Report: Shinn negotiating to sell Hornets

New Orleans Hornets majority owner George Shinn is negotiating

to sell his stake in the NBA club to south Louisiana businessman

Gary Chouest, who has owned 25 percent of the team since 2007,

according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person familiar with both men’s plans and the anticipated

sale, told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday

because an agreement has not been signed.

Shinn, a 68-year-old businessman who made his fortune developing

a chain of business schools in his native North Carolina, has been

either the sole or majority owner of the Hornets since the club’s

inception in Charlotte in 1988. The club moved to New Orleans in

2002 and three years ago Chouest paid about $62 million for his

share of the team.

Chouest is expected to pay about $200 million for Shinn’s

remaining shares, the person said.

Initially, Chouest’s involvement was meant to stabilize a

franchise that was returning to New Orleans following a two-year

displacement to Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina.

Shortly after the current season opened, Shinn revealed that he

was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which is now in remission.

Shinn spent most of the season away from the club, getting

treatment at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore and recuperating

mostly at a home in the mountains of Tennessee.

He returned to New Orleans last month, attending several games

in his courtside seats, but did not attend Wednesday night’s game

against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Now that Shinn is free of cancer, he wants to focus on

charitable work aimed at promoting early diagnosis and treatment of

the disease, according to the person who discussed his plans with

the AP. Shinn also hopes to write an autobiographical book.

Money raised from Shinn’s speaking engagements and other

fundraising “will be given back to causes that serve the Lord,”

the person said.

Chouest also missed Wednesday’s game because he was in Europe on

business. He was traveling back to Louisiana on Thursday and could

not immediately be reached for comment.

Chouest is a billionaire and owner of Galliano-based Edison

Chouest Offshore, a barge and vessel company supporting the

offshore oil and gas industry. He and his sons played basketball in

their youth and remain passionate about the game. Chouest has been

a season ticket holder, with courtside seats, since the Hornets

moved to New Orleans.

His takeover would strengthen the Hornets’ financial footing and

raise the likelihood of the club staying in Louisiana

long-term.

The Hornets’ current lease allows the club to break its lease at

the state-owned New Orleans Arena if average attendance falls below

14,735 during a two-season period.

Attendance this season has averaged just over 15,000 with two

home games remaining.

Chouest, among the more influential businessmen in the state,

has said his investment in the club was always about keeping it in

Louisiana.

Once Chouest takes over, he could have a number of major

decisions to make in the offseason.

The Hornets, now 35-44, will miss the playoffs for the first

time in three seasons.

Hornets general manager Jeff Bower, who also took over as coach

after Byron Scott was fired nine games into the season, has said he

enjoyed his first year as an NBA head coach and hopes to remain

with the club.

However, Bower and several other Hornets officials have said all

decisions regarding the roster and the coaching staff will be

reviewed after the regular season.

Because the Hornets missed the playoffs, they will also be in

the NBA’s draft lottery and may need to acquire a player who can

contribute in the front court right away if they hope to return to

playoff contention in the Western Conference quickly.

Hornets 6-foot-10 center Emeka Okafor, acquired in a trade that

sent 7-1 Tyson Chandler to Charlotte last summer, has struggled

defensively against taller, heavier centers and has averaged career

lows of 10.3 points and 9.1 rebounds in 29 minutes per game. Peja

Stojakovic, plagued by a groin injury, has missed 17 games and has

averaged 12.6 points, down from his average of 16.4 two seasons

ago, when the Hornets won the Southwest Division.

Meanwhile, 2007 first-round draft choice Julian Wright has been

unable to take advantage of several opportunities to start and is

back on the bench. He has averaged 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in

12.5 minutes per game this season and the Hornets must decided

whether to pick up a team option on Wright this summer.