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Levenson says Thrashers not leaving Atlanta
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ATLANTA — The Atlanta Thrashers won't be leaving the city and may soon add a "significant" new investor, said Bruce Levenson, one of the team's owners.

The group which also owns the Atlanta Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena may announce new investors within three months, Levenson told The Associated Press on Thursday.

"We are currently talking to a number of people or groups who have expressed an interest in partial or significant stakes in one or both teams," Levenson said.

"I would say in the next 90 days something could bubble to the surface. Folks are going through various stages of due diligence right now."

Levenson did not name the potential investors.

The ownership group hired a firm last year to seek investors. That search fueled speculation the Thrashers could move to another city.

Levenson said "obligations to the league" prevent discussions of the Thrashers leaving Atlanta.

"We are only allowed to talk to folks about buying the Atlanta Thrashers in Atlanta," Levenson said. "Those are the only conversations we're allowed to have with folks."

There have been reports that a group in Hamilton, Ontario had interest in moving the Thrashers to Canada. Levenson said he has heard other speculation about other cities.

Levenson, the owners' point man on matters involving the Thrashers, Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman are based in Washington, D.C.

Michael Gearon Jr., the NBA governor on the ownership group, is based in Atlanta, as are his father, Michael Gearon Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner. Turner's father is Ted Turner, the former owner of the teams.

A long-running legal battle between Boston-based Steve Belkin and the other seven owners remains unsettled. Belkin has a 30-percent share and one of three votes in all decisions. The Washington, D.C. and Atlanta groups each has one vote.

The ownership split began in 2005 over Belkin's objection to the Hawks' trade of Boris Diaw, two first-round draft picks and a $4.9 million trade exception to the Phoenix Suns for guard Joe Johnson.

Johnson has been a four-time All-Star with Atlanta. His contract expires this season. Levenson said Hawks general manager Rick Sund is examining how to proceed in talks with Johnson and coach Mike Woodson, whose contract also expires this year.

The Hawks won 53 games in the regular season and were swept by Orlando in the second round of the playoffs.

The four straight losses to Orlando, most by lopsided margins, left some calling for a new coach. Levenson said the owners must consider five straight seasons of improvement while making decisions.

"We have to look at that and on the other hand look at the fact that for two years in a row we've been swept in the (conference) semifinals," Levenson said. "Each year we were stopped there and both times abruptly.

"So if we're going to move forward, that's a concern we need to address. Hopefully Rick will come up with recommendations to address that."

Johnson averaged only 13.4 points in the Hawks' final seven playoff games and was booed by Atlanta fans in the Game 4 home loss to Orlando.

Levenson said the 2005 trade for Johnson was the most important step in rebuilding the Hawks, who had nine straight losing seasons after making the 1999 playoffs.

"You can really trace the beginning of the pulse of the Atlanta Hawks to that deal," Levenson said. "That was really the beginning. I mean, the Hawks did not have a pulse at that point. No one has contributed more to breathing life back into the Atlanta Hawks over these last five years than Joe Johnson."

Thrashers coach John Anderson was fired and Don Waddell was moved from general manager to team president in a major shakeup after the team missed this year's playoffs. Rick Dudley was promoted to general manager.

Levenson said Dudley put the search for a new coach on hold until all possible candidates, including those still involved in the NHL playoffs, could be interviewed.

"Rick prefers to do is do all those interviews in a more condensed time period," Levenson said. "That will begin shortly and we'll go from there."

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