Jimmer fever in Sacramento might help bring new arena

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Jimmer Fredette, the most talked about player in this year’s NBA draft, was selected No. 10 overall by the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.

30 minutes later, the Kings had a splash page with his likeness up ready to sell tickets on their website. Within another 30 minutes, Jimmer was trending worldwide on Twitter and was the 20th most searched term on all of Google.

By the time he arrived at the royal airport the next day, the Sacramento fans had gathered en masse to welcome him to his throne, conveniently forgetting the contention by many basketball types that he is a slow, white, geeky chump.

So as he descended down the airport escalator doing a poor man’s rendition of the Heatles’ introduction in Miami (not four times, not five times, not six times did he ride the escalator), even the most ardent Kings fan had to wonder if he is more Ringo than John.

None of this hullabaloo should be surprising, however, after Jimmer left college basketball with a formidable cult following, recognition from just about every corner of the basketball universe, and a music video to help explain how that all works (with a very white version, here).  And while he would have likely received significant attention wherever he landed, the honeymoon in Sacramento has been amplified due to the fans’ grassroots efforts to save their team.

As we’ve reported, the Here We Build coalition being quarterbacked by former Suns PG and current Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson has brought together 70 regional leaders to try to deliver an arena, including heavy hitters from the world of money and politics to go with the Joe Lunchbuckets that refused to leave Power Balance Pavilion when everybody told them that their team was gone.

Without a new arena, the Kings will almost certainly pack up for Anaheim, who has rolled out the red carpet to become an NBA city.

And despite precise measurements available to anybody with an Internet connection showing how the public would benefit both economically and culturally by funding an Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) in Sacramento, the appetite to publicly fund sports arenas in California is decidedly bulimic. And because of that recent history, and the ease with which one can complain about any tax, politicians in the greater Sacramento region have balked at the very real threat of the Maloofs leaving Sacramento for over 10 years.

But this time around things are different, perhaps due to reality setting in when moving vans started circling Power Balance Pavilion. Or maybe it’s the 12.7% unemployment rate in Sacramento and the 4,000 jobs the proposed ESC will create, or the hundreds of millions of dollars the region would lose if the Kings leave and within just a handful of years – that word million graduates to the word billion.

The result is a creative set of funding proposals that will be considered over the coming months that will attempt to blend the perfect amount of public and private money to pay for the estimated $387 million price tag for a new ESC.

That’s right, public money. Now public money does not have to come through a direct sales tax. It can come from hotel fees, taxes on cigarettes, and just about anything a city or region would like – but it has to be approved (in this case) by a city council or regional authority that ultimately wants to get re-elected. Whereas prior arena funding efforts were largely unpopular, in conversations I’ve had with local politicians off the record, there is a palpable fear of the political fallout in future elections should they fail to deliver here.

As for the Maloofs, they liquidated nearly all of their ownership in the Palms Casino, eliminating $400 million of debt from the family’s balance sheet. For all intents and purposes they appear to be mobilizing to contribute to the private portion of the funding arrangement, though it’s unclear how much they’re able or willing to spend.

The question the Here We Build committee will seek to answer is what an operator would be willing to pay (and for what type of profits in return), what the Maloofs would be willing to pay as simple tenants (and what other profit-centers they would be willing to invest in), and then what funding the Sacramento region can get approved through its decision-making apparatus for the public piece – which naturally will happen when they compare the cost of their investment compared to the projected revenues and profits from audited reports.

And naturally, the investment will look better when the Kings are playing well, when they’re selling tickets and securing sponsorships, and when the Maloofs can kick in more money to the project with those higher projected revenues to lean back on.

Enter, the Jimmer.

Less than 24 hours after touching down on the tarmac, the Kings rolled Jimmer out with his two fellow draftees, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt, for a ‘Rookie Rally’ that begs the question of whether Justin Bieber grabbed Doc Brown’s DeLorean and kicked off his 80s mall tour. I’m only slightly sure that reports of grown men screaming and fainting were exaggerated by the press.

Despite the obvious marketing opportunity Jimmer brings to the table, the contention from Kings management is that he was drafted based purely on basketball ability, and whether the fans believe it or not — they don’t care.  It is a rare, if not unprecedented, example of a team’s fans and media knowingly and willingly taking the bait.

The fans in Sacramento know that his defense is an issue, they know the team’s defense is an issue, and they know that the team has at least five shooting guards and no true point guard. They know that the Kings could have addressed the gaping hole at small forward by drafting Kawhi Leonard, who is also known as the guy that the four-time NBA champion Spurs traded up-and-coming George Hill for.

They also know the move to trade Beno Udrih for John Salmons was made to accommodate Jimmer’s development, and while most of them believe that Salmons was not the right guy to bring in, only a muted few are screaming about not drafting Leonard.

When team president Geoff Petrie conveniently forgets the extra year on Salmons’ contract when he talks publicly about the trade leaving them in the same spot financially, nobody points out the $3-5 million per year that Leonard would have cost – compared to the 31-year old Salmons at about $8 million per year for three years (and a partially guaranteed fourth year at $7 million).

And no, the fact that the Kings may need five basketballs to be used during the game to keep everybody happy is not lost upon them. But while Kings fans recognize that there could be some chemistry issues, they’ll be quick to point out that Jimmer’s new teammates have all made statements that they’re excited to play with him.

Though Kings fans have watched their neighbors in Golden State crash and burn with it for years, they want to know what Don Nelson’s fun-and-gun offense would look like with Jimmer at the helm. After all, nobody in their right mind is expecting anything more than a No. 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs, so why not play a brand of basketball that’s exciting to watch.

And yes, they know that for every Steve Nash that there is an Adam Morrison, though if Morrison could have jumped like this then maybe he wouldn’t be out of the league.

Most importantly, Kings fans know that it doesn’t matter who the team drafts if they’re playing in Anaheim. And that’s where they’ll be if they don’t sell some tickets.

As for Jimmer-mania, the only thing that appears to have the ability to stop it would be the lockout.

Talking with vice president of tickets sales for the Kings, Phil Horn said “We are excited to welcome all of our rookies to the market,” adding, “As far as specific marketing initiatives, stay tuned.”

Horn could be playing coy because something big is coming down the pipeline or he could be in a holding pattern due to the lockout, and surely it should be a concern that any momentum for the arena effort get halted for any reason.

But judging by the estimated 5,000 people who showed up to see him at the mall, I’m guessing the Kings will have no problem marketing him with or without his presence on the team appearance circuit.

And whether or not he was a selected based solely on the merit of his play, it is inconsequential to Kings fans right now.

For them, Jimmer clearly gives them the best chance to win, and anything else that he can do on the basketball court right now is icing on the cake.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.