NBA expected to decide Hornets' home this week

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The owner and head coach of the New Orleans Hornets have already said where they think the team should play next year.

The NBA will have the final say.

A decision is expected this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, on where the Hornets will play their 41 home games next season.

Owner George Shinn and coach Byron Scott took turns last week expressing their desire to return to Oklahoma City, where the Hornets are 12-6 and averaging 17,541 fans since being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

After Scott said that "fans have been unbelievable" in Oklahoma City, Shinn added that "New Orleans is not ready for this coming season" -- a combination that would seemingly point to a second season in Oklahoma City.

Regardless, Scott would like the decision to come as soon as possible.

"We want to move on and start thinking more about the season and the next 35 or 40 games instead of where we're going to be," Scott said before Monday night's game against the Bucks.

Scott said he initially was worried that some veterans who had played in New Orleans would be distracted by the team's uncertain future, but he thinks his players have handled it well. The Hornets entered Monday with a 21-22 record and occupying the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

"I think they've pretty much blocked it out. I think they understand they have no control over that," Scott said. "The only thing they can control is how we play on that basketball court. They're leaving that to the experts or whoever that may be to make that decision.

"We're just want to try to do what we do best and that's play basketball."

The Hornets have until July to exercise an option to return to Oklahoma City for the 2006-07 season. But NBA commissioner David Stern has said he wants a decision by the end of January, enabling the Hornets to begin season-ticket sales for next season.

Even in a shortened time span, the Hornets had no trouble selling tickets in Oklahoma City following the September relocation. By opening day, a SportsBusiness Journal report ranked the team sixth in the NBA in season ticket sales. The Ford Center has been sold out for 10 of the team's first 18 games.

Still, the NBA and Hornets officials have said they want the team to eventually return to New Orleans, although the team ranked last in attendance last season while finishing 18-64. What's uncertain is when a full-time return to the city will be feasible from a business standpoint, especially given the strength of fan support in Oklahoma City.

However, a return to Oklahoma City could require some work on the legal end.

The team's lease agreement with the New Orleans Arena contains a covenant requiring that all home games be played at the arena if it meets the NBA's standards. The Hornets are scheduled to play three games at the New Orleans Arena in March, and Shinn said this weekend that the Hornets "already agreed" to play six games in New Orleans next season.

The rest of the schedule is in the NBA's hands.