Inside Kings Arena

Sacramento City Council has votes for arena if reachable criteria is met

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The Sacramento Kings and their fans will hold their breath on Tuesday night, as the Sacramento City Council holds the first of at least two critical votes that will determine whether or not the team leaves town.

Let me be the first to tell you that tonight’s vote will pass.  Sources close to the situation report that the council is all but certain to have the votes necessary to move the process forward.

Specifically, the vote will allow the council to finalize proposals with ten competing private parking operators that will provide upwards of $200 million toward the cost of the estimated $387 million Entertainment and Sports Complex.

This will setup a vote on February 28 that will decide the Kings’ future.  It is at this time that the council, in cooperation with mayor Kevin Johnson’s Think Big Sacramento coalition, will vote to approve a term sheet that will signal to the NBA that Sacramento can indeed fund an arena.

I’m also told by sources with knowledge of the situation that as long as a laundry list of criteria is met, the council will have at least the four votes necessary (not counting Johnson’s tie-breaking vote) to approve the term sheet.

This laundry list includes guarantees that the city’s general fund will be replenished by the approximate $9 million annual revenue stream currently provided by city-owned parking operations, a plan for some or all of the city’s employees to be transferred into the new parking company’s operation, a mechanism to cap rate hikes for parking in the future, an option for an agreement shorter than 50 years, and a mechanism to provide kickbacks to the city if parking revenues exceed certain benchmarks.

It is believed that within that framework, the city can meet or exceed their $200 million target.

The last major item on the laundry list is who will be responsible for cost overruns if the $387 million project goes over its budget.  I’m told the city will approach the developer, David Taylor, to potentially provide that guarantee.  While it is unclear whether or not Taylor would shoulder such responsibility, he will likely be given incentive to do so by an offer of development rights near the arena.

Taylor has been working on the arena deal for years and has evaluated the project for Sacramento at a significant cost to himself, and it would be surprising if he told the council that he would not be responsible for cost overruns on a project he evaluated and promoted – particularly if there is further incentive in the form of development rights.

Adding the estimated $200 million or more from parking, an estimated $30 million from local hotels, an estimated $50 million from an arena operator (AEG), and an estimated $80 million from the NBA and the Maloofs — sources tell me that the city is well in the ballpark of securing the financing necessary for the arena.

In other words, the city of Sacramento has both the will and the way to secure a ‘yes’ vote for an arena.

As far as the timing goes, while February 28 is potentially the date for a deciding vote, it is likely that the NBA will allow for an extension on the March 1 deadline so they can properly evaluate Sacramento’s findings.  That announcement could come during All Star weekend.  The NBA and the Maloofs could theoretically act on the city’s proposal quickly and provide their terms in time for a February 28 vote, but sources stress the important part is that the city will have communicated that it is ready to vote on a deal.

From there it is on David Stern and the Maloofs to pull the trigger on the estimated $80 million price tag, which amounts to about $3 million per year in rental payments for 30 years, all paid up front.

As for any talk of selling the team, The Maloofs have been consistent with their message that it’s not an option, and their sale of the Palms can be seen as either a sign that the ship is sinking or a sign that they were moving money for the purposes of an arena.  In the unlikely event they do want to sell, Think Big Sacramento executive director Jeremiah Johnson told Seattle’s King 5 News that the city has “a number of ownership groups willing to keep the Kings in Sacramento.”

It’s not going to come to that.

The Maloofs and/or the NBA could try leverage the city of Anaheim against Sacramento, who recently made improvements on their NBA-ready facility, but after Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling just agreed to revenue sharing with small market clubs it’s less likely that the NBA will place another team in their backyard.

As for Seattle, despite their clear efforts to bring an NBA team back home, they are well behind Sacramento in their pursuit of an arena.  They too would have to approve public funds for a new building, and Stern and the Maloofs will have to weigh the $80 million cost of a sure thing given a ‘yes’ vote, and a nebulous offering in Seattle that is 1-2 years away while Key Arena is a stop-gap solution at best.

With all of the support David Stern and the NBA has given Sacramento in its fight to keep the Kings – from manpower in the front office to people on the ground helping make the arena deal a reality – it just doesn’t make sense for them to pass up a viable option for two that have problems.

This is a complex situation and it is not a done deal, but the once half-court shot turned 3-pointer doesn’t even seem like a free throw at this point – it seems like a layup.  The Party of Five that voted down a public vote that would have sent the Kings packing are interested in a deal that addresses the aforementioned criteria.  That criteria reportedly can be met and still provide the project with the money that it needs to be green-lighted, assuming the private parties each put in amounts that seem reasonable, achievable, and already written in pencil.

Kings fans will probably wait until the shovels hit the dirt before they celebrate.  Let this prediction be the first bottle of Dom Perignon.

The Kings aren’t going anywhere.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Russell Westbrook keeps trying to show up Rudy Gobert

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the second quarter during a NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Jazz center Rudy Gobert is having an awesome season, credibly putting himself in the mix with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol as the NBA’s best big men.

But that doesn’t mean Russell Westbrook respects him.

Before the Thunder’s win over Utah yesterday, Westbrook was asked how Oklahoma City would contain Gobert. Westbrook just laughed and walked off.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Then, in the game, Westbrook tried to jump right over the 7-foot-1 Gobert and dunk on him:

I would say Gobert proved his ability by successfully protecting the paint, but I’m just too astounded by Westbrook’s leap.

Zaza Pachulia, running up court, turns back to smack Luke Babbitt in face (video)

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Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?

That debate can be rekindled after the Warriors center earned this flagrant foul for smacking Heat forward Luke Babbitt.

Just don’t forget: Pachulia is more than an unskilled enforcer. He brings plenty to the table as Golden State’s fifth starter, and his ability was on display earlier in the game:

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.