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Sacramento City Council passes most important vote to keep Kings in town

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I interviewed Carmichael Dave, the person most synonymous with Sacramento’s grassroots effort to keep their basketball team, way back on April 5, 2011. The Kings were all-but gone by most accounts, and I asked Dave what he thought the Kings’ chances of leaving were.

“90-10.”

It turns out that he might have been a bit optimistic, as there wasn’t a soul on record, including mayor Kevin Johnson, that thought the Maloofs would keep their team in the Cowbell Kingdom.

And during the Kings’ final game last year, when the Lakers were up by 20 points in the first half and the team was honoring its lifelong season ticket holders with the future not just in doubt, but in the trash – I thought to myself, ‘This is what it’s like to watch your own funeral.’

Even the Lakers fans that had gathered that night stopped giving Kings fans the business. They knew when enough was enough. 2,000 or more people stayed after the game, refusing to leave the arena. Players, coaches, media, management, and anybody affiliated with the team all stayed back to take in the scene. Grown men, including then coach Paul Westphal and TV commentators Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds – they cried. They weren’t the only ones.

In the background, people were working, though. Some of those people had great influence and some of them had simple tweets. Together, and with no one part being able to complete its work without the other, they were able to keep their team and by virtue of that – give their region hope for a better day.

Tonight, the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to approve the term sheet drawn up by all of the stakeholders of the $387-400 million Entertainment and Sports Complex. The wheels could theoretically spin off, but there are 5-of-9 votes in the council that are rock solid in favor of the arena. The other four votes range from serious opposition to only mild opposition, as evidenced by two of them crossing the line tonight. In addition, tonight’s vote will put the project in real motion, with more money being spent as the city finalizes the parking portion of its contribution.

And aside from all of that, sources from each side of the table indicate that they are a full go and the Kings are staying in Sacramento.

It was a moving scene, having interviewed many of the fans, stakeholders, city leaders, and the like for over a year. These people spent hundreds of hours not just to protect a basketball team, but to keep their region from going under. The Sacramento area, having relied on the public sector for decades, has been beset by 12 percent unemployment and big-name companies are leaving weekly.

Or maybe the word is ‘were.’

Kevin Johnson, the hero in all of this, was able to raise an additional $10 million in sponsorships before the plane hit the ground for last year’s NBA Board of Governors meeting. With some help from Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling, Johnson was able to convince David Stern and the NBA that Sacramento could be a viable place for an NBA team – and that most importantly that he could deliver on an arena.

He formed a coalition that included business leaders, fans, churches, various ethnic groups, and heavy hitters from the political world that had a vested interest in keeping Sacramento afloat.

He floated the name, ‘Burkle.’

And I don’t know when Johnson whipped the city council to determine whether or not he had their votes, but he knew that if he kept the ball moving that good things would happen.

When the motion to approve the term sheet was made last night, 500-1000 arena supporters packed two floors of the new city hall and one floor of the old, adjacent city hall. The opposition had its chance to speak first and 19 of the two million people in the Sacramento region spoke out against the arena deal. In the interests of time K.J. limited public comment in support of the arena to 45 minutes. When that time ended, he asked those that didn’t get a chance to speak to stand up.

Nearly everybody in each room stood up.

After public comment, as each councilperson spoke it became clear where each of them stood.  When two opposition votes from the last motion moved over to the pro-arena side it was clear that the Kings were going to stay. A full year’s worth of anxiety and effort started to settle, and with one more moment to go – the room looked tired and worn out. Sensing that it was time to vote, though, they sprang into action and started waving their signs.

The payoff was near.

The roll call vote meant that each councilmember would have to say their vote out loud, and when it was Johnson’s turn to give the final vote he screamed ‘YES’ into the microphone.

It was somewhat anticlimactic since we knew the results weeks ago, but it was his Braveheart moment. And Carmichael Dave had a Braveheart moment when he stood on a 12-foot ladder and told 2,000-plus fans that they had to leave the arena but not to give up hope. And each of those fans that organized en masse, made documentaries, and wouldn’t give up – they had their Braveheart moments, too.

That’s the best part about this story, aside from the happy ending. Faced with a less than 10 percent chance of success these people banded together, did something, and might have staved off long-term erosion of their economy.

And if the Kings can play some winning basketball, that will be a close second.

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.