Sacramento one vote away from losing the Kings last night, but still in control of their destiny

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If you build it sticky-fingered shooting guards will come.

And if Sacramento doesn’t approve an arena for the Kings quickly then Seattle has no problem playing Kevin Costner.

And let’s not bury the lede here, Seattle almost got their wish Tuesday night as the Sacramento City Council narrowly voted 5-4 to bury a resolution that would have sent the Kings packing for all intents and purposes. But let’s couch that for a second and start from the top.

Seattle mayor Mike McGinn has been working with multimillionaire Christopher Hansen to bring an NBA team back to the Emerald City, and it’s clear Hansen has been in long-term discussions with power brokers in the Seattle area and probably David Stern and the NBA. How far they are along is debatable, but this week at least some in the Seattle media have gone as far as to say that there is a “70/30” chance the Kings play in Seattle next year and that the announcement could come in April.

That sounds like wishful thinking, because there are way more questions in Seattle than there are answers, and Sacramento appears to control its own destiny when it comes to the Kings.

McGinn, who said he has met with Hansen face-to-face just once, has admitted as much in his various media appearances, refusing to give too much hope to Seattleites that the Kings could indeed be coming. “A lot of things have to align for this to work, and I can’t predict whether everything will align or not,” he said, trying to manage expectations of listeners on ESPN 710 in Seattle.

“My expectation, and this isn’t my side of the equation, that’s gotta come from the folks that are looking to own a team – I don’t think they’re moving forward unless they feel they have commitments from the NBA and the NHL, but that’s their business, and I think that’s one of the things that has to align, as well. They’ve gotta make sure that they have a pathway. My understanding is that given the way that these things work, they probably have some type of pathway but I can’t give you any information about what that looks like.”

That pathway is for the Kings arena effort to fall flat on its face. One way to help agitate the process is to leak news of the city’s very real plans to snatch the next available NBA team in the weeks leading up to Sacramento’s critical stretch run.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson was unfazed in comments made to the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis.

“I don’t blame them for trying to build an arena. I just don’t think it’s going to be Sacramento,” said Johnson, in reference to which NBA team could move to Seattle. “We have a laser focus on our business at hand, we’re controlling our own destiny and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

If Seattle cannot cash in on the Kings then the next most viable option would be the league-owned Hornets, as the NBA is closer to contraction than it is to expanding anytime soon.

Sacramento has until March 1 to present a viable funding plan to the Maloof family and the NBA, or it’s widely believed that the league will allow the Maloofs to move the team. Anaheim, like Seattle, has taken a wait-and-see approach and has appeared to be elbowed out by Seattle, and one doesn’t have to think hard to figure out what Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling think about that.

The Maloofs, for their part, have appeared committed to keeping the team in Sacramento and multiple sources have indicated that they have no plans to sell the team. They also said in December that they would be willing to be flexible with the deadline if arena talks were moving in the right direction. Regardless, assuming that anything is set in stone on their end is a fool’s errand right now.

While there have been many rumors to the effect that the Maloofs are struggling financially, nobody truly knows how they’re doing. Their sale of the Palms in June could be seen as both a sign that they freed up money to operate the Kings, or a sign that the ship is sinking. And even if they were to sell the Kings, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the NBA could continue to work with Sacramento in coordination with another buyer, as the league has spent tremendous time and resources helping the team regain its footing in the California capitol.

Going back to the lede, Kevin Johnson and his Think Big Sacramento coalition are nearing a conclusion to the year-long fight, and they had a critical vote last night that was closer than any arena insiders, including myself, thought it would be.

Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, the unofficial figurehead of the anti-arena effort on the council, made a motion to bring the Kings arena issue to a vote in June. Her motion would ask the public to vote up-or-down on whether or not the city should turn over its parking assets to a private operator for upward of $200 million to go toward a new arena. This, of course, is a disingenuous position knowing that the NBA’s March 1 deadline would render any June vote useless – and the prevailing belief in and around the city political scene is that she is exacting political revenge upon Johnson. As the story goes, he did not give her a seat in his inner circle after she endorsed his mayoral run. Sheedy has since drawn numerous competitors for her district seat amidst plummeting popularity, and last week announced that she would not seek re-election next cycle.

