBA paid $310 million for the Hornets. In January, Forbes Magazine valued the franchise at $285 million.

Stern has said that a local individual or group would come forward by mid-season. That’s next week, folks.

Sperling was at practice Monday and twice referenced a “new owner” to local media but had no specifics. Meanwhile, there is a collective plea to a dispassionate, disenfranchised fan base to remain patient while being disingenuous on several fronts.

Despite making the playoffs in three of four seasons since returning from their displacement to Oklahoma City in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets have finished better than 23rd in attendance just once. This season, they are 27th at 14,302 per game. One of the teams they are ahead of is the Nets, who are a nearly as bad and also a lame duck in Newark.

And if you want your fan base to remain patient, it might be a good idea to not mislead them.

Kaman was acquired because of his attractive cap slot, but the Hornets gave him a forced vacation for six games while it explored trade possibilities. Finding nothing overwhelming appealing, they returned the big man to active duty.

What exactly was the purpose of that? Were the Hornets looking to trade Kaman for players who could provide immediate help, which the first Paul trade would have done? Or were they looking to deal him for another expiring contract, which we like to call “trading sideways”?

The handling of Gordon has been even worse. One of the NBA’s best young shooting guards, he was clearly the centerpiece of the return package for Paul and the foundation of the team’s rebuilding plans. He could have been signed to a contract extension that would have shown fans that the plan is under way. Instead, GM Dell Demps – with input from the NBA, of course – refused to give him a maximum four-year, $62 million deal.

If you really want the guy, you don’t nickel-and-dime him – unless, of course, you know more about his knee injury than you have told your fans. Gordon has been limited to just two games this season due to what was originally said to be a bone bruise but ultimately required surgery.

The original prognosis was three weeks. After four weeks, Gordon was not close to returning, and the team revised his return window to as much as six weeks. As that window began closing last week, Gordon was found to need arthroscopic surgery that will keep him out another six weeks.

It could be April before Gordon is ready to return. He becomes a restricted free agent July 1 and should be in no hurry to get back on the court for the Hornets this season – or maybe any other season. The Hornets already have refused to max him out once; it is not outside the realm of possibility that they could pass on him again should he receive a huge offer from the Mavericks or his hometown Pacers. Or he could sign a qualifying offer, spend one more season in the NBA’s self-made purgatory and be free as a bird come 2013.

So to sum up, here is what the Hornets now have to offer a prospective buyer, thanks to the smartest guys in the room:

  • A truly awful team in a city that has a history of difficulty in supporting it.
  • Aminu, the eighth overall pick who has shown next to nothing compared to other recent No. 8 picks Brandon Knight, Rudy Gay and even Channing Frye. He is better than Joe Alexander, though.
  • Gordon, whose next game probably will be in late October 2012, possibly will not be with the Hornets, who have some serious damage control to do with their prized possession.
  • Kaman, whose cap slot of $14 million almost certainly will have to be spread among multiple players or used to overpay a middling player. No established star in his right mind would want to be part of a team whose purse strings are in the firm grip of the folks at Olympic Tower with a massive rebuilding plan on tap.
  • Minnesota’s unprotected first-round pick, which isn’t going to be anywhere near the top of the draft and could actually end up being worse than Houston’s pick. Even if the Timberwolves were as bad as the Hornets, a duo from the collection of teenagers Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Harrison Barnes would still beg a tremendous amount of patience.

Nice job, Dave.

Stepien would be proud.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

Suns center Robin Lopez suspended for one game

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NEW YORK — Don’t make contact with the refs. Not even a little.

That was the message that came down from league headquarters today when Robin Lopez of the Phoenix Suns was suspended one game for brushing up against an official with 8:14 remaining in the second quarter of the Suns’ 99-96 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Phoenix, Ariz. on Jan. 24.

Lopez will serve his suspension Friday when the Suns visit the Portland Trail Blazers.

To view the play click on the following link: http://www.nba.com/video/channels/originals/2012/01/25/lopez_play.nba