Hornets could be sold within week

Updated: February 25, 2012, 10:09 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy is involved in a group bidding to purchase the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, two sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to ESPNLosAngeles.com.

According to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the group is led by Orange County, Calif., businessman Raj Bhathal and also includes Larry J. Benson, the brother of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson.

During a news conference at the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando on Saturday, commissioner David Stern said that the league is involved in discussions with one group and has another group in second place. He described the league as "optimistic" that the franchise can be sold within the next few weeks.

"We're optimistic that we will make a deal with group one," Stern said. "And we're a little bit behind here because we haven't concluded our deal with the state yet, but I think it's moving closer day by day. It's progressing well, but it's not finished. We expect to have it finished, I'm told, in the next week or ten days, and that's the period of time that we would like to hopefully have this deal for the sale of the club come into much sharper focus."

The NBA purchased the franchise for approximately $318 million from longtime owner George Shinn in December 2010 after his anticipated sale to minority partner Gary Chouest collapsed. Chouest is now heading the other group interested in purchasing the team, according to the Times-Picayune report.

Hornets chairman Jac Sperling has been appointed by Stern to broker a deal that would ensure the franchise remained in New Orleans through at least 2024.

Bhathal, who founded a Newport Beach-based swimwear manufacturing company, and Benson, an attorney, both once owned franchises in the now-defunct World League of American Football.

Dunleavy, who most recently coached the Los Angeles Clippers from 2003-10, coached for 17 seasons with the Clippers, Lakers, Bucks and Trail Blazers.

Because of his connections around the league Dunleavy, a successful businessman outside of his coaching career, has taken a lead negotiating role for the group, according to the sources.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.