In following the commentary made by council members throughout the past few months, only two had made strong statements against using public funds for an arena, and I had handicapped the total vote to be in favor of Kings fans. What we saw last night was the most recent ‘call’ in arena poker, with one anti-arena leaning vote (Kevin McCarty) making his position clear after supporting Sheedy’s resolution, one swing vote (Jay Schenirer) swinging hard to the pro-arena side and voting against a public vote, and one arena cheerleader (Bonnie Pannell) going completely off-script with a vote to support Sheedy’s resolution.  The resolution ultimately failed by a 5-4 vote, so there will be no deal-breaking public vote and the decision to keep the Kings will be made by the council itself in the coming weeks.

Combining the new projected anti-arena votes with the old ones, there are four councilmembers that have acted to send the Kings packing, including Sheedy, Darrell Fong, McCarty, and Pannell. Arena supporters Rob Fong and Angelique Ashby join Steve Cohn and Schenirer as leaning yes votes on the eight-person panel, with mayor Johnson as the tie-breaking ‘yes’ vote.  While I suspect this is a group that votes ‘yes’ to keep the Kings in Sacramento, this situation is much too close to call with just one more defection needed to kill the deal.

They will meet on February 14 to discuss the finalized list of parking lot operators that the city will request final proposals from.  Chances are at some point KJ is going to have to get an extension on the March 1 deadline. With those parking numbers in hand, the last step is for all of the public and private funding sources to get in a room and decide finally, once and for all, what everybody is going to contribute to the estimated $400 million price-tag of the new Entertainment and Sports Complex.

Multiple sources tell me that number is going to be reached, and the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place quickly. Earlier Wednesday James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom reported that Sacramento is going to ask the NBA and the Maloofs for $80 million and his cohort Rob McAllister reported that two executive level sources with the Kings have a “strong belief” that if the “numbers are close” that the league will come up with the balance.

While things are coming into focus, for now there will be speculation, and with last night’s close city council vote the vultures will descend and you’ll find more reports trying to pry the Kings from Sacramento’s nowhere-near-dead hands.

“Stern is one of the guys who the group in Seattle is talking to, and he wants a team (in Seattle), and he’s apparently told them that they can play in Key Arena while an arena is being built,” said Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times, who also made the 70/30 comment tying a Kings-to-Seattle announcement to April.

Stern was more diplomatic when speaking to Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Obviously, we certainly have been supportive of Mayor [Kevin] Johnson’s efforts with respect to the building and we sure would like to see that happen,” Stern said. “But we cannot guarantee or [assume] it, and we’ll have to deal with the realities as we find them.”

Surely the commissioner could take umbrage to Kelley’s reports that he is knee-deep in talks with Seattle, but I’m betting he lets the Emerald City flex its arms and scare the cow poop out of Kings fans and councilmembers alike.

The irony here is that Sonics fans were exactly where Kings fans were when Clay Bennett moved their team away, and the producer of the acclaimed documentary Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Dream, Jason Reid, was outspoken in supporting Kings fans last April – showing up at a Thunder playoff game ringing cowbells for all the cameras to see. But all is fair in love and sports.  When news broke about Seattle’s interest they tweeted out an old 2010 video that states, “No Team Is Safe,” and at the end shows a Seattle Kings logo. Colin White, web and graphic designer for Sonicsgate said, “It is what it is. We want (their) team.”

So, no, Stern won’t put a blanket on the bidding war at this late hour. If anything he’ll ratchet it up. The only difference here is that Kevin Johnson has the ball in the final seconds, and as long as he gets four council members to agree with him he’ll probably hit the game-winning shot.

Thunder’s Paul George finding his role, doing a little bit of everything for new team

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder coach Billy Donovan can’t pinpoint the best thing about Paul George.

Oklahoma City’s versatile forward averages just over 20 points per game, leads the league in steals and is third in 3-point goals while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

“I think that’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of players in the league that are great offensive players, but they’re not great defensive players. I think arguably, it would be hard to make a case either way of what end of the floor he’s better on, offense or defense, because he’s that special.”

George believes he’s having an All-Star season in first year with Oklahoma City after being traded from the Indiana Pacers. There have been challenges as he has tried to fit in with superstars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and it’s still unclear where he will play next season because of his upcoming free agency.

