Fewer than four months after the Hornets received permission to move to New Orleans, Charlotte is ready to begin negotiations with the league that could result in a new team.
City manager Pam Syfert was given permission to negotiate an arena lease with the league at a marathon council meeting that ended early Tuesday.
City spokeswoman Julie Hill said the city hoped to open negotiations with the league within 2-3 weeks, though Syfert had yet to communicate with NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik.
City Council member Lynn Wheeler said no council members objected to giving Syfert permission to negotiate.
The council already has approved a plan to build a $231-million downtown arena to replace the outmoded Charlotte Coliseum if a major-league tenant can be found.
And NBA owners are likely to approve granting an expansion team to one of at least three ownership groups interested in Charlotte if an arena lease can be negotiated.
Belkin has said he would like to see a franchise granted in time for the team to begin play in 2003-04. A new arena would not be ready until 2004 at the earliest.
NUGGETS: Nene Hilario, the 19-year-old Brazilian selected No. 7 in the draft, signed. Terms weren't given.
SPURS: Free-agent forward Bruce Bowen re-signed, terms weren't given.
MIAMI 54, NEW YORK 46: Sheri Sam scored 24 and the host Sol snapped the Liberty's four-game winning streak.