NBA exec: Plan is to keep Hornets local

NEW ORLEANS -- The man picked by the NBA to oversee the Hornets after the league's impending takeover of the franchise said Tuesday that his assignment is to make the club more attractive to a buyer who would keep the team in New Orleans.

Jac Sperling traveled to New Orleans to begin his role as the NBA's administrator for what will be the first team owned by the league after the NBA board of governors' anticipated approval of the purchase in the coming weeks.

Sperling, a sports attorney who is also vice chairman of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, was born and raised in New Orleans. He was appointed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.

"I grew up here. [Stern] asked me to help," Sperling said. "Read into that what you want, but I think the commissioner, he's been very positive about this city going back to when the team was awarded in 2002, [then moving the team back from Oklahoma City] after Katrina ... and also the awarding of the 2008 All-Star game.

"We're in a difficult spot, yes, but I think his selection of me is a further indication of what is in his mind. He wants to try to make this asset more attractive so perhaps a local buyer will step up."

Sperling said there is no rush to sell the club and that one of his first orders of business will be to see whether revenue streams from ticket sales, sponsorships and the government inducements can be enhanced.

He said it would not be wise "to go try to find a buyer now when asset not performing at it's best."

Sperling said the NBA takeover should be seen as a positive development in terms of the team's ability to compete on the court.

"We have a well-funded owner who is going to be a collaborative partner with management who they have confidence in," Sperling said, referring to team president Hugh Weber and general manager Dell Demps.

The Hornets are 13-7, but after a surprisingly strong 11-1 start, they have lost six of their last eight games.

Their next home contest is Wednesday night against Detroit.

Sperling said he also wants to meet soon with state and city officials to talk about whether the arena lease and other government incentives can be modified to provide a better baseline level of financial security for a future local owner of the club.

"The state and city have been terrific partners for the New Orleans Hornets," Sperling said. "The situation is changing so we need to sit down and have a conversation. ... There would have to be some sort of arrangement with state an city give local owner some sort of comfort that this is asset he'd like to purchase."

The Hornets' lease of the New Orleans Arena, which runs through 2014, has an early exit clause that could be activated in 2011 if average attendance for last season and the first half of this season falls below 14,735. A moderate spike in attendance during home games this month and next would void that provision because average attendance for all of last season was a little more than 15,000 and so far this season is 13,860.

Hornets president Hugh Weber said he was confident the attendance benchmarks would not be an issue because the club has been talking to the state about changing the lease.

"We continue to talk to the governor's folks. He has assigned some very smart people. We've been working closely for a long time to make these benchmarks a non-issue and we'll continue to do that," Weber said. "The last thing we want is to have this number ticking off every single day. What we want to do is have people come to the arena, have a great time, have a winning product on the court and have a business model that works."