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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.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.