Still, he has remained focused enough to be a top-notch performer. As he has found his way, the Thunder have rallied from an 8-12 start and have gone 17-8 since heading into Saturday’s game at Cleveland.

“He can score it, attack the rim and he defends,” Lakers rookie guard Kyle Kuzma said. “Anytime you do that, you’re going to be a pretty damn good player.”

George was first team All-Defense in 2014 and second-team in 2013 and 2016, and he was a defensive stopper for Team USA when it won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He says without hesitation that he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year this season and feels he should have won the award in the past.

“I think I have the makeup, I think I have the intangibles,” George told The Associated Press. “I’m physically capable of doing the things necessary. I thought 2013-14 I thought I was hands down the best perimeter defender on the league and I thought I was overlooked.”

George is averaging a career-best 2.2 steals per game. Having another top-notch perimeter defender in Andre Roberson to share some of the responsibility allows him to gamble more than in the past. He also credits carrying less of the offensive load.

“It gives me more energy, not having to create or generate offense every possession,” George said. “I can conserve energy that way. It allows me to really ramp up the defense on the other end, which is another reason why I’ve been able to accumulate so many steals. I have the energy, the endurance to keep flying around and keep being productive.”

An example of his all-around play this season was a five-steal performance against the Sacramento Kings. He made just 7 of 17 shots but was a critical factor in Oklahoma City’s win.

He hasn’t always emphasized defense, but he was forced to as a rookie for the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. Frank Vogel took over as coach at midseason and saw enough grit and improvement on that end to insert him into the starting lineup in March. He came of age during the playoff series that season against the Chicago Bulls when he faced league MVP Derrick Rose. George gave up some points, but he battled and helped the Pacers hold Rose to 37 percent shooting in the series.

“My mindset was I knew I was outmatched from a standpoint of staying in front of him,” George said. “That’s what really got me going in trying to think things through, trying to see what I can do that can disrupt the MVP. I tried to use my length. I tried to make it as hard as possible. I knew he was going to get his 20s, get his 30s, but how can I make it as hard as possible, and how can I wear this guy down? You’re not going to be able to shut down a guy like that at that stage.”

From that point, George embraced the role of defensive stopper while evolving into an all-around offensive player. He was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2013 and made the first of his four All-Star appearances. Last season, he averaged a career-best 23.7 points for the Pacers. Now, he can still create when needed and he has learned to be more of a catch-and-shoot scorer.

“He’s a beast out there,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “He’s great. He can score the ball from three, the mid-range and the post. He’s tough to guard so you have to pick your poison with him, and it’s hard to do.”

Three Kemba Walker trades that could work for both sides

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Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office are exploring the idea anyway.

As they should. The Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s purgatory of a middle-ground with one All-Star level player in Walker and not enough around him to make this team a threat. The Hornets are 17.3 points per 100 possessions better when Walker is on the court — when he plays they look like a borderline playoff team, when he sits they are a disaster. Because of some big contracts, that situation is not likely to change. Charlotte may finally be proactive with this — trade Walker but attach a bad contract to it, and get some pieces to jump-start a rebuild back. That’s less than ideal in a smaller market like Charlotte, but it’s the right basketball move — test the market and see if they can get an offer that works for them.

Here are three potential trades that would fit the parameters being discussed. These are not likely, but this is the kind of deals that we would see.

Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks

Charlotte gets: Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and either Jarrett Jack or Lance Thomas

New York gets: Kemba Walker

The ups and downs of slowly rebuilding do not play well in New York — and right now they are in a downward spin after a fast start to the season. Still, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and Walker instantly puts them back in the playoff conversation. Walker gives New York another shot creator and scoring threat, someone to run pick-and-pops with Kristaps Porzingis, set up Tim Hardaway Jr., and just improve an offense that is middle of the pack. For the Hornets, they get the point guard of the future in Ntilikina, one building block as they move forward. This might be the best deal for the Hornets — if the Knicks would consider moving Ntilikina. That is far from certain.

Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons

Charlotte gets: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, draft picks, plus some other players to make the salaries fit such as Anthony Tolliver.

Detroit gets: Walker and Marvin Williams.

