Karen Davidson did not hesitate
“We’re looking for a buyer,” she said Wednesday at the Pistons’ Motor City Makeover event at the Butzel Family Center on Detroit’s east side.
This is a slight change from Davidson’s initial position that she is exploring a possible sale, but it is not a surprising one. She has made it very clear privately that she does not aspire to be an NBA owner.
Are the Pistons any closer to being sold?
“Um … on the calendar, yes,” she said with a laugh. “There is interest, though.”
This much is clear:
•1. Davidson is not just considering a sale — she is pursuing one.
•2. For a variety of reasons, the Pistons are highly likely to stay in Michigan.
•3. The sooner this sale goes through, the better it is for everybody.
•4. “Soon” might be a pipe dream.
It takes passion and commitment to own a successful team, and Davidson has neither. That’s not her fault. It is just who she is. In a way, the Pistons are lucky that she knows she doesn’t want to own the team, so she can sell it to somebody with a vision.
The Palace had an extremely profitable first quarter, but Davidson said that had no bearing on the plans to sell. I asked if she could envision the Pistons being in the same hands in two years, and she said, “I couldn’t say. It’s like the hardest house to sell.”
What makes it hard? It’s expensive, the economy is weak, and most of us don’t have a half-billion dollars in our checking account.
Davidson wants to sell the Pistons and Palace together, which means the Pistons would stay put. Obviously, if a buyer wanted to move the team, that buyer would not want to own the Palace, since it is fairly difficult to tie the arena to a pickup truck and drag it to another state. As long as Davidson is determined to make this a package deal, the Pistons will remain in Auburn Hills. I asked her if the sale is complicated by the fact that she is selling the team and the Palace, and she said, “I think that makes it less complicated, truthfully, because if you buy the team, I would think you would want to buy the arena. You don’t want to be a tenant. You have it for other uses.”
I agree with that: If you own the team, you want to own the arena. But do you also want to own DTE Energy Music Theatre? Do you want to run Meadow Brook Music Festival?
Davidson surely would like to sell them together. That way, she won’t be left holding a property she doesn’t want, and she can ask for a premium by essentially packaging most of the Detroit concert market together for one buyer. But that jacks up the price tag. And limits the number of potential buyers.
Ideally, the Pistons would cast their net now, reel in two or three potential buyers by autumn, then pick one. But, of course, we do not live in an ideal state in an ideal economy in an ideal world.
And that, Pistons fans, is a big problem. The Pistons are floating in uncertainty, and it is hampering the operation. Nobody knows who the boss will be. Nobody knows what payroll will be, whether the team can venture into the luxury tax, what the owner’s priorities are. There are a thousand little decisions and quite a few big ones that are harder to make because of the ownership situation.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks have been for sale for years, and the uncertainty has made them two of the worst-run organizations in the NBA.
The Pistons have a seller. Now they need a buyer. Desperately. “Well, there’s always people with money,” Davidson said. “Really. We hope so, because money goes in a circle.”
Money does go in a circle. So do teams without a strong owner. And the Pistons are in danger of becoming one of those teams.