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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.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.

Steve Ballmer: “Difficult” Blake Griffin trade moves Clippers toward modern NBA

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Last summer, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer went all-in on Blake Griffin. They wooed him with a mini-museum tour of his life, did a mock jersey retirement, told him they wanted him to be a “Clipper for life,” then sealed the deal with a five-year, $173 million maximum contract offer. Griffin accepted and never even met with another team.

Within eight months, the Clippers traded Griffin to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovich, and a lightly protected 2018 first-round pick.

What changed? Was it another injury to Griffin that sidelined him and had the Clippers questioning their investment? Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN asked Ballmer about the decision.

“[Griffin] is obviously a superstar player,” said Ballmer. “But if you look at what happened injury-wise, if you look at the kind of chemistry we were getting on our team, the thing you can see at the high level with the numbers when I started — one guy got all the assists, one guy got all the points and one guy got all the rebounds. It’s not all quite that way, but I think in the modern NBA, we were seeing it more and more — there’s a greater distribution of responsibility….

“We have to add some pieces obviously, but I think we’re building for what I think is the modern NBA, and that trend has only accelerated since we signed Blake last summer.”

Ballmer thinks he can use this trade and the Chris Paul one last summer to begin to retool a roster in that fashion, saying that winning a ring is his goal. Maybe he can, but…

The Clippers are a long way from being that kind of a modern NBA team.

Talent still wins out in basketball. Those elite “modern NBA” have superstars — Stephen Curry, James Harden, etc. — who rack up a lot of numbers, but also where the other players are versatile threats. With Brad Stevens in charge, Boston runs a modern, egalitarian offense, but at the heart of it is Kyrie Irving and, eventually, Gordon Hayward as stars who can just get buckets and use their gravity to draw defenders, opening things up for others. Then there are All-Star level players around them such as Al Horford.

Without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick this season, the Clippers had to run the offense through Griffin because, well, who else? Danilo Gallinari can create some when healthy, but he’s really a second or third option and works better of the ball. DeAndre Jordan is a threat as a roll man but it takes a special point guard and passer to bring out the best in him. Austin Rivers has developed into a solid rotation point guard in the NBA, but he’s not a No. 1 option. Lou Williams is really their only other guy who can create at that level. The Clippers may have leaned on Griffin too much, but it’s not like Doc Rivers had better choices sitting around.

What is going to be interesting is to see what the Clippers do this summer — do they back up the Brinks truck and re-sign DeAndre Jordan? Do they try to bring back Bradley and Patrick Beverley? Do they keep or trade Lou Williams, who just extended with the team but at a very reasonable price ($8 million per year)? Can they move Danilo Gallinari (which would require attaching a first-round pick)?

Ballmer says he doesn’t want to bottom out and rebuild, but if Jordan leaves how much does that change the scenario? The Clippers 2019 first-round pick belongs to Boston but is lottery protected. What the Clippers don’t want is for a year from now to be exactly where they are today in the standings — on the cusp of the playoffs trying to get in. While the lottery odds change in 2019, they need to either be a rebuilding team that’s going to keep that pick, or find a way to push up into the standings (which is not going to be easy in a deep West).

It’s good to be moving toward a more modern NBA, but it’s going to be a process for the Clippers.

 

Lonzo Ball rusty in return, likes playing with Isaiah Thomas

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball took the pass and set his feet at the arc. Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr. gave him space, so Ball put up the shot — and drained it.

And Staples Center erupted.

Lonzo Ball returned to the Lakers for the first time in 15 games following an MCL sprain. He was up and down (3-of-8 shooting) as to be expected, but had nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 17 minutes. (He will not play Saturday in a back-to-back in Sacramento.)

“I feel pretty good, only played 17 minutes so nothing crazy out there…” Ball said. “I could feel (his MCL), but the doc says I can get no worse. Just sliding a little bit, especially going right. Other than that it was OK.”

“I thought he looked good, I thought his shot looked good,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, noting that he could have played Ball a little more under the minutes restriction.

Ball had three three-pointers on the night (3-of-6 from three). His shooting motion isn’t any quicker or less quirky, but he’s gotten much better and knowing when he has the room to get it off. When his feet are set and he has room, he can knock it down.

His ability to push the pace, find teammates and pick up the pace is a welcome return to the Lakers.

Ball fit in well as part of a blowout win over a Dallas team that, to use coach Rick Carlisle’s words, “played without any force.” The final was 124-102 and it was never really in doubt for Los Angeles. The Mavs looked like a team tanking, not that their owner would ever tell them to… oh, wait. Carlise and the Mavs are not trying to lose, but this is a time when Dallas needs to get a look at its players about to be free agents — Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell — and young players to see who will be part of the future. The question is how to best utilize them.

“You got to trust your gut in a lot of instances,” Carlisle said of how to evaluate his young players. “It’s not rocket science, certain things become obvious. But it’s important to compete.

Luke Walton is doing the exact same thing and he liked how his team competed. He tried something different playing Ball and Isaiah Thomas together for stretches.

“I liked it a lot,” Ball said of being on the court with IT. “Two playmakers on the court, I think we benefit from it. Look forward to playing with him all the time.”

The two were -6 when on the court in a game the Lakers won in a blowout. Still, expect to see more of that and some other odd combos the rest of the way.

Nikola Jokic’s third straight triple-double leads Nuggets over Spurs, 122-119

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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists before fouling out, Wilson Chandler had 18 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 122-119 on Friday night.

Jokic has a triple-double in three straight games and six this season, but didn’t stick around for the finish. He was called for five fouls in the fourth quarter and fouled out on a charge with 1:46 left.

Gary Harris scored 23 points to help Denver win its fourth straight and seventh in its last eight.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 36 points and Patty Mills scored 20 for San Antonio. The Spurs lost for the sixth time in seven games despite the return of Aldridge, who missed the last two games before the All-Star break to rest his sore right knee. He looked strong Friday, hitting 13 of 23 shots and 12 of 14 free throws.

The Spurs rallied from down nine in the fourth to take a two-point lead late in the game. They were 14 of 17 from the line in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on.

With the game tied at 114, Harris made a layup to put Denver up for good. Mills made a free throw and Harris scored on a step-back jumper and then a dunk with 45 seconds left to make it 120-115.

After Aldridge hit a jumper to cut it to three with 33 seconds left, Mason Plumlee‘s dunk with 10 seconds to play sealed it.

 

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