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.

Three questions the Indiana Pacers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 42-40, swept in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Larry Bird resigned then the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, a horrible deal that got the summer off on the wrong track. Indiana also swapped Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis for Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in order to prevent bottoming out. The Pacers picked T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) in the draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PACERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Indiana escape its unsatisfying track? The Pacers are headed toward winning 30-something games, missing the playoffs and picking in the bottom of the lottery. It’s a miserable place to be.

Be just a little better, and they could make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Be just a little worse, and they could land a premier draft pick.

Either direction is preferable to the apparent status quo.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to tank. Hence, their offseason strategy. But if the season goes south quickly, they could embrace losing by trading veterans and/or giving more minutes to young players.

Competing for the playoffs is a little trickier, but Indiana has enough veterans where that could take care of itself. The odds are against it, but this team is capable of sneaking in with the right breaks.

2) Can Victor Oladipo handle the expectations thrust upon him? Oladipo didn’t choose to return to the basketball-crazed state where he starred in college. He didn’t ask to be the Pacers’ main return for Paul George.

But here he is.

Oladipo is a solid player, and at 25, he might still be improving. He’ll have to in order to justify the George trade (and maybe even his four-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in this season).

No longer playing with Russell Westbrook should help. Oladipo regressed while trying to play a spot-up role next to the Oklahoma City superstar last season. Indiana needs Oladipo to be more aggressive with the ball, a role that better suits him. Whether he’s good enough to handle those responsibilities on a good team is another question entirely, though.

3) Will Myles Turner break out? With George gone, Turner is now the Pacers’ franchise player (ignoring how the team might market Oladipo, who returns after starring with the Hoosiers).

Turner has all the potential to be a modern rim-protecting, 3-point-shooting center. He can get more comfortable beyond the arc. He must fine-tune his defense. But all the future looks bright for the 21-year-old.

He was intriguing as a rookie then even better last year. How steeply Turner continues to ascend will play a major role in whether Indiana exceeds expectations this season – and how its rebuild looks beyond.

Goran Dragic back with Heat after summer title for Slovenia

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MIAMI (AP) — A quick summary of the last few weeks in the life of Miami guard Goran Dragic:

He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland and the place he calls home, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. The title game came against Serbia, his father’s homeland and a place where he still has relatives.

He was the tournament’s MVP. He received one of Slovenia’s highest civilian honors. He was brought to tears by a gift of a jersey from the mother of his idol, the late star Drazen Petrovic.

And through it all, the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoed in his head – winning a championship is usually more demanding mentally than physically.

“Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.

It’s a lesson Dragic hopes to put to more use starting next week, when he returns to the U.S. and the Heat begin training camp. The only true point guard on Miami’s roster, Dragic is going to be a major key if the Heat are to return to the playoffs and contend in the Eastern Conference. And coming off his MVP showing at EuroBasket, the Heat hope his game keeps elevating.

“He looked sensational,” Spoelstra said of his point guard’s play at EuroBasket. “I’m so happy for him, so proud of that accomplishment, this most unlikely championship. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million. It’s smaller than the city of Miami. And to beat the powerhouses over there, but also to see how passionate Goran was about trying to lead this team to the title.”

Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists in the nine games. His 35 points in the title game was the high for the tournament.

He told Spoelstra in June he was all-in on trying to deliver Slovenia its first gold medal.

“He trained extremely diligently for this,” Spoelstra said. “And he competed and led at such a high level. You could just see the emotions pouring out of him. I talked to him on the phone after they won and he said, `This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”‘

The task that awaits in Miami won’t be easy.

The Heat had a strange season a year ago – starting 11-30, finishing 30-11 and missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker. Dragic averaged a career-best 20.3 points, and emerged as a locker-room leader as the year went along. He also did what he could to persuade Heat free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson to stay.

“It’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” Dragic said. “I’m looking forward to come to Miami and to battle for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team. Nobody is going to give us a chance in Miami. But I always believe. Why not?”

An estimated 20,000 people stood in the pouring rain to greet the Slovenian team when it arrived home. The medal ceremony after the championship game became Slovenia’s most-watched television event in the country, at least since ratings started being kept. Dragic was told 94 percent of the nation was watching.

