Stern: Sonics to leave Seattle; Hornets could stay in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- Sorry Seattle, there is no saving your Sonics.

That's the feeling of NBA commissioner David Stern, who said Saturday he expects the Seattle SuperSonics to leave the city, either this year or when their lease expires in 2010.

"It's apparent to all who are watching that the Sonics are heading out of Seattle," Stern said during his annual All-Star Weekend news conference. "I accept that inevitability at this point. There is no miracle here."

Stern revealed he encouraged the SuperSonics to make an offer to the city to buy out the remaining two years of the lease to Key Arena. He said the offer, made two days ago, approached $30 million and was rejected.

Sonics owner Clay Bennett and his predecessor, Howard Schultz, have both said the Sonics couldn't remain in Seattle without public funding for a new arena. But despite the efforts of both of them, Stern, and a group of fans called "Save our Sonics," state lawmakers have given no indication that is a priority.

Bennett has informed the league he plans to move the team to his hometown of Oklahoma City after this season. But a potential move is currently on hold after the city filed a lawsuit against the team, attempting to make it fulfill the terms of the lease.

Stern doesn't think there is much point.

"There's not going to be a new arena. There's not going to be a public contribution and that's everyone's right. I mean that sincerely," Stern said. "So the only question now becomes, is the court going to rule that you can fulfill the terms of the lease by paying money for the remaining two years after this? Or, despite everything, there is some reason to keep them there as the clock winds down."

Stern spoke more hopefully about the future of the Hornets here. The franchise will have the right to opt out of its lease at New Orleans Arena if it doesn't average 14,735 fans at the end of the 2008-09 season.

The Hornets average only 12,645 currently, 29th in the 30-team league. But Stern hopes All-Star Weekend helped turn over some new fans.

"When I leave here after the All-Star Game, I'm much more optimistic about the prospects of the team meeting the goals that have been set," Stern said. "The people I hear interviewed, the businessmen I speak to, the fans, the government officials, I think there is going to be a unique, unified effort to make sure that New Orleans is very much a basketball town."

Union director Billy Hunter joined Stern on the podium to start the news conference and praised the performance of New Orleans during the weekend. It was about a year ago when Hunter said he was concerned that the city couldn't properly handle the crowds that All-Star Weekend brings.

"I expressed some grave concerns about the well being of NBA players if they were to come to New Orleans to participate in the All-Star Weekend, and I expressed some concerns about their safety," Hunter said. "And I can assure you that any concerns that I previously had have been fully allayed."

Stern confirmed that he remained interested in European expansion, which has long been a goal once there were enough NBA-ready arenas to do it. London has one, and he mentioned Berlin, Rome and Madrid as other cities that could eventually. However, he said no there was "no announcement scheduled or likely in the near future."

Also, Stern said the league hasn't told Dallas it can't include Jerry Stackhouse in a trade with New Jersey for Jason Kidd. Stackhouse seemingly put the deal in jeopardy when he told The Associated Press that he expected to return to the Mavericks in 30 days, an indication the Nets planned to buy out his contract.

"What I will say is there can't be a deal in advance," Stern said. "It's not allowed [for] there to be a deal that a team will trade a player, and a team to which he is traded will buy him out, and then he will rejoin the other team. Under normal circumstances, that is allowed to happen after a 30-day period, but it's not allowed to happen by prearrangement."