The promise of the Jackson/Andre Drummond connection in Detroit has faded, and Walker would bring the spark and scoring that the Pistons need to be a real threat come the postseason. I like this for Detroit, but less so because Jackson has two-years, $35 million left on his contract after next season, and that’s a lot of money to take on for a team trying to strip it down. That said, if the Hornets think they can develop Johnson on offense (he’s good defensively, a black hole on offense) and the picks are good, they should consider it.

Kemba Walker to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Charlotte gets: Isaiah Thomas, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (plus another player to make the money work such as Channing Frye

Cleveland gets: Kemba Walker, maybe another deep bench player to round out the salary.

This seems the longest shot. Cleveland wants to upgrade their backcourt, that’s why they are talking to Sacramento about George Hill. However, the talk around the league is the Cavaliers are not moving that Brooklyn pick for anything less than a total game changer who makes them a real threat to Golden State. Is that Walker? Probably not. This is also probably not a move Cleveland makes unless it thinks Thomas is not going to get back to All-Star level performance, but if they think that’s not going to happen this would be a serious upgrade. The Hornets would do this to get the Nets pick, giving them a couple of lottery picks (their own is the other) in this draft to start a rebuild.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell both make return from injury tonight

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Let’s try something different: How about some good injury news for a change?

Going through the roughest part of their schedule without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz have fallen out of the playoff picture in the West. The good news is Gobert is back starting Friday night.

The Brooklyn Nets took on a lot of salary (hello Timofey Mozgov) to get ahold of and see if they could develop D'Angelo Russell into their point guard of the future. However, he has been out since Nov. 12 and had to get his knee scoped to solve some issues. Now he is back as of Friday against Miami, and the Nets will again be able to get a look at him (as he heads into restricted free agency).

Neither of these returns are turning these teams into playoff teams, but they do help.

Brooklyn is not about the playoffs this season, but their gritty performances this season have picked up enough wins to frustrate Cavaliers fans (the Cavs have their pick in this draft). The Jazz are not completely out of the playoffs, but they are five games back in a deep Western conference and that will be hard to make up without some help. Getting Gobert back at least gives the Jazz a chance, and it’s an opportunity for Gobert and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell to start to develop some chemistry.

Report: Cavaliers interested in George Hill trade with Kings

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When the Sacramento Kings made the much-maligned move to sign three veterans this summer to healthy contracts — George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter — there were three reasons for it. Two the Kings were very public about: They wanted mentors for the 10 young players on their roster, and they had to get up to the salary floor anyway.

The third, less discussed reason is those guys might make decent trade chips. Especially as the Kings move toward playing their youth more (as they should).

Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are stumbling through the East right now and have reached out to the Kings about a potential trade for Hill, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

In an effort to bolster their backcourt situation, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expressing interest in a trade for Sacramento Kings guard George Hill, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland has emerged as an interested suitor, with the Cavaliers pursuing Hill to potentially slide into a dual-guard role, starting at either backcourt position or playing as a reserve, league sources said.

The Cavaliers are starting Isaiah Thomas at the point, with the assumption that he will find his groove as his conditioning improves and he gets used to playing next to LeBron James, however, they have had issues at the two spot. J.R. Smith starts there now with Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver (both really more threes) behind him, but with Iman Shumpert out due to a foot injury the Cavaliers could use backcourt depth.

George Hill appears to have taken a step back this season, but he is still a solid guard who can shoot the three (45 percent this season) and be a good floor general. He could be a better backup point guard than Derrick Rose. Hill is not a season changer for Cleveland, but he would give them some solid depth and versatility.

The problem is money — Hill signed a three-year, $57 million deal with the Kings. The Kings might be open to a Hill for Tristan Thompson and a second rounder deal (no way Hill earns a first, even a Cavs late one).

The Cavaliers are also pursuing DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Pulling off both would be nearly impossible. The Clippers will ask for the Brooklyn Nets pick, something the Cavaliers reportedly would not throw into this deal (they would throw in their own first, in the 20s), but even if they work that out it would require Tristan Thompson and his salary to make it work, and then it’s hard to  make the salaries match for Hill.

Consider it something to watch. The Cavaliers know have to get better at the trade deadline, although they have no plans to move the Brooklyn Nets pick. The Kings are open to the idea of a trade. It’s a first step.