ESPN Gives Added Juice to Rumors That New Orleans Hornets Are Coming to Seattle

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Previous rumors that the Sacramento Kings might be bought by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and transplanted to Seattle have been thoroughly dispensed with on this blog and elsewhere. So when new rumors surfaced that the New Orleans Hornets--who are having trouble getting fans to actually attend games--could wind up in Seattle instead, the news was greeted with a similar "yeah-fucking-right" around the Seattle Weekly newsroom. But now that unnamed sources have told ESPN that an unprecedented ownership transfer could indeed send the team elsewhere and that the Emerald City is a top contender for such a move, we're giving the chatter a tad more credence.

What seems all-but-assured is that the New Orleans Hornets will soon no longer be the property of longtime owner George Shinn, and instead, will be handed over temporarily to the NBA itself--the first time such a thing has happened in the league.

The reason apparently comes down to Shinn not being able to turn a buck with the team, which, despite its relative success, has had trouble putting asses in the stadium's seats.

The Seattle connection--as was buzzed about with the similarly struggling Sacramento Kings--comes down to Ballmer's recent $2 billion Microsoft stock liquidation and his well-known love of basketball.

Prior to this weekend, however, the only reason to think that Ballmer would be spending that kind of cash on buying a sports team was because, well, what else does one do with $2 billion?

And while "unnamed sources" aren't exactly the most confidence-inspiring messengers to deliver hope to Seattle's hoop dreamers, the fact that it's ESPN they're talking to gives them a bit more credibility (emphasis on "a bit").

Per ESPN's Marc Stein:

...the NBA is expected to make the strength of prospective ownership bids its highest priority -- and there are no guarantees that an incoming buyer would want to stay in one of the league's smallest markets. Stern is generally averse to franchise moves, but sources say Seattle, Kansas City and Anaheim are among the available markets of greatest interest to various league officials...

There's still plenty of time for folks to poke holes the scenario and NBA Commissioner David Stern has said previously that the league would likely eliminate teams before it sent them moving here and there.

But for now, we'll go to bed with some sweeter dreams than usual thanks to ESPN's anonymous insiders.

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