Upon learning that the New Orleans Hornets would receive the first pick in the draft, I was left to wonder, not about the pick, of course — his identity is certain — but the NBA commissioner Himself.
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Would David Stern accept his General Manager of the Year award in a Clippers cap, or in the Mardi Gras-inspired colors of the New Orleans Hornets?
The Hornets have a GM, of course, and a very good one at that. At this particular juncture, it’s worth noting that Dell Demps is an alum of the Gregg Popovich-R.C. Buford school, the same one that produced Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti. In other words, Demps knows what’s doing, as evidenced by his hiring of a fine young coach in Monty Williams.
Still, last December, David Stern thought to humiliate Demps by disallowing a deal that would’ve sent Chris Paul to the Lakers in favor of a deal that sent Paul to the Clippers. At the time, the busted-out Hornets were a responsibility, or, more accurately, a liability, to be shared among the league’s 29 other franchises. Then again, like most endeavors involving David Stern, it doesn’t involve sharing.
I don’t believe in pingpong ball conspiracies. But with the first pick going to New Orleans, there remains an undeniable sense the commissioner Himself has intervened, invisibly and metaphorically, if not divinely. David Stern has now done his part, for the Hornets and New Orleans, to balance the scales of justice and market value.
But the toughest part has not yet begun. The Hornets will inaugurate the 2012 NBA Draft by selecting Anthony Davis, a 19-year-old from of the University of Kentucky. A defender first, impossibly mobile and nimble at 6-foot-10, Davis is said to be a contemporary version of Bill Russell. Assuming the Hornets retain the services of restricted free agent Eric Gordon, Davis will be paired with a young and promising shooting guard.
Still, this isn’t really a basketball question. It’s an economic one.
Davis might be a singular talent. But Bill Russell couldn’t have done what this kid is now being asked to do.
Pistol Pete Maravich couldn’t do it.
Chris Paul couldn’t do it.
Why is it reasonable to expect Anthony Davis can save pro basketball in New Orleans?
Rarely to do I get to declare a rooting interest. I can’t remember being treated better, anywhere in this country, than I’ve been by New Orleanians. I was cheering for the town long before it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Now it’s a national cause. Great. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Davis won’t eventually find himself in the same position that Paul was in a year ago, recognizing a bleak basketball future and asking for a trade.
The new revenue-sharing rules — a product of the lockout, brought about by David Stern, Himself — might help a little. According to Sports Business Journal, a small-market team such as the Hornets could receive as much as $16 million by the 2013-14 season. But that sum doesn’t address the real problem.
New Orleans is a great eating town. It’s a great music town. Of course, it’s a party town, too. But even in kinder, gentler times, it was never an NBA town. Before Katrina, there was a sense in greater New Orleans that the city itself was something to be avoided. Has that changed? Perhaps you’re about to find out.
The heart and the head suggest differently. To the dismay of all right-minded people, The Times-Picayune recently announced it will publish only three days a week. If you can’t support a daily newspaper, is it reasonable to think you can support an NBA team?
The Hornets were 24th in attendance last season. They have a new owner, Tom Benson, who’s currently dealing with the fallout from Bountygate and the surprisingly difficult time his NFL team, the Saints, are having re-signing franchise quarterback Drew Brees. The 2010 census puts the population of New Orleans at 343,829. That’s a 29.1 percent drop from 2000. The greater metropolitan area was 1,167,764, making it the 46th-biggest market in the United States.
A small-market franchise can be viable. Dell Demps knows that. But New Orleans is different.
"I just have to buy into what they’re doing and work my hardest," Davis said the other night.
You’re not the only one. Good luck, kid. May you complete the mission begun by David Stern, Himself.