Sacramento gets to keep Kings for now, but new building key

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Champaign corks should be popping. Horns should be honking in downtown as people in cars shout “here we stay.” There should be spontaneous parties in the street. Bloggers should hug mainstream newspaper writers.

The Kings are staying in Sacramento. That is fantastic news — this is a market that has proven it will wholeheartedly supported that team, making it one of the most feared home courts a decade ago. They didn’t deserve to lose their team.

But if they want to keep them the real work starts once the parties end.

If plans for a new arena are not an unstoppable force of momentum a year from now, today’s decision is simply a stay of execution.

David Stern himself has made this plainly clear — the future of the Kings in Sacramento is all about a new building. In the end, it is all that matters. Here is what George Maloof told the Associated Press, emphasizing this is a one-year deal right now.

“I think it’s the fair thing to do,” Maloof said. “We’ve always said we think Sacramento has the best NBA fans in the world. Their overwhelming show of support was incredible. But now they realize that we’re giving them another opportunity and we’re anxious to play basketball.”

Former Arco, now Power Balance Arena is one of the last of the old generation of arenas. Those were great for the average paying fan because those old arenas were intimate, with fans seeming right on top of the court. They were loud. But modern sports economics demand luxury boxes and high-end VIP seats near the court. Those boxes and seats generate more income (far more) than the “real fans” that fill the upper parts of an arena in the less expensive seats. And the Kings arena lacks the needed high-end seats and boxes to make it work.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson wowed the NBA owners when he met with them in New York with talk of a new arena in downtown, and showing off the experienced team putting it all together. The NBA Board of Governors was swayed, it started the momentum that led to the Kings staying put.

But if this arena does not have financing in place, if the plans and approvals are not well down the road by next spring, the Maloof brothers will again talk of moving the team — and this time other owners will support them.

While the building is key, there are a lot of factors in play here.

One is the Maloof family finances. The brothers have reiterated — and did so again today to Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick — they are not selling the team. But the Maloofs are hurting financially — they own a casino and a hotel, two industries hit very hard by the recession. Next to their beloved Palms in Las Vegas they built a massive new condominium building that sits more than half empty, also due to the economy. They have racked up a lot of debt (which seemed to be part of the rational for the move, it came with another loan from Henry Samueli, which might have helped keep them a float for a while). But they insist they have money and will spend some during free agency.

Then there is Ron Burkle, a billionaire in the grocery store industry and buddy of Bill Clinton, who Johnson said wants to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento. He has deep, deep pockets. The Maloof brothers want him out of the picture, but he is sitting there on the sidelines.

Well, not totally on the sidelines. His associate and Sacramento lobbyist was one of the key people helping mayor Johnson round up $10 million in new sponsorship money. Helping keep the Kings in Sacramento, putting more pressure on the Maloofs, who could have to sell and… just a thought.

The real pressure now is not on the Maloofs but on Sacramento to keep the Kings. They have to pony up the sponsorship money and fill the building next season. They need to prove again they care about the Kings.

But more importantly, the fans and voters need to apply pressure to make sure this building becomes a reality. Because in the end it’s all about the building. That is the real work to do in Sacramento.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

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Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.