Sacramento City Council votes 7-2 to go forward with next step in arena process

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City council meetings can be dull, but the Sacramento City Council meeting on Tuesday to decide if the Kings should go forward with a key element of their plan to secure a new Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) was anything but.

Alright, it was still pretty boring, but Tuesday’s meeting had everything you could ask for in a five-hour local government showdown, including human PowerPoint presentations, #Occupy protestors, some normal people, the villain city council member, people whose sole purpose in life is to show up at every city council meeting and speak on every issue, people that sang during their two minutes to speak, the transvestite with a keen business acumen, and of course, the mayor that dunked on Hakeem Olajuwon like he was Timofey Mozgov.

On the docket was a vote to determine if the city should go forward with a Request for Qualification (RFQ) from parking lot operators that could end up providing $200 million or more toward the city’s stake in the estimated $400 million arena.  Once the vote passed, the city manager would then be authorized to have parking lot operators produce preliminary bids for the right to operate city-owned parking lots for terms up to 50 years.  This is said to be the funding nut that will push the Kings over the finish line, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough.

What made Tuesday’s meeting critical, aside from the unlikely scenario that the council would vote down this motion, was getting to see once again how each council member would act, as they will ultimately determine the project’s fate. During the last procedural vote in which $500,000 was requested to secure a qualified arena negotiations team, I wrote about how each council member discussed the arena project and said that things looked good for Kings fans.

They voted 7-2 on that day to authorize funding that would move the process to its next step, and on Tuesday they voted the same exact way to authorize this RFQ. Again, the main opposition to the arena plan has come from two council members, Sally Sheedy and Darrell Fong.  After Kevin McCarty talked extensively on Tuesday about how the parking funds could be used in other ways, he also joined my unofficial ‘no’ side of the ballot.  Meanwhile, Sheedy has taken a Judge Judy like role in proceedings, barking out commands to city staff and generally trying to muck up the process.  She is seeking re-election under an anti-arena campaign.

On the other side of the ballot I had identified four arena proponents prior to Tuesday that, as I see it right now, will vote yes when the vote matters in February (Rob Fong, Angelique Ashby, Bonnie Parnell, and Jay Schenirer).

Following Tuesday’s meeting I added Steve Cohn to that list after he offered up this tidbit following an exchange with ‘no’ voter McCarty. After Cohn cited a Green Bay Packers-like stock plan as a creative example of a funding mechanism, McCarty said “It probably helps that the Packers are 13-0.”

To that point, Cohn said “Yeah but they’re going to keep their team no matter what. So we need to keep ours.”

Kevin Johnson’s ‘yes’ vote would only be needed to break a tie, so essentially Kings fans need 4-of-8 members to vote ‘yes.’

All said, I’m predicting a 6-3 vote in favor of funding the arena, but like everything else having to do with Sacramento versus Los Angeles, this will come down to the wire. Assuming my word-parsing, eye-tests, and other voodoo analysis are correct, the deal still has to come to the city council’s desks without any major flaws. Then, it has to provide enough time for council members to vote on it without having any reservations about moving too fast.

As of now, Kevin Johnson has yet to make a mistake and has conducted the campaign to a presidential degree, with a former campaign manager to Bill Clinton, Chris Lehane, at his side co-chairing the Think Big coalition. Until Johnson screws something up, it’s wise to bet that he’ll continue to hit his deliverables.

Meanwhile, Kings fans continue to impress in their role of drumming up public support.  During Tuesday’s meeting, a diverse set of seven Kings fans spoke during the time for public comments, but the twist was that they scripted their comments to fit a theme. The theme was that the city’s need for an arena is “bigger than basketball,” so before each of them spoke they removed their Kings jerseys to reveal a white T-shirt with one of the words ‘Concerts, Regional $, Events, Revitalize, Nightlife, Jobs, and Pride.’

They live-tweeted each person’s talking point and along with the streaming video of the council meeting the entire Kings’ grassroots network trended on Twitter in Sacramento.  Small gestures, big impact.  I’ve said it before, but Save our Sonics needed Twitter to invent itself a few years earlier.

I asked the leader of the group that came up with the idea for the T-shirts why they did it, and Mike Taveres of #FANS (Fund Arena Now Sacramento) said, “We wanted to show this was more than just our Sacramento Kings. They’re a piece of the puzzle but not the only piece.”

