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January 5, 2008 1:55 PM

Ok, here's one for the conspiracy theorists

Posted by Percy Allen

Got a few questions from readers about today's story on the Clay Bennett's ownership group holding exclusive claims on Oklahoma City.

Many are wondering if Hornets owner George Shinn would have any interest moving to Seattle if Bennett is allowed to move the Sonics.

To that I would say, Shinn is a businessman and he'll do whatever is in the best interest of his team. I painted a pretty dire picture of things in New Orleans for the Hornets, but the team has shown some improvements on the business side. I'm told that 54 of 57 corporate suits have been sold. The team expects sellouts for upcoming games against the Lakers and Miami and new minority partner is a New Orleans guy with strong ties to the city.

I'm also told that while Shinn and city officials aren't cozy, he's friendly with the new governor. Not sure what all of this means, but this much I do know. Ticket sales are awful and the TV package is a mess. Teams can't exist very long with profit in those two revenue streams.

There's rampant speculation that the league will broker some type of a swap of franchises either immediately or in the near future. That's possible.

Not sure if many of you saw this, but Times reporter Jim Brunner uncovered a secret meeting between Tim Ceis and Slade Gorton and NBA executives in October. No one will say for the record what was discussed in that meeting, but there's rumors that the Seattle contingent offered to drop their lawsuit against Bennett if the league promised the city a team in return.

In one possible scenario from a Sonics reader, Shinn and Bennett swap teams, which would require Shinn to come up with about $100 million because Bennett bought the Sonics for $350 million and the Hornets aren't valued nearly as high. To make up the difference, he'd need local investors like Steve Balmer, which would futher entrench the team to the community.

This is possible, but things like this don't happen so cleanly in the NBA. It's a little naive to believe problems can be resolved so quickly and without lawsuits and months of negotiations and haggling.

In another scenario, Bennett takes his team to OKC, but leaves the name and history. The city of Seattle seems prepared to unveil a proposal for public/private funding of about $200 million in investments to KeyArena. The project would begin after the Sonics' lease expires in Sept. 2010. The Hornets lease is up in 2014, however, the city can realistically support just one franchise and that franchise will be the Saints. So it allows the Hornets to leave two years early, saving money in the short term because it won't have to build a $20-million practice facility. Seattle wouldn't have a NBA team for a few years, but Shinn would eventually move his team to the Northwest because of its strong fan base.

How about that for flights of fancy? Again, this is all rumors and speculation, but who knows what might happen.

I won't be convinced the Hornets will stay in the Big Easy until the practice facility is built. Until that happens, the conspiracy theorists will run rampant.

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