NEW ORLEANS – Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Wednesday that he is "not happy" about the NBA's ownership of the Hornets and is pessimistic about the club's future in New Orleans.
Speaking before tip-off against the Hornets on Wednesday night, Jackson said the league's takeover of the Hornets raises questions about who has the final say if a player such as Chris Paul were to demand a trade.
"Who's going to pull the button on it?" Jackson said. "When Chris says he has to be traded, how's that going to go? ... Someone's going to have to make a very nonjudgmental decision on that part that's not going to irritate anyone else in the league."
Earlier this month, the NBA bought the Hornets from club founder and former majority owner George Shinn and minority partner Gary Chouest after Chouest backed away from negotiations to buy Shinn's majority shares.
When commissioner David Stern announced the league's takeover, he said the club was worth about $300 million and that the hope was to find a local buyer who would keep the team in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Chouest has said since that he is still interested in being the majority stakeholder in a local ownership group.
Jackson said the best thing about the move was that the team "is still here," but he added that he has doubts about the franchise's long-term future in the Big Easy.
"I don't know if New Orleans can support a team. It hasn't been successful in supporting a team until now," Jackson said. "So all the situations that have gone on with New Orleans, unfortunately things have happened and if the franchise can't make it, someone is going to have to move them."
The Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte in 2002 and in most seasons have been in the bottom third of the league in attendance.
However, the team averaged nearly 17,000 fans and turned a profit as recently as two seasons ago, negating a clause in their lease of the state-owned New Orleans Arena that would have entitled them to up to $6.8 million in subsidies in 2009.
This season, however, attendance has hovered around 14,000, raising the possibility that the club could invoke an early exit provision in its lease and leave town after this season.
Recently, Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu have called on fans to go to games in order to meet an attendance benchmark that would prevent that from happening while engaging in talks that could result in a more favorable lease for the club.
The Hornets will be locked into their lease at least another season if attendance from a period beginning in late December through January is around 15,000. In the Hornets' previous two home games, attendance exceeded 15,400 and the game against the Lakers drew an overflow crowd of 18,018.