Report: All eyes on Board of Governors meeting in Kings arena dispute

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In a story with many chapters, it’s fitting that the book on the Maloofs’ future in the NBA will be written on April 12-13 at the league’s Board of Governors meetings. After all, it’s where the tide turned for Kings fans last year, as Kevin Johnson came out of nowhere with both the will and the way to buy Sacramento time to get an arena deal done.

And it’s also fitting because a jury of one’s peers can be the most damning of all. It’s at those meetings that we’ll learn if David Stern and the other owners are going to allow their league and its fans to be subjected to reports like the one out of the L.A. Times last Thursday.

In that report, the writer was conveniently given access to letters from the Maloofs’ attorneys and pre-prepared comments from the family’s newly hired “crisis consultant” Eric Rose. Those letters disputed the Maloofs’ responsibility to pay pre-development costs of $3.26 million on the $391 million Entertainment and Sports Complex, or roughly one-fourth of the salary of free agent acquisition/albatross Travis Outlaw.

This, after the city agreed to fork over $256 million and AEG agreed to put in nearly $60 million to build a world-class arena with the Kings’ specific needs at the top of the list.

The most recent letter from Maloof attorney Scott Zolke doubles as a how-to manual on fighting the arena project, writing that the Maloofs are concerned about the project being completed on time while they simultaneously cause a delay by refusing to pay for pre-development costs they had already agreed to conceptually. The Maloofs backed it all up by sending pro-Anaheim brother George on a media blitz telling the world that Kevin Johnson, AEG, David Stern, and everybody that had been diligently working on a deal had it wrong – that nobody had talked about the cost structure of the agreement before barreling out of an Orlando hotel room with tears of joy.

Never mind that George Maloof said himself that the term sheet had been presented to them on February 17, a full 10 days before the handshake agreement took place, and never mind that the Maloofs still want to pay the full $73.5 million they agreed to pay. Never mind that every single source I’ve asked involved with negotiations has said unequivocally that the Maloofs agreed conceptually to the deal.

The reason the Maloofs’ move doesn’t make sense is that it doesn’t make sense. It’s like explaining JaVale McGee – it just is.

However you slice it, these are not the actions of an ownership group that wants to stay in Sacramento, and whether their motives are to get a concession now or down the road, or to jam up the deal so they can force a move down south – it’s time for the NBA to step up and mirror Sacramento’s efforts to clean up its own house.

The good news for Kings fans is that we’re already seeing indications of that happening. When news of the Maloofs backing out of their commitments hit last week, Stern immediately moved in to front $200,000 on the family’s behalf for pre-development costs. That was designed to keep the project moving until the BOG meetings when the matter will be discussed. And if Stern thought at all that the city should be held liable for those funds, he would have never showed a valued owner up over such a nominal dollar amount. Especially for guys who are viewed as having no money, paying $200,000 on their behalf just screams Natty Light (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The other good news is that nobody in the city’s camp appears to be overly worried about the Maloofs’ most recent power play. The city council voted 7-2 to continue forward with the project, with the understanding that no city funds would be used until the matter is resolved at the BOG meetings. K.J. went on the offensive on Tuesday, calling the Maloofs’ recent actions “disingenuous,” adding:

We’re not going to be a city that sits on its hands. And we’ve gotten this far because we stood up and we’ve taken a stand on what we believe in. So do we need to look at contingency plans? Absolutely. What those are at this point, I’m not ready to share. But as I said, we don’t want to get caught flat footed. We need to make sure we’re protecting our community in all ways and we need to look at all of our options.

You can’t make public statements that say one thing and then privately be doing another. I don’t think that’s in the spirit of what we all thought and where we thought we’d be at this point.

He said much more than that, too, and none of what he said were the words of a man intimidated by the most recent developments. They were the words of a man that knows he has Keyser Soze in his back pocket. And whether Ron Burkle exists or not, the mere mention of his name and the fact that Johnson has an arena deal all-but done has stripped the Maloofs of nearly all the leverage that they once had.

