NEW YORK (AP) _ The New Orleans Hornets will move to the NBA's Western Conference by the 2004-05 season at the latest.

The league's owners approved the shift Tuesday, which will allow an expansion team in Charlotte to be in the Eastern Conference when it begins play in 2004. The Hornets left Charlotte after last season and moved to New Orleans.

Deputy commissioner Russ Granik said the Hornets have the option to switch to the West next season. The team will have to let the league know before the schedule is drawn up.

The Hornets' conference change will mean that all Western Conference teams other than the Memphis Grizzlies will be west of the Mississippi River. The Hornets play in an arena about a mile from the river.