Gary Chouest Rumors
The league chose Benson, who will be purchasing the team by himself, over a group of investors including businessman Raj Bhathal and former NBA head coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy, and former minority owner Gary Chouest, who had tried unsuccessfully to buy the team from majority owner George Shinn three years ago. The Bhathal group also included Larry Benson, Tom Benson’s younger brother.
By the time NBA Commissioner David Stern closes the second day of the league’s Board of Governors meeting at New York’s St. Regis Hotel on Friday, the New Orleans Hornets could have a new owner. It appears the league might be ready to choose between an offer from a group headed by California swimwear manufacturer Raj Bhathal that will include former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest, and a bid from New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson.
The Board of Governors could be asked to approve the ownership transfer for the Hornets before the meeting adjourns Friday afternoon. The NBA declined to comment and the other parties couldn’t be reached for comment. Sources close to the Bhathal group, which also included Larry Benson, Tom Benson’s youngest brother and represented in ongoing negotiations by former NBA player, coach and executive Mike Dunleavy, said Bhathal and Chouest met in New York on Monday with league officials, and possibly with Stern, while Benson reportedly also spoke with the NBA on Monday but was not in New York. All parties involved in the negotiations to purchase the league-owned Hornets have signed a confidentiality agreement, though in the past two months the Bhathal group has been publicly identified, as has Chouest’s ongoing interest in becoming a minority partner in that consortium.
Sources close to Bhathal’s group said Thursday that it has been Bhathal’s focus from the beginning to keep the team in New Orleans and that Bhathal has the financial wherewithal to consummate a purchase. Chouest, the source said, did not want to be a majority owner of the Hornets, but wanted to be involved on a basis similar to his previous minority ownership with founding owner George Shinn. Chouest initially purchased a 25 percent stake in the Hornets and absorbed an additional 10 percent through a series of financial contributions over the years.
The fate of the New Orleans Hornets, who have been under the stewardship of the NBA since December 2010, could be decided soon as the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings are underway in New York. And that’s making some within the organization a little nervous. That’s because, among the potential buyers for the team are Los Angeles businessman Raj Bhathal, Saints owner Tom Benson (whose brother, Larry, has been connected to Bhathal’s group) and Louisiana shipbuilding magnate Gary Chouest, with Nhathal believed to be the leading candidate. The possibility of Benson and/or Chouest joining Bhathal’s group remains distinct. The problem for those currently running the Hornets, though, is that Bhathal’s group also includes veteran coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy. And that could mean drastic changes.
“Mike is going to want his own people in there, he has a reputation as a control freak,” a team source told Sporting News. “It will be good for the team obviously to have an owner in. But I think everybody is a little on edge because of that, because you don’t know what is going to happen. Or I guess you do know, you know there are going to be changes coming once there’s a new group in charge. It could be a house cleaning.”
Draft picks, young talent and cap space are the magic trio when it comes to rebuilding in the NBA. But the sale of the Hornets may mean that Demps—and possibly Williams—won’t be around to see the job through. “It’s almost like doing the hard part,” the source said. “Then having someone else get to do the fun part.”