Kevin Johnson to Maloofs: There will be no negotiations during critical Friday meeting

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I wrote on Thursday about the recent developments in the Sacramento Kings arena situation, and namely the Maloofs’ recent actions that amount to a legal full court press designed to land the franchise in Anaheim. The quick and dirty to catch you up is this – the Maloofs, Sacramento, AEG, and the NBA came to an agreement in principle on a $391 million Entertainment and Sports Complex during All Star weekend. A few weeks ago, the Maloofs publicly refused to pay for pre-development costs totaling $3.26 million that were agreed upon during that time. The Maloofs are the only party that disputes that they agreed to the amount, and the dispute has landed at the NBA Board of Governors meeting, which is where we pick up.

The Maloofs pitched at the BOG meeting for about 90 minutes yesterday, and afterwards they disappeared through a side exit not to be found by reporters guarding the various orifices of the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.

Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee provided this report following the meeting:

In particular, the Maloofs have said they never agreed to contribute $3.26 million toward environmental studies and other “pre-development” costs, as the term sheet says. Spokesman (Harvey) Englander declined to elaborate on the Maloofs’ presentation, other than to say the topic of relocation didn’t come up. “They asked good questions and it was a very good meeting.”

Earlier, Englander said the family would present a “historical analysis of the transaction” to owners, and hoped to have a clear path set toward a deal by the time the meetings end on Friday. Englander said it could take days or weeks, however, to come to a resolution.

On one hand, if you take the statement at face value, it’s encouraging for Kings fans that the topic of relocation didn’t come up.  But the last part about ‘days or weeks’ is where the rub lies, as it reflects the Maloofs’ position that there is still more to discuss about a deal that was already supposed to be done. During this departure from the handshake agreement, the Maloofs’ actions have become increasingly adversarial and this has culminated in Sacramento business leaders asking commissioner David Stern to remove them as owners. From the city-side, nothing is up for grabs, and the parties opposite the Maloofs have stood united in maintaining that the major elements of the deal aren’t going to change.

So what exactly transpired during the closed door session at the BOG meetings on Thursday? We’re still flushing that information out, but David Stern apparently setup a meeting between mayor Kevin Johnson and the embattled family. This was announced mid-day Thursday after the meeting had concluded, by Maloof family spokesman Englander, no less:

“The commissioner said the mayor (Kevin Johnson is) flying out, taking the red eye, (and) suggested we meet with him. And we are,” said Englander.

Questions swirled once the vague itinerary of events was disclosed to the public. What did Stern and the owners tell the Maloofs? Did they tell them to go kick rocks, to take the deal that they had already negotiated? Did they tell the Maloofs that they could indeed try to make a change to the main elements of the deal after the fact? And under what pretenses would Johnson and the Maloofs be meeting?

Clearly, there had to be a plan other than to stick the two parties in a room only to see them storm out 20 minutes later.

After about six hours of radio silence, Kevin Johnson’s office released to PBT a letter they sent to the Maloofs regarding Friday’s meeting. In the letter, Johnson made it entirely clear that he does not plan on negotiating when the sides meet up. Here are selected excerpts and the entire text:

I understand that during today’s NBA Relocation Committee you and your team made a presentation. During the discussion, it was suggested that a meeting with me tomorrow might be beneficial. As has been my commitment throughout this process, I am always happy to meet in the spirit of open communication and partnership. However, in advance of our conversation, I believe it important to make clear several key points:

First, all parties agreed to a deal in Orlando on February 27th, codified in the term sheet subsequently approved by our City Council. At the time, George Maloof explained the Maloof Family’s reason for agreeing to the deal, saying to the Sacramento Bee that it is a “fair deal…worth taking.”

Any representation that a deal was not reached is simply not consistent with the perspective of every other party to the negotiation nor the actual statements of the family.

Second, throughout this process, we have worked closely with the NBA as a valued partner at your request, as documented by the following Kings’ public statements that the “NBA take the lead on this” while remaining “in very close contact with the league” and being “apprised of everything that’s going on.”

Third, and most critically, under no circumstances will the City make material adjustments to the current terms of the deal. Put simply, we have done our part. And there should be no expectation in tomorrow’s conversation that this deal is subject to further negotiation.

We take you at your word that you are committed to Sacramento as you’ve said repeatedly in recent weeks. The best – and only – way to demonstrate that commitment is to honor the “fair deal” as all other parties have done. Your handshake is your handshake. Your promise is your promise.

So let the games begin. The Maloofs’ statement that it could take days or weeks to come to a resolution reeks of haggling over the price of clear coat, and it remains to be seen how much negotiating the NBA is going to actually permit here. For example, negotiating over a small stipulated clause involving little to no dollar value is probably on the up-and-up. On the other hand, should the Maloofs say they want to pay $25 million and not the $73 million they’ve already committed – that would definitely be a non-starter.

Right now, the argument is over $3.26 million in pre-development costs, or one year of Travis Outlaw’s salary. Before the Maloofs’ legal maneuverings started to resemble that of a family that wanted to get out of Dodge, I had surmised that the family’s argument over pre-development costs was really designed to extract a concession down the road.

And now it doesn’t matter if it’s up-front costs or back-end revenues, though, because Johnson is not negotiating. Sources in several different arena camps have made this much clear, and if it wasn’t clear Johnson’s letter was loud and clear. The only real question is – how much juice does Johnson have?

This is one of two things for him. One less settling possibility for Kings fans is that this is Johnson’s line in the sand, a way for him to say to his constituents that he wouldn’t back down. In this case Johnson believes (and he is right) that the city of Sacramento has done enough, and for better or worse he’s going to stand on that principle at least for now. So he draws the line in the sand with the hopes that the odds are in his favor, that the NBA and other owners will recognize that the city has done their part, and not allow the Maloofs to exit stage right.

Then there’s possibility No. 2, which is much more likely in my opinion, and that is that Johnson has already taken his cues from commissioner Stern. He isn’t gambling with the years of work completed by all of the various stakeholders. He isn’t gambling with all of the political capital he has spent on getting an arena deal done. He isn’t gambling with the political capital spent by all of his colleagues and he certainly isn’t putting the entire project on the line with a take-it-or-leave-it demand that isn’t rooted in reality.

In other words he knows that his price is firm, and he’s not buying the clear coat.

We’ll see later Friday who had the juice and for the Maloofs, if the juice of owning an NBA franchise is worth the squeeze.

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.