They cannot complain that Sacramento hasn’t done their part, as the city has delivered on all of the promises it made to David Stern last year. According to Johnson, Stern admitted as much in a conversation they had:

In terms of that deadline, I was very clear. I talked to (the) commissioner a couple times this week and I told him that the New York meetings are critical for Sacramento. Because we can’t be in limbo – we can’t keep having the finish line moved on us. We all expected that we had an agreement, we thought we’d all be pushing in the same direction and there’s been countless tactics and antics that are just not becoming (of a) true partnership in my opinion. With that said, the commissioner said to me and insured me that the NBA governing board, the commissioner of the NBA, the relocation committee, the advisory financial committee – they all know what the facts are.

So it sounds like a couple days of reckoning are in the cards. I’ve got Aces Burkle over King Georges.

Report: Mikhail Prokhorov ‘warmed’ to selling controlling stake of Nets

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
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Mikhail Prokhorov bought 80% of the Nets in 2010. A couple years ago, he tried to sell his stake, but decided to keep it. Then, he bought 100% of the franchise and its arena. After last season, he said he was selling 49% of the team.

Now?

Josh Kosman and Brian Lewis of the New York Post:

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, while focused on selling a minority stake in the franchise, has warmed recently to the possibility of offering a controlling slice of the team, sources close to the situation said.

The change of heart comes after the initial reaction to the minority stake sale was weak — and with interest in the Houston Rockets sale heating up, one source said.

The Rockets’ sale could shake out potential Nets buyers, and Prokhorov selling a controlling stake could also help. It’d cost more money than the 49% he’s offering now, but people with the money to buy an NBA team tend to value control.

This might be a good time to sell for Prokhorov, who lost a ton of money as the team paid major luxury tax for an all-in championship pursuit that flopped spectacularly. The NBA’s popularity is rising, and the league is reaping huge revenue from its national-TV contracts.

However, he shouldn’t assume the Rockets’ sale price will predict the Nets’. Buyers might prefer a good team with James Harden and Chris Paul to a bad one short on young talent after years of mismanagement. At least Brooklyn’s payroll is now tolerably low.

The big loser here: Leslie Alexander, who’s trying to sell the Rockets. The supply of NBA teams now available might have just doubled, and unless there’s no overlap in demand for those franchises, that can only drive down Alexander’s eventual sale price.

Report: Clippers paid $3.2 million – second-most ever – for draft pick (Jawun Evans)

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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The Warriors set a record by paying $3.5 million for a draft pick, buying the Bulls’ No. 38 pick and using it on Jordan Bell this year.

That eclipsed the $3 million spent by each the Thunder in 2010 (to the Hawks for the No. 31 pick, Tibor Pleiss) and Nets in 2016 (to move up 13 spots for Isaiah Whitehead).

So did the Clippers’ purchase of the No. 39 pick (Jawun Evans) from the 76ers this year.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

The Clippers also paid the Bucks $2 million for the No. 48 pick (Sindarius Thornwell).

I rated Evans a low first-rounder due to his speed and drive-and-kick game, so getting him in the second round is good value. I’m not as keen on Thornwell, who’s already 22 and built so much of his success at South Carolina on being more physical than younger opponents.

But the more swings the Clippers take on young players, the more likely they are to find long-term contributors. More power to owner Steve Ballmer for greenlighting this expenditure.

Importantly, as players acquired through the draft, Evans and Thornwell will count for the luxury tax at their actual salaries. Players signed otherwise, even if their actual salaries are lower, count at at least the two-years-experience minimum.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can spend $5.1 million in cash this season. That amount will increase (or decrease) in proportion with the salary cap in coming years. So, expect the previous record for draft-pick purchase price – $3 million – to fall again and again.

There’s just more leeway now for the NBA’s haves to separate themselves from the have-nots.

Jeannie Buss says she didn’t understand why Lakers signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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Last summer, the Lakers signed Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) to contracts that immediately looked like liabilities.

