David Stern: Hornets deal close

SALT LAKE CITY -- Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday night the NBA is close to finalizing a deal to keep the Hornets in New Orleans with a very favorable lease, important capital improvements, intense tax benefits and a new television deal.

Stern made the comments before Utah's game against Phoenix. He's in Salt Lake City for a luncheon that in part will honor late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller.

Stern prefaced his comments by telling a joke, saying "soon" when asked about the Hornets' deal.

But he said the league was in intense negotiations with three groups. He was hopeful he could tell team owners at a meeting next week the deal was done, close or that he was on the verge of a deal.

Stern also said he was more "hopeful than confident" the situation regarding Sacramento's arena would be resolved to keep the Kings from moving.

"I'm very, very hopeful that it gets on track because I think the owners have a respect for the Maloofs, and I think the owners also have an enormous respect for what Sacramento has done over the years in supporting an NBA franchise," Stern said. "It's always been our first preference ... to keep a team where they're at if they're playing in a good facility."

While praising the Miller family for keeping the Jazz in Salt Lake City, Stern said the team should continue to benefit from the new collective bargaining agreement.

"It takes the edge away for people who could just throw money at it," Stern said.

He referred to comments made recently by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

"He said under the old deal he could just throw money at things. He could stockpile players, use exceptions, do all kinds of interesting things," Stern said.

"We think (the new CBA) is a real game-changer for leveling things out."

The Jazz, despite no All-Stars, entered play on Wednesday a game out of eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race.

Asked if he was surprised, Stern deferred, recalling how one of the great minds, Red Auerbach, once was annoyed because the Jazz had drafted Adrian Dantley and he got stuck with Kevin McHale.

"So I don't even bother to make predictions about what's going to happen in our league," Stern said. "I will say that the Jazz came out of the trade with New Jersey as well as Denver came out of the trade with New York, and they're both fighting for playoff spots and the Knicks are fighting for a playoff spot and New Jersey might be but for injuries they had. So maybe it was a good trade for all parties."

Pulling the trigger on the deal that sent Deron Williams to New Jersey was Jazz CEO Greg Miller, Larry Miller's son.

Stern said the transition had been "seamless."

"There's such a strong set of values here, a strong tradition of support for the basketball operation, a strong support for the community that it just wasn't an issue," Stern said.

"I do know that Larry literally down to the end was engaging in tutorials ... or important philosophical discussions so the family had a pretty darn good idea of what he wanted them to do. But it was almost not necessary because he lived it by example and I think everything has been fine here."

Miller said in response that Stern always has gone out of his way to include him, "going way back."

"Then in the transition, when my dad made me CEO and prior to his death, David called and extended a hand and made it very clear that if I needed anything, he was there for me."

Miller also said he always learned a lot just by listening to Stern.

Apparently Stern's recent message got through as he had urged Miller and Hall of Famer Karl Malone to put their very public spat "to rest."

Malone had complained that he was forced to use a scalper to buy tickets for a Jazz game, and blamed the organization for giving Williams too much power -- thus crushing Jerry Sloan's desire to continue coaching.

Just before tip-off Wednesday, Miller and Malone could be seen walking into the arena, talking and laughing.

"Yeah, Karl and I, we got it worked out," Miller said. "Everything's good."