- Associated Press - Monday, April 16, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The NBA’s All-Stars will be back in the Big Easy two seasons from now.

Whether New Orleans’ NBA franchise will still be known as the Hornets by then is another matter.

Three days after Saints owner Tom Benson agreed to buy the Hornets and sign a lease extension at New Orleans Arena, NBA Commissioner David Stern came down to the bayou and announced that New Orleans will host the 2014 All-Star game as “a reward to the good citizens of this city and the sponsors and ticket holders” who helped solidify the team’s financial footing before it was sold.

Stern had barely finished making that announcement when Benson asked fans to help him pick out a new name for the team.

“We want to change the name from Hornets to something that means New Orleans and Louisiana,” said Benson, who has agreed to pay $338 million for the club. “The Hornets don’t mean anything” to the area.

Stern smiled while Benson spoke and noted, “He doesn’t own the team yet.”

“You’ve got $25,000 of my dough,” Benson responded, referring to his down-payment.

Stern quickly corrected him, saying, “$25 million _ and if you want to get it credited to the purchase price, you better stop talking now.”

Laughter erupted, but talk of a name change continued later when Stern was asked about the possibility of New Orleans getting the name of its first NBA franchise _ the Jazz _ back from Utah.

“It’s fair to assume going in that each of other 29 teams will maintain ownership of their names,” Stern said. “There are ways to look at that, but I’m sure there are also other great names.”

Benson, meanwhile, is not stopping at a name change. He said he wants a new practice center for the team as well.

“The first thing we’ve got do is get a practice facility that’s going to be what we ought to have to get this team ready to win a championship,” Benson said.

Currently, the Hornets practice in a suburban event center across the Mississippi River from where the Saints are headquartered. The Hornets’ lease contains a pledge of $10 million that can be used either toward a new practice center or improvements to the New Orleans Arena, which already is slated for about $50 million in improvements during the next two years.

Doug Thornton, vice president of SMG, the company that manages the state-owned Superdome and New Orleans Arena, has been working on the selection of possible practice facility sites in the metro area. He said it was too early to name sites, and added that Benson likely would have to spend some of his own money on a practice center. Thornton said would be tough to build one comparable to the better ones around the NBA for less than $20 million.

Joining Stern and Benson at the announcement were Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Story Continues →