Sac City Council members tip their hands on arena vote

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Sometimes you need to see the look in somebody’s eyes when they’re forced to make a decision before you truly know how they feel.

We got to see that on Tuesday night when the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to approve $550,000 to secure consultants, lawyers, and parking experts to start formalizing a funding proposal for the $387 million Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC). Once the funding proposal is finalized, the council will eventually vote on it. The NBA and the Maloofs have given Sacramento until March 1, 2012 to get a funding plan in place.

Each council member was given ample time to wax poetic about the nature of this small request, and most of them gave some clues about how they view the larger $387 million question that will be coming.

Here, I am going to handicap their votes, based on what they said and how they said it. A total of five out of nine votes on the city council will yield a new Entertainment and Sports Complex for Kings fans.

And for the sake of brevity, I’m going to call mayor Kevin Johnson and known proponent, councilman Rob Fong both yes votes, and I’m going to call both Sally Sheedy and Darrell Fong no votes, though I have a slight suspicion that Darrell Fong could be turned to the purple side.

Onto the science of word-parsing:

Angelique Ashby:

We have a real opportunity here. AEG is at the table. That’s great news. That’s terrific news.

This, for me, is not about a decision for what we do this week. It’s long term. A lot of the things we decide at this council…is how to fix things right now. We have a public safety problem, right now. We have three browned out fire stations, right now. But this…is a half-million dollar investment in long-term solutions, so we don’t have the urgent ‘right now’ discussion every year. If we play our cards right and we invest wisely, and we make smart decisions, we can come out of this with multiple economic engines.

Me: Real opportunity, long-term solutions, we can come out of this with multiple economic engines. She’s a yes.

Steve Cohn:

Let me be real clear, this work has to be done. If we’re even going to consider an arena, this has to be done. If one has the point of view that we shouldn’t be doing an arena, obviously it’s a waste of money, and we should stop right here. But I think if we’re open to the idea that we might find the public-private partnership that works, then this work has to be done and it has to be objective information.

Me: He voted yes to authorize the spending, which presumably he wouldn’t do if he opposed the arena given his comments. And he hung out with Slamson and KJ at a district meeting in May, so if he’s not a ‘yes’ he’s on the fence and leaning hard that way.

Bonnie Pannell:

What I heard this week….is we need jobs. Seniors are talking about ‘we need jobs,’ and our young people are talking about ‘we need jobs.’ There are no jobs in Sacramento. So what do we do? Do we take a chance and invest $500,000 that could lead to billions of dollars, or many jobs?

We need jobs, many more jobs, so I have to take a chance. We can’t depend on the federal dollar…state dollars…our destiny is in our hands. So I have to support this next step.

Me: Jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs. Billions of dollars? Many jobs? Almost like she was reading from the Think Big brochure. Yeah, she’s in.

Jay Schenirer:

I talked (in my campaign) about my opposition to the city giving away land. This is something very different here, which is a city owned property (an arena), and an asset we will have for a very long time. We saw Sacramento build the Crocker Art Museum, and put millions of dollars into it, and I think that it has become a jewel of the city. And I would look forward to this facility, this complex, being something similar. And what it can bring to the city will be incredibly important.

Me: Incredibly important, jewel of the city, that’s a yes.

Kevin McCarty:

I don’t want to be a naysayer, but this project is still a long-shot. It’s a shot, more than we had before, but it’s still a long road to hoe. With that, I’m thinking, if we can find some tools that we can invest in our downtown, whether it’s an arena or a California academy type thing in the railyards or anything else, we may not have an economic development tool anymore, such as redevelopment or the really limited opportunities to make sense of the investments.

Me: I don’t know what that means, either. That he thinks the project is a long-shot puts him on the fence for me, and probably leaning no.

First things first, none of these folks are going to sign off on something that they don’t agree with, so the Think Big Sacramento coalition still has to provide a viable proposal to them. But this issue didn’t just pop up overnight. These officials, for the most part, have a strong grasp of arena politics after 10-plus years of talking about this topic to no avail.

Looking at my ridiculously unscientific analysis I’d say that four of the five are either a yes or leaning that way. They only need three of the five to vote yes after counting K.J.’s and Rob Fong’s vote.

As always, the devil is in the details, but if you’re a Kings fan or a fan of teams staying put – then tonight’s meeting was an unqualified victory.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.