At worst, Deng and Mozgov would help the Lakers win just enough to lose their top-three protected 2017 first-round pick – which would have triggered also sending out an unprotected 2019 first-rounder – then settle in as huge overpays. At best, Deng and Mozgov would provide a little veteran leadership while the team still loses enough to keep its pick… then settle in as huge overpays.

The Lakers got the best-case scenario, which was still pretty awful.

They had to attach D'Angelo Russell just to dump Mozgov’s deal on the Nets. Even if he no longer fit long-term with Lonzo Ball, Russell could’ve fit another asset if he weren’t necessary as a sweetener in a Mozgov trade. Deng remains on the books as impediment to adding free agents (like Paul George and LeBron James) next summer.

Who’s to blame?

Jeanie Buss was the Lakers’ president and owner. Jim Buss, another owner, ran the front office with Mitch Kupchak.

Bill Oram of The Orange County Register:

Within the walls of the Lakers headquarters, Jeanie’s grand corner office had begun to feel like a cell. She could not make sense of the strategy employed by her brother and Kupchak. They had cycled through four coaches in five seasons and under their watch the Lakers won a combined 63 games in three full seasons. Last summer, they spent $136 million of precious cap space on veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, who made little sense for the direction of the team.

“I just didn’t understand what the thought process was,” she said, “whether our philosophies were so far apart that I couldn’t recognize what they were doing, or they couldn’t explain it well.”

No. Nope, nope, nope. I don’t want to hear it.

Jeanie empowered Jim and his silly timeline, which made it inevitable he place self-preservation over the Lakers’ best long-term interests. That’s why he looked for a quick fix with Mozgov and Deng, who’s still hanging over the Lakers’ plans.

She deserves scrutiny for allowing such a toxic environment that yielded predictably bad results (even if family ties clouded her judgment).

That said, she also deserves credit for learning from her mistake. She fired Jim and Kupchak – admittedly too late, but she still did it – and hired Magic Johnson. There’s no guarantee Johnson will direct the Lakers back to prominence, but he clearly has a better working relationship with Jeanie than Jim did and, so far (in a small sample), looks more competent in the job.

Reports: Heat pessimistic about/uninterested in trading for Kyrie Irving

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Kyrie Irving, in requesting a trade from the Cavaliers, reportedly listed the Heat among his preferred destinations. Though Irving – without a no-trade clause and locked up for two more years – holds only minimal sway, teams would logically offer more for him if they believe he’d re-sign.

Will Miami trade for Irving?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

And while the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out, the Heat does not have considerable optimism about being able to strike a deal, multiple league sources said.

One Eastern Conference official who spoke to the Heat said Miami considers itself something of a long shot.

Tim Reynolds, the reputable Associated Press Heat and NBA writer, said on Steve Shapiro’s Sports Xtra on WSVN-7 that he does not believe Miami is interested in acquiring Irving.

Like the Kings, though to a far lesser extent, the Heat might not be interested because they know they stand no little of landing Irving.

Goran Dragic would almost certainly have to go to Cleveland in a deal, supplanted by Irving in Miami. Dragic would upgrade the Cavs at point guard over Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon, but at 31, Dragic would also significantly shorten Cleveland’s window.

The Heat would have to send much more. It’s just not clear what.

The Cavaliers, with Tristan Thompson, might not have much interest in centers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. Justise Winslow‘s weak 3-point shooting makes him a tough fit with LeBron James, and Winslow’s shoulder injury last season damages his stock anywhere. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are helpful contributors, but Johnson’s salary skyrockets north of $19 million each of the following two seasons, and Richardson will hit free agency (and get a raise) after this season. James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk – who all signed this summer – can’t be traded until Dec. 15. (I’m not sure which prospect is funnier, Waiters returning to Cleveland or playing with Irving in Miami.) The Heat also owe the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.

It’s difficult, maybe impossible, for Miami to assemble a suitable trade package given those constraints.

At least the Heat would keep open the possibility of LeBron returning if they don’t trade for Irving.