What’s going on in Sacramento is much bigger than basketball, indeed. The region has 12 percent unemployment and lost $40 million in tax revenues in the last year alone due to falling property values. The city’s normally stable public sector has been hammered by budget cuts at the state level, and big businesses are leaving with regularity (for places like Anaheim that cater to business no less).

Should Sacramento not fund the arena and they lose their team, they will need to find an anchor tenant before they could entertain the idea of building a game-changing downtown anything district. Their citizens will continue to pour money into other regions when they travel outside of Sacramento for shows and events, property values will likely continue to struggle, and businesses will see the city’s inability to build an arena as a failure of leadership. They already are. The citizens, already slumping through bad economic times, will see their crown jewel going away as a sign that things aren’t working, and confidence will erode all the way around. These aren’t my words – they’re the words of the many citizens I’ve interviewed that desperately want to keep the tumbleweeds outside of city limits.

Yes, there is a discussion to be had about the public funding of sports arenas, but ironically that discussion is in a pending status within the academic community. As I reported back in August, the go-to economist on sports subsidies, Brad Humphreys, is in the middle of a study to address the hundreds of millions of dollars of increased property value a facility like the proposed Kings arena might bring. I spoke with Humphries in great detail, and he said that as long as the Maloofs and the NBA were throwing in the type of money that had been reported, that the Kings deal shaped up as a “good deal.” As for the study, that’s on pause until his co-author can catch a break from his two newborn kids. They’re in no hurry to finish the study and under no societal obligation to do so, but for anybody with so-called claims that they understand the economics behind this – they don’t. Simply put, the experts are still studying it. In the meantime, Humphries and others have noted that the previous approach of building a stadium or arena in the middle of nowhere was flawed, and building them in the middle of downtown hubs is the best way to monetize the value of a sports franchise. He wrote,

A new state of the art facility integrated in a comprehensive urban redevelopment program and located in the heart of a large city might be expected to generate increases in residential property values in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of dollars within a mile of the facility, if the location, planning, construction, and development are carried out carefully.

This is what the Kings fans and community leaders are fighting for. It’s not just the increase in tax revenues an extra ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ of land value might bring, but rather the overall economic activity the arena will spur. It’s why these normal citizens have given all of their waking hours to a cause, it’s why a documentary is being made about the #HereWeStay guys, it’s why thousands of fans refused to leave after the team’s final game, and it’s why they continue to outpace their opposition at every turn.  Their community literally depends on it.

Kevin Johnson heads to New York on Friday to meet with the NBA and AEG to discuss how much private contribution the league and the Maloofs are going to make. All of this is going to come together in the next 60 days, and ultimately there will be a final vote.

Sure public opposition could pick up, and yes, unappealing deal-points could make the deal go bad, but with Kevin Johnson pitching a shutout and Kings fans handling the public education piece – it sure seems like they’re on track to finally get that win over Los Angeles.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.

Report: Momentum building toward ending one-and-done rule

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“My sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that during the NBA Finals last year about the one-and-done rule for players trying to enter the NBA — they can’t be drafted by NBA teams for one season after their high school class graduates, so the best players go to college for one season (and most go to classes for less than that). As Silver said, nobody really likes the system, but it was the compromise struck between the owners (who would like to raise the draft age to 20 or higher) and the players’ union (who want the draft age at 18, as soon as guys come out of high school).

However, momentum is building to change the rule, something we have written about before and now is gaining more traction, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With momentum gathering to reshape the one-and-done draft entry rule, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts met with the new Commission on College Basketball in Washington on Thursday, league sources told ESPN….

Nevertheless, there’s a growing belief within the league that Silver’s desire to end the one-and-done — the ability of college basketball players to enter the NBA draft after playing one year in college — could be pushing the sport closer to high school players having the opportunity to directly enter the league again. For that change to happen, though, the union would probably need to cede the one-and-done rule and agree to a mandate that players entering college must stay two years before declaring for the draft.

While the NBA and players’ union will talk to the NCAA about their plans, ultimately the college body has no say in what the NBA draft and eligibility rules are.

The best players of their generations came straight to the NBA out of high school — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and others —  however, what bothered owners were the misses in the draft. There were busts, and owners/GMs want to reduce as much risk as they can in the draft (even though there are busts on guys who they saw plenty of in college, hello Michael Olowokandi).

