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.