Maloofs say that they will be flexible with March 1 arena deadline

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We expect the Sacramento Kings arena news to pick up now that we’re about three months away from the March 1 deadline for the city to have funding in place. That deadline has put Kevin Johnson and his Think Big Sacramento effort on a tight, tight schedule, but so far they appear to be on track.

Johnson may have gotten a small amount of breathing room on Thursday, however, when Joe and Gavin Maloof said that there may be some flexibility with their March 1 deadline (courtesy of Cowbell Kingdom):

“I’m sure we’ll always have flexibility,” said the oldest of the Maloof siblings. “The league has always been flexible … so I don’t know about that (a firm deadline.). There are a lot of people working in a positive vein this time, where before, there was a lot of negativity. But everybody is on board. So we’re optimistic guys. We want to get it done here in Sacramento.”

Added Gavin Maloof:

“We’re very happy to be here. Obviously the city and the fans have meant a lot to us over the last 12-13 years of our ownership.”

This doesn’t mean that the Maloofs are going soft here, but it does mean that if there is genuine progress that some leeway will be given. That occurs when there is trust, and Johnson has brought a new level of credibility to the table for a city that hasn’t cared about retaining an NBA team.  And let’s be honest, trust also comes when one brings together a who’s who list of heavy hitters that can get an arena built.

Of course, trust can also be built when one man twirls another man in front of thousands.

Johnson and AEG president Tim Lewieke will meet with NBA commissioner David Stern on Friday, who is handling the negotiations for the Maloofs. After the lockout and Chris Paul fiascos, Stern finally has some time on his hands and chances are we’ll have a good idea of where each side stands shortly.

The NBA, the Maloofs, and AEG are all expected to pitch in for the $406 million price tag, but the question is how much. The Sac City Council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to formally secure proposals from parking lot operators that could free up $200 million or more toward the effort.  Some or all of this will be combined with the sale of city land, user fees, and other creative funding sources. Rob McAllister and Jonathan Santiago out of Sacramento also reported Thursday that more funding sources are popping up, which is what happens when inertia moves toward critical mass.

Pretty soon each side will have to lay their cards on the table, and if it doesn’t happen in full on Friday night it will be soon thereafter.

Thursday the Maloofs appeared to be cautiously optimistic that Johnson will deliver the goods. Heck, they appeared downright jovial, and why wouldn’t they be? Fan interest in Sacramento is at a recent high-water mark, and they’ve had the second-highest group sales in the league.

But more importantly, they’re about to get a bunch of money from large market owners. When asked if they were happy with revenue sharing they could barely contain their relief:

“Yes, yes … very, very happy,” said Gavin. “It’s increased probably four or five times from what it was. It enables small market teams to compete with large market teams, and I think it’s closing that gap.”

So what once looked like a full court shot attempt has slowly gotten closer. After months of wrangling, many have said that getting the deal done is now a 3-point shot. After Friday’s meeting, perhaps it will be a free throw. Whatever the case may be, these are not the same brothers that stormed angrily out of the New York Board of Governors meeting in May. They’re happy, loose, and it appears like they truly want to stay in Sacramento. If you’re a Kings fan reading tea leaves, the events of the past week have all been good signs.

We’ll see if everybody is still happy after Friday.

“Fire Hoiberg” chants break out as Bulls eliminated from playoffs

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The problems with the Chicago Bulls — the ones that led to a mediocre season and a first-round exit from the playoffs after being up 2-0 on the Celtics — are certainly not all coach Fred Hoiberg’s fault. Blame starts with the roster that GarPax put together.

However, Hoiberg didn’t have the respect of his stars, his rotation management was bizarre at points, and there just seemed to be no consistent structure. What kind of team where the Bulls trying to be? What was Hoiberg doing to get them there?

As the Bulls were being eliminated by the Celtics Friday night, “Fire Hoiberg” chants broke out at the United Center.

Bulls fans are understandably frustrated, but they are not going to get this wish. Not this summer.

Hoiberg was the handpicked replacement for Tom Thibodeau, the guy Gar Forman and John Paxson — the Bulls front office brain trust — had their eye on and plucked out of the college coaching ranks. They bet big on him, and to admit that was a mistake after two years could endanger their jobs. So Hoiberg will stay.

What the Bulls roster will look like next season is another, more vexing question. Will Dwyane Wade be back? Jimmy Butler? With the seeming lack of a plan by GarPax, it’s all just speculation where they might go.

Whatever happens, Hoiberg will be coaching Chicago next season. Sorry Bulls fans.

John Wall takes over late, clinches Wizards 115-99 win over Hawks, Washington advances

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Closing teams out is hard.