NBA teams are now better suited to develop players than they were a couple of decades ago — every team has an assistant coach focused on just that. The best teams in the NBA right now — Golden State, Boston, San Antonio — are the best at developing players. That’s not a coincidence, and it has teams copying (or attempting to) what the successful ones do. Combine that with the growth of the G-League and teams growing their understanding how to use it, and they are better positioned to draft a player out of high school and develop him over time than they ever have been.

 

There are still a lot of questions and hurdles. If a player declares for the draft and has an agent, but isn’t drafted (or even isn’t drafted in the first round, so no guaranteed contract) will he have the option to come to college for two (or three) years anyway? Will the NCAA allow that? And Silver has talked before about the changes in the draft needing to reflect changes in how we develop players down to the AAU level, which is its own complex set of problems.

It’s not moving quickly, but these are steps in the right direction. One-and-done doesn’t work well for anyone. The college baseball style rule (go straight to the pros or spend three years in college in that sport’s case) isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the system in place. There seems to be momentum toward change. Finally.

Watch James Harden, Rockets drop 90 on Suns — in first half

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This game had all the drama of The Last Airbender. Which is to say none. It was essentially over when the Rockets went on a 21-6 first-quarter run — unlike Boston in the earlier Thursday game, Phoenix isn’t built to come back against elite teams.

When the 15-1 Rockets run came at the end of the first quarter, it was clear Houston could do what it wanted on offense, and by half the Rockets put up 90 points. The Rockets were putting on a show (and eventually won 142-116).

James Harden had 33 points on 12 shots in the first half (he finished with 48 points for the night). Ryan Anderson hit four threes on his way to 18 before the break. Eric Gordon had 10. As a team, Houston shot 62.2 percent, and 60 percent from three in the first half. They got to the line 25 times. I could go on, but you get the picture.

If you want more highlights, here is Harden’s 48 for the night. Enjoy.

 

Paul George getting comfortable with new Thunder teammates

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George couldn’t find a rhythm on offense his first few weeks with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The four-time All-Star struggled to fit in with fellow All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony after he was traded from the Indiana Pacers. He settled for jumpers too often, shot too quickly at times and didn’t get to the free throw line as often as usual. As he adjusted, the Thunder started the season with a 4-7 record.

Once George broke out, the Thunder turned their fortunes. George erupted for 42 points in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers last Friday, then scored 37 points in a victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. He scored just 13 points in a win over Chicago on Monday, but his shots were higher quality and flowed with the offense better.

The Thunder take a three-game win streak into Friday’s game with San Antonio.

“I’m just staying in attack mode, playing downhill, being aggressive when I have the ball, being aggressive off the ball,” George said.

George leads the Thunder with 21.9 points per game. It’s quite a feat to be the top scorer on a team with Westbrook, a two-time scoring champion and the reigning league MVP, and Anthony, the No. 24 scorer in NBA history. But George has that kind of talent, and he gets to play off the other two stars.

“It’s hard because they have so many options,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “A lot of times you have the one-two option, but they have the one-two-three option. It’s tough.”

George said during the preseason that he was adjusting to how fast Westbrook moves in transition. Now, he’s in better position to attack because he is prepared. That has led to easy baskets and more free throws. He has shot 26 free throws the past three games after shooting just 27 in the previous 11 games.

“I think just trying to get out ahead of him as much as possible, I think, is key,” George said. “That way, when he’s making plays in full court, I’m already in position ready to receive the ball instead of catching up, getting my feet ready, trying to decide what to do. I’m ready to shoot or attack at that point.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said George is starting to figure out how to use his shot selection to keep defenses guessing.

“I think he’s just been balanced,” Donovan said. “He’s an elite scorer. He can do it a lot of different ways. He’s done it off the dribble, he’s done it off of catch and shoot, he’s done it off the drive. I think it’s just his balance of getting more comfortable with what we’re doing offensively and trying to figure out spots where he can be aggressive.”

Donovan said the best part of George’s performances against the Clippers and Mavericks was his efficiency – he only took 22 shots in each contest.

Even when George doesn’t shoot well, he’s effective as both an on-ball and off-ball defender. He leads the league with 2.4 steals per game.

“Honestly, defense is the part that I lock in at,” George said. “Offensively it is going to come, defensively is where I like to leave a mark and really try to be special on that end. It’s just sticking to the game plan personally in matchups, sticking to the gifts that God has given me.”