Report: Nets owner explores selling team

Faced with mounting financial losses that triggered cost-cutting throughout the organization, The New York Post has learned that Nets owner Bruce Ratner is actively investigating the feasibility of selling the team, despite a decidedly down seller’s market, multiple team and league sources said.

In fact, several of the sources claim the team is definitely up for sale, though Ratner is determined to try to keep the team headed for Brooklyn and wants to maintain a piece of the team.

“I know definitely he has been thinking about doing it (selling),” one source close to the situation said. “But now is not the time. And if he sells, what about the building? Does he sell just the team? Then you’re in New Jersey for a couple years losing a ton of money.”

There have been “preliminary discussions” with some investors viewed as potential buyers, sources said, but the extent and seriousness of the talks were not clear.

“After this year, the Nets will have one of, if not the, lowest payroll in the league, which could make them attractive,” said one source associated with the team. “That they’re trying to sell is not even an issue any more.”

“They’re up for sale,” a minority ownership source said flatly.

The situation has been rumored and discussed for months, but Ratner’s camp insists the Forest City Ratner CEO who bought the team for $305 million in 2004 will keep his controlling interest in the team which last year suffered the NBA’s biggest drop in gate receipts, 29 percent. Nets ownership said they are seeking investors, not buyers, and have fielded all inquiries.

“We have received interest from potential investors in the team. That interest is growing as it is clear that we are moving to Brooklyn. Our ownership group is as committed as ever to the success of the Nets and to the Barclays Center,” Nets CEO Brett Yormark said in a statement.

Sale or not, Ratner wants to maintain a piece of the team, though to a lesser degree. Indications suggest three groups are maneuvering as potential buyers with a group headed by Vince Viola, a Brooklyn product and the senior adviser to the New York Merchantile Exchange, emerging as the favorites.

Viola already owns the second biggest chunk of the team after Ratner. All sources said that current ownership is adamant about keeping the team steered toward Brooklyn. The New Jersey identity is being shelved in some subtle and other not so subtle ways. Only road uniforms that say “Nets” will be used this season while the blue “New Jersey” outfits have been mothballed.

A critical component of the Brooklyn move will be the sale of an estimated $650 million in tax exempt bonds before a Dec. 31 deadline. The Empire State Development Corp. hopes to start issuing the bonds in September.

The Nets have reduced their office workforce by approximately 25 percent. Most non-basketball employees have faced Friday furloughs in the summer, reducing their pay by 20 percent. Assistant coaches accepted significant pay cuts in order to keep all of them employed — rather than see one lose his job, the four remaining assistants on coach Lawrence Frank’s staff agreed to salary reductions equal to the cost of one salary. The Nets thus far have been mute in free agency.

And the Nets unloaded their highest-paid player, Vince Carter, in a draft night trade. Carter was due $33.6 million over the next two seasons so his $17.5 million for 2010-11 was wiped away. So it seems the Nets have done everything they can to reduce costs, which would make them more attractive to prospective buyers.