“I’m just proud of him,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And I’m proud that we have him.”

Before 1991, both Serbia and Slovenia were part of Yugoslavia. Hence, the family ties for Dragic still exist.

“Playing for my national team for the past 12 years, you’re always waiting to achieve something, and as soon as we won the final all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” he said. “I felt so happy. And, of course, on the other side, I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia … it was not a question that I was going to do everything to bring them a title.”

Three questions the Utah Jazz must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
52-30, lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.

I know what you did last summer: Most notably, lost a free agent bid to keep Gordon Hayward. Drafted Tony Bradley and Donovan Mitchell. Signed Jonas Jerebko, Royce O'Neale, Thabo Sefolosha, and Ekpe Udoh. Re-signed Joe Ingles.

THREE QUESTIONS THE JAZZ MUST ANSWER:

1) Can the offense be effective? Last season’s team was based off of the third best defense in the NBA. It’s no secret that the key to success in Utah and indeed the NBA is to have a strong unit on that end of the floor.

But they were also the slowest team in terms of pace last season and were 12th in offensive efficiency. That number is potentially set to dip after Gordon Hayward made his exit to Boston to join the Celtics. A number of young players must step up for this squad, as well as some newcomers.

Ricky Rubio knows how to run an offense and get players to be their best on the offensive side of the floor. He is certainly going to make things exciting, and that is the hope in Utah. We also have a healthy Alec Burks to look forward to (hopefully) and a wide open berth for Rodney Hood. Add in a dash of power from Derrick Favors, and some wing depth from Thabo Sefolosha and there are new roles abound.

This will really be a test for head coach Quin Snyder, who has to work in major new faces like Rubio and will need to see if he can juice things up a little bit next year with less proven players.

2) Can the young guys step into their new roles? I know we have heard this before when it comes to Utah, but this season more than ever will need to be a big one for Burks with Hayward absent. I tend to be more skeptical in any case, and no doubt Utah fans are as well when it comes to the oft-injured guard.

Perhaps more important, it is Hood that will need to be less of a streaky scorer and more of a consistent offensive weapon for the Jazz. The hole left on offense by Hayward for Hood will be considerable, even as he has help from Sefolosha, Rubio, and Dante Exum on the wing.

Exum is an interesting case here as well, as he has been sidelined for a significant portion of the time with this squad due to injury. Exum had a lot of hype coming into his rookie season, and now heading into his fourth he will need to be much better lest he force his team into a tight spot.

3) Is this still a playoff team? This seems broad, but it is perhaps the most interesting question to ask about the Jazz. Yes, they have a perennial DPOY candidate as their highest paid player in Rudy Gobert. They also have a league favorite in Rubio at point guard, a young scorer in Hood, potential in Burks, bench scoring and rebounding in Favors, and a league pass jewel in Ingles.

For as difficult as it will be to replace the production of Hayward from a basketball standpoint, this isn’t a team that has been completely blown apart. They lost their star, which seems more common in today’s NBA. But they didn’t lose the structure around him, and in fact they have been growing their minor league type guys for seasons on end.

They are perhaps one of the only teams in the NBA who are semi-prepared to lose a star like Hayward. But again, this is mostly from a roster perspective. We still have to wonder whether the offense can be efficient and consistent on a nightly basis, and whether the new parts will fit together with the old ones.

I like a lot of the things the Jazz did this summer and it still goes to say they could be a playoff team this season. If anything, at least they should be fun to watch on defense.

Trump’s comments about anthem, Curry inflame sports stars

Associated Press
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SOMERSET, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump denounced protests by NFL players and rescinded a White House invitation for NBA champion Stephen Curry in a two-day rant that targeted top professional athletes and brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players alike on Saturday.

Wading into thorny issues of race and politics, Trump’s comments in a Friday night speech and a series of Saturday tweets drew sharp responses from some of the nation’s top athletes, with LeBron James calling the president a “bum.”

