NBA: Stern predicts success for Bobcats

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 14, 2006

By Jenna Fryer

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE — NBA commissioner David Stern said Thursday he’s confident the Bobcats will succeed in Charlotte and predicted the franchise will be among the league’s best in two more years.

The Bobcats’ reception in Charlotte has cooled in the three years they’ve been here, with attendance ranking near the bottom of the league despite a sparkling new arena. Team owner Bob Johnson has been criticized for a series of poor business decisions, as well as a perception that he’s unwilling to spend money to draw in top talent.

The organization is in a current restructuring that has led to several management changes, a series of layoffs and the decision to stop operating the WNBA’s Sting.

Despite all of that, Stern said he still thinks the Bobcats will make it in Charlotte.

“I have no doubt that, what I consider to be the window that expansion teams have — which is year five — this is going to be one of the shining franchises of the NBA,” Stern said before Thursday night’s game between Charlotte and Orlando.

Asked why he was so certain, Stern said he based his belief on his past experiences and the new direction Johnson is taking on the business side of basketball.

“This team was slow to develop a sales team sort of efficiency. It happens,” Stern said. “It doesn’t make them alone in our league. But they do have it, and they’re coming to it.”

Stern cited the Bobcats’ new guidelines against handing out free tickets and an emphasis on increasing sales on partial season-ticket packages.

He also said giving up the Sting will ultimately be the best thing for the Bobcats.

“I agree with Bob and the organization that the focus now should be exclusively on the Bobcats,” he said. “But I don’t make it into the political issue or the fundamental economic issue. I think that the ownership is committed to growing the franchise, improving the teams record, (and) being as competitive as they possibly can.”

Stern shrugged off the layoffs as personnel changes made under a new management regime that began when Michael Jordan became a part owner in June.

He also admitted the Bobcats are handicapped under the current television deal with Time Warner Cable, which spawned after the failed launch of their own regional sports network.

“I would say that’s an issue, but I fully expect that to be dramatically improved by the end of the year,” Stern said. “Every team has its own ups and downs, but I would say it’s improved over what it was. But it has miles to go before ownership will rest.”