Maloofs move significantly to meet Sac’s proposal, Kings fans provide political cover for arena deal to get done

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In the end, it was about a city and its team, and the will to fight for what was theirs.

Kevin Johnson did the heavy lifting and the heavy hitters moved the ball forward, but it was the Sacramento Kings fans that gave the local politicians the will and the way to see the Kings arena deal to fruition.

The Maloofs and Johnson emerged from Monday’s arena talks with tears in their eyes and an arena deal ready to go. In speaking with sources on the Sacramento negotiating team this morning, even they did not know that an arena deal was coming back with city manager John Shirey on the flight home.

Moreover, other sources involved with negotiations indicated that the Maloofs moved over $20-$30 million on their position coming into today’s meeting, with Sam Amick reporting that the inclusion of a Maloof-paid ticket surcharge provided the mechanism.

While the symbolic celebration is yet to come (hold onto your hats Sacramento), this marks the end of a year-long journey that saw the Kings all-but leave town. I attended the potential final game in Sacramento against the hated Lakers, and watched as grown men cried and thousands refused to leave the stadium. I listened as some of the media in attendance snickered at the audacity of fans to believe they could keep their team.

Nobody, and I repeat nobody, had the Kings staying in Sacramento.

And because of those resolute fans, everybody from the mayor to the city council, the media and the team, and the ultimately the NBA – were forced to believe that a deal could be done.

They chanted at games and made fliers, they made movies, they attended city council meetings, and they used Twitter like they owned it. There was a group called #HereWeStay that started the social media fire, a local radio host named Carmichael Dave with an affinity for Braveheart moments, and a group called #Fans that delivered human PowerPoint presentations at city council meetings.

And there were many more. They were extremely organized, and they numbered in thousands. And for all the heavy hitters that drove the process, they wouldn’t have gotten past first base if the local media and pols didn’t have the political cover those fans provided. Everywhere you turned, it was #HereWeThis and #HereWeThat, supplemented by the education-driven #FANS group that hammered home the message that the arena was #BiggerThanBasketball.

Indeed, the arena is going to revitalize an area of Sacramento that desperately needs help, boosting the local economy while providing jobs and increased property tax revenue for years to come. It’s the shot in the arm the region needs to get back on its feet, and for once, Kings fans get the win that has eluded them for so long.

There are more steps to go as the term sheet will now be brought home by Shirey and the city council will look it over the next few days. As I reported for ProBasketballTalk last week, as long as a set of achievable criteria is met, they will have at least the five votes necessary to approve a parking plan that will solidify the city’s contribution. The fact is, however, that the city of Sacramento doesn’t walk out of that meeting with a deal not knowing if they have the votes to get it done.

The council will vote on March 6 to approve the term sheet and from there only insignificant procedural votes will remain on the to-do list. The Maloofs will ultimately pay in the ballpark of $70 to $77 million toward the cost of the $387-400 million Entertainment and Sports Complex, which is set to open in 2015. It’s my prediction that we’ll learn about an All Star game landing in Sacto in 2016.

The rest of the details will be fleshed out as the parties return to Sacramento and cross the Ts and dot the Is.

For now though, none of that matters. Kings fans have been on pins and needles for well over a year – and they finally get to take a day off. Even those of us in the media covering the story on a daily basis, we’ll take a breath and just enjoy a good story that ended well. And if you own a bar in the Sacramento area tonight, it’s probably a good time to make some purple beer.

Congratulations Kings fans, the Dom Perignon is in the mail.

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.