Trump started by announcing that Curry, the immensely popular two-time MVP for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams after Curry indicated he didn’t want to come. Later, Trump reiterated what he said at a rally in Alabama the previous night – that NFL players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired.

The Warriors said it was made clear to them that they were not welcome at the White House.

Curry had said he did not want to go anyway, but the Warriors had not made a collective decision before Saturday – and had planned to discuss it in the morning before the president’s tweet, to which coach Steve Kerr said : “Not surprised. He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him.”

Others had far stronger reactions.

“U bum (at)StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going!” James tweeted in a clear message to the president – a post that Twitter officials said was quickly shared many more times than any other he’s sent. “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

Curry appreciated James’ strong stance.

“That’s a pretty strong statement,” Curry said. “I think it’s bold, it’s courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does and other notable figures in the league. We all have to kind of stand as one the best we can. For me, the questions how things have gone all summer if I wanted to go to the White House or not, I told you yesterday being very transparent what my vote would have been in a meeting had we had one, based on just trying to let people know I didn’t want to be applauded for an accomplishment on the court when the guy that would be doing the patting on the back is somebody I don’t think respects the majority of Americans in this country.”

James also released a video Saturday, saying Trump has tried to divide the country. “He’s now using sports as the platform to try to divide us,” James said. “We all know how much sports brings us together. … It’s not something I can be quiet about.”

The Warriors said that when they go to Washington this season they will instead “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion – the values that we embrace as an organization.” General manager Bob Myers said he was surprised by the invitation being pulled.

“The White House visit should be something that is celebrated,” Myers said. “So we want to go to Washington, D.C., and do something to commemorate kind of who we are as an organization, what we feel, what we represent and at the same time spend our energy on that. Instead of looking backward, we want to look forward.”

Added Kerr after his team’s first practice of the season, “These are not normal times.”

As a candidate and as president, Trump’s approach has at times seemed to inflame racial tensions in a deeply divided country while emboldening groups long in the shadows. Little more than a month ago, Trump came under fire for his response to a white supremacists’ protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump also pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, who had been found guilty of defying a judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos.

Trump’s latest entry into the intersection of sports and politics started in Alabama on Friday night, when he said NFL players who refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” are exhibiting a “total disrespect of our heritage.”

Several NFL players, starting last season with then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have either knelt, sat or raised fists during the anthem to protest police treatment of blacks and social injustice. Last week at NFL games, four players sat or knelt during the anthem, and two raised fists while others stood by the protesters in support.

“That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Trump said, encouraging owners to act. He added, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, `Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”

On Saturday, Trump echoed his stance.

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” Trump tweeted. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

Trump has enjoyed strong support from NFL owners, with at least seven of them donating $1 million each to Trump’s inaugural committee. They include New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who Trump considers a friend.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell strongly backed the players and criticized Trump for “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL” while several team owners issued similar statements. New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said the comments were inappropriate and offensive. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who has supported the players who have knelt, said the country “needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness,” and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York ripped Trump’s comments as “callous.”

Plenty of other current and former stars from across sports weighed in Saturday. Richard Sherman of Seattle Seahawks said the president’s behavior is “unacceptable and needs to be addressed.”

In his Friday remarks, Trump also bemoaned what he called a decline in violence in football, noting that it’s “not the same game” because players are now either penalized or thrown out of games for aggressive tackles.

Trump has met with some championship teams already in his first year in office.

Clemson visited the White House this year after winning the College Football Playoff, some members of the New England Patriots went after the Super Bowl victory and the Chicago Cubs went to the Oval Office in June to commemorate their World Series title. The Cubs also had the larger and more traditional visit with President Barack Obama in January, four days before the Trump inauguration.

North Carolina, the reigning NCAA men’s basketball champion, said Saturday it will not visit the White House this season. The Tar Heels cited scheduling conflicts.

 

Warriors forward Draymond Green said the good news was that Golden State won’t have to talk about going to the White House again – unless they win another title during the Trump presidency.

“Michelle Obama said it best,” Green said. “She said it best. They go low. We go high. He beat us to the punch. Happy the game is over.”

Reynolds reported from Miami. AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, California, and AP writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this story.