Already up 3-2, Washington on the road was in complete control against Atlanta, up 22 in the third quarter, seeming destined to cruise to a win and a meeting with the Boston Celtics in the next round. Then it started to come apart. The Hawks moved the ball and made some shots, while the Wizards got tight. The lead shrunk down to three at 93-90 Washington, and Atlanta had all the momentum.

Then John Wall happened.

First, he made this play.

That changed the momentum as the Wizards closed the game on a 22-9 run where Wall scored the final 13 points on his way to 42 for the night on 25 shots. The result was a 115-99 Wizards win to close the Hawks out 4-2.

Washington starts the second round Sunday against Boston.

“I was just trying to close the game out, man,” Wall said of his block on Dennis Schroder and his run at the end of the game. “We had a big lead, but we knew those guys was not going to stop fighting. We had a couple careless turnovers, I had, but we just kept fighting and we came back and got this win.”

Heck, Wall was even taunting Julio Jones sitting courtside as he rattled off those late-game points.

Bradley Beal had 31 points in this one as well. Washington had 26 fourth quarter points, Wall and Beal combined for 24 of them. The Hawks went small in the end, benching Dwight Howard in the fourth again, and that was just fine with the Wizards, who have better athletes when small.

Wall and Beal learned over the course of this series to read and adjust to what Atlanta was doing. The Hawks chased and trailed over the top of picks all night, with their bigs staying back trying to protect the rim, and Wall and Beal both just took the shots given them and knocked them down. More than just those two, the packing of the paint by the Hawks in Game 6 allowed Bojan Bogdanovic, Otto Porter and others to step into clean midrange shots they missed earlier in the series. Washington made Atlanta pay for the Hawks’ defensive gameplan.

The feistiness of this game bubbled over in the second quarter when Bradley Beal had a breakaway layup and Kent Bazemore pushed him a little in the air. Beal got up and went right to Bazemore angry.

The referees reviewed that play and Beal and Bazemore got technical fouls with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jason Smith also getting them for jumping into the fray late.

For Atlanta, an interesting offseason begins where they will try to retain Paul Millsap, an unrestricted free agent, and if they can’t a rebuilding will start in earnest.

For the Wizards, it is on to Boston.

Bradley Beal, Kent Bazemore get technicals for scuffle in Hawks, Wizards

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It’s been a chippy kind of playoff series — one where Paul Millsap gets called a crybaby — and with the Hawks on the brink of elimination emotions were especially high on Friday night.

Kent Bazemore had been frustrated with a couple of calls (and no calls) and he took that out on the play above — he got picked by Kelly Oubre, who threw the ball ahead to Bradley Beal for a layup, and Bazemore gave him a little push in the air. It wasn’t much, but when a guy is airborne and defenseless that touch throwing off balance can lead to serious injury.

Beal bounced up and got in Bazemore’s face. Then an NBA version of a scuffle started.

The referees reviewed it and Beal and Bazemore got technical fouls with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jason Smith also getting them for their role later in the “festivities.”

The league should come in with a fine for Bazemore on this — you cannot let guys push other guys who are airborne, even slightly. That was a dangerous play, and I’m surprised the officials did not call a technical.

Report: Kevin McHale also in mix for team president in Orlando

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Cavaliers GM David Griffin — who doesn’t have a contract with the team beyond this year, but who LeBron James has endorsed — is on their radar.

Larry Bird, who is stepping down in Indiana, is a potential target.

You can add Kevin McHale to the list of former NBA executives the Orlando Magic are taking a look at in their search for a new head of basketball operations, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

The Orlando Magic have serious interest in Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Kevin McHale for their team president position, according to two people with knowledge of the situation….But McHale, who served as Minnesota Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations from 1995 to 2008 while also serving as the team’s head coach on two occasions, is known to be on the Timberwolves’ short list as well. The Magic would strongly prefer someone who has previously been a general manager for the president position.

But McHale, who served as Minnesota Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations from 1995 to 2008 while also serving as the team’s head coach on two occasions, is known to be on the Timberwolves’ short list as well. The Magic would strongly prefer someone who has previously been a general manager for the president position.

McHale made some franchise-defining moves as the head man in Minnesota — he drafted Kevin Garnett and he brought Flip Saunders into the organization, he brought in Sam Cassell and Latrell Spreewell and that got the Timberwolves to the conference finals in 2004, to use a few examples.

He had his share of mistakes, too. Like drafting Ray Allen then trading him for Stephon Marbury, or drafting Brandon Roy and trading him for Randy Foye.

The Orlando roster has talent on it — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — and a quality coach in place with Frank Vogel. That said the talent on the roster does not fit and Orlando desperately needed someone willing to shake things up, who wasn’t too invested in “their guys” to realize the roster’s serious shortcomings.

McHale could do that. It looks like we are a month or more from finding out, however, as Griffin isn’t going anywhere until after the Cavaliers season — which likely extends into June. If the Magic are serious about him, this process is going to drag out.