Maloof press conference a how-to-guide for burning bridges in Sacramento

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That press conference was so George Maloof.

The nearly 90-minute presser was everything a good old fashion PR nightmare should be. It started as a PowerPoint presentation delivered in monotone prose by Maloof attorney Barry McNeil, and ended in a classic George Maloof back-and-forth with media members that bordered somewhere between ‘desperate’ and ‘tirade.’

The purpose of the press conference was masked as a battle for the hearts and minds of the viewer, as the attorney McNeil took the audience through a chronology that was most likely presented at the Board of Governors meeting the day before. This chronology, of course, presented the Maloofs as victims in the arena ordeal.

But in reality, the presentation was littered with legal markers that both attacked the city of Sacramento and the NBA for its handling of the arena situation. They attacked the NBA and city of Sacramento for being complicit in its refusal to address the Maloofs’ problems with the now-infamous term sheet, and said that it wasn’t Gavin Maloofs’ responsibility to raise concerns when he spoke at the Sacramento City Council meeting in support of the term sheet that was approved 7-2 by the council on March 6.

Aside from several burn-every-bridge-in-sight-with-kerosene moments, George and his team of economists and attorneys brought the case against a Sacramento arena into focus. They specifically discussed the risks to the city and cited a disastrous, but 100 percent different city-funded arena in neighboring Stockton.

They rattled off every reason not to do the arena deal, and expressed a mixture of frustration, anger, and exasperation toward Kevin Johnson, the NBA, and the media covering the events. Though they said that relocation is off the table, the money quote was “if the mayor says he’s not negotiating, then he killed the deal and it’s over. It’s over.”

So translated, yes, relocation is on the table.

Johnson, of course, went on the offensive late Thursday night with a letter to the Maloofs telling them specifically that no negotiation would occur in today’s meeting between the sides.

At the core of the issue is, shocker, money. As simple tenants, the Maloofs aren’t getting the revenue they would like to within their agreement with AEG, the company that will operate the proposed $391 million Entertainment and Sports Complex. The other issue is up-front money, as the Maloofs’ immediate beef with the current proposal is the $3.26 million pre-development costs that could eventually become sunk costs if the arena deal goes south.

But that is chump change, and the real issue is that the Maloofs will not have to pay up-front money in Anaheim, and in the Maloofs’ newest stroke of genius – in their recommendation that a renovation of Power Balance Pavilion is a superior option compared to a new downtown arena – that too would require less up-front money by the Maloofs. Under the current downtown arena proposal, the Maloofs would need to come up with $73 million in an up-front payment for the type of shiny new world-class arena that AEG likes to build.

In other words, they don’t want the outlay and they want the inlay, you dig?

The new wrinkle introduced by George, the renovating of the current Power Balance Pavilion, was particularly shocking after that option has been widely derided by all sides of the arena equation, including the Maloofs, for years.

But what this has all come down to is the Maloofs challenging the NBA to tell them that they cannot move. It appears that they feel they cannot make money in Sacramento with a new arena, and for years they have said that they cannot make money in Sacramento at the old arena.

The Maloofs pulled this same act when they did not like the terms and conditions of the 2006 measure Q & R, so after they accidentally destroyed the measure by flaunting their money in a Carl’s Jr. ad, they actually pulled their support – leading to the 80/20 public vote against the measure.

Now they’re going to try to destroy the current downtown arena deal because they don’t like the economic split with AEG. Perhaps the new idea of staying at Power Balance is their fallback position, a position that they believe they can negotiate a better revenue share out of, but make no mistake this is a scorched-earth policy. They are going to kick and scream until they get what they want, which is usually what people who get what they want do when they don’t get what they want.

In this desperate moment they showed emails from NBA representative Benjamin Harvey, who told the Maloofs that their requests to revise the term sheet that was agreed upon in Orlando was not going to be introduced to the Sacramento City Council for “political reasons.” They torched the 25 business leaders that asked for their ouster, torched mayor Kevin Johnson, and torched the principals of the deal that will provide $255 million in public money toward their enterprise. Their delivery was not polished, and at times it was reckless. Their economist cited measurement mechanisms that would make his colleagues cringe. The interplay between George Maloof and his attorneys was often scattered and unprepared. Gavin and Joe Maloof, were shoved into the corner and barely given the chance to speak.

It’s just an educated theory, but at some point the Maloofs likely realized that the NBA isn’t in their corner anymore, and was negotiating a deal that was more concerned about rewarding Sacramento and AEG with a fair deal than it was about giving a handout to the Maloofs. Five years ago when the Maloofs’ payroll was busty and their finances were better, the NBA would have likely fought tooth and nail to get every last cent for ‘the boys.’

But this is what happens when you begin to bring public shame to the logo. The Maloofs don’t have enough money to run an NBA franchise the way it ought to be run. There was a point in time the Maloofs could have said that the city of Sacramento was dragging its feet and not paying the price of being an NBA town. But Kevin Johnson changed all of that when he made this a keystone issue of his political career, and now the shoe is on the other foot. It’s the Maloofs that stopped running their business with the aggressive intent to make things work in Sacramento. In this messy business of trying to move a franchise, they’ve brought the league embarrassment by dragging one of its best fan bases through the mud. This comes just a handful of years after Seattle’s civic leaders balked at David Stern’s threats, and the story of the abandoned Sonics fan is now a television moment. Now, documentaries show the ugly side of NBA economics and in this day and age of Twitter, every fan can be plugged into all the messy details that were once swept under the rug.

David Stern is going to speak in moments about the issue. The Maloof attorneys took a lot of liberties with how they presented the NBA involvement, and surely Stern is going to take umbrage with the tonalities used by the attorneys to explain the NBA’s positions. Now we’re going to see how far the NBA is willing to go to protect its small market with a big heart. The city of Sacramento clearly has its ducks in a row and can provide ownership with deeper pockets that will wear the logo without embarrassment. The only question is whether or not the NBA is willing to clip one of its own in order to do what’s best for the group.

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.