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Comcast-Spectacor hasn’t spoken with Kings at all, arena project barely off the ground

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Unless there is more to come in the next few days, the Virginia Beach arena press conference didn’t do much to sway the overwhelming opinion that the Sacramento Kings are nowhere near moving there.

There were no Maloof appearances, but president of Comcast-Spectacor Peter Luukko spoke to the Virginia Beach city council in support of bringing a pro sports franchise into town.

When posing the question of why Comcast-Spectacor would get involved in the Virginia Beach market, Luukko offered two reasons, including the numerous business relationships the company has in the area and that the area “is one of the largest underserved markets (for sports) in North America.”

Luukko and Virginia Beach director of economic development Warren Harris jointly said that they would negotiate with pro sports franchises over the next two months, and that a 25-year lease would be fulfilled by the sports and entertainment giant, assuming a deal can be worked out of course. And in the unlikely event that Virginia Beach wants to stick to that timetable, it’s difficult to see the NBA racing to cooperate with that deadline unless they somehow believe that this is the endgame for the Kings.

Given what we have seen so far, that’s not likely the case, with just one reason being that David Stern loves the No. 20 Sacramento TV market that shares no space with other pro sports teams.

Virginia Beach, on the other hand, is the No. 43 TV market and that fact was not lost upon councilman Bill DeSteph, who quickly and methodically picked apart the presentation made by the city. Pointing out inconsistencies in the criteria used for market size, he called the city’s presentation “misleading” and repeatedly asked for “apples to apples” comparisons of the data used to similarly compare Virginia Beach with Sacramento.

“If we’re talking about Sacramento, let’s go out 100 miles and let’s include the San Francisco Bay Area and let’s include Fresno,” said DeSteph.

If similar radiuses had been used in the presentation then the three million people boasted by Virginia Beach would compare to 10 million on the Sacramento side.

Cost was another issue for DeSteph, who asked and was told that the $350 million price tag for the arena was an estimate and that no cost analysis had been done. He would later ask for a public vote if public funds were going to be used to pay for the arena, which is usually a death-knell for projects of this type.

For his part, mayor William Sessions followed up the emphatic opposition by some council members by pounded his hands on the table in front of him, exclaiming “me and the vice mayor will keep you updated on a weekly basis!”

Regardless of the support from notable local figures that was highlighted in Tuesday’s PowerPoint presentation, it’s clear the city council is at square one with the project. And of the three councilmen that spoke on Tuesday, two of them appeared dead set against the use of public funds and both of them openly questioned the validity of the city’s initial proposal.

On the other hand, Comcast-Spectacor is a big player in the sports and entertainment marketplace and is a serious investor here. They clearly see an opportunity in Virginia Beach, but the city is now at the starting line of a long, arduous race that includes a laundry list of municipalities that want pro basketball.

As for the purple elephant in the room, the Kings, who had not issued any specific denial of the past week’s reports and were instead tweeting out photos of their newly shined concourse floor — Luukko said that Comcast-Spectacor has not talked with them at all.

“We have not had any formal talks with the Kings. We have not had any talks,” said Luukko, which is about as specific of a denial as can be expected.

This would line up with what sources close to negotiations have said is a project being driven by the Virginia Beach side, that just happens to fit the Maloof’s current strategy of waiting and hoping that another city can provide a viable offer to move.

This sentiment was echoed by Carmichael Dave, a well-connected arena proponent and local radio personality whose dismissal from the team-sponsored radio station drew raised eyebrows in Sacramento. On his new show on the CD Networks, sources of his close to the team said that the Maloofs had rejected an offer from Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen which was upward of $400 million.

Dave also added that those sources said the Maloofs were “looking more to relocate than to sell.”

Of course, everything from the Maloof camp is part conjecture and part conundrum these days. Sources close to the situation say that the family is split internally and that George Maloof, in particular, is holding a grudge and wants to leave Sacramento. The family name has been removed from the Palms Hotel and Casino, which doesn’t exactly scream $6 million burger, and sources say that ticket sales and sponsorships continue to suffer as the team remains in limbo.

If there can be any good news for Kings fans during this debacle, it’s that the Maloofs do not appear to have filed any Virginia-based trademark applications for the terms ‘Kings’ or ‘Royals,’ and their trademark attorney Scott Hervey has no new trademark applications on file with the US Trademark office. Their trademark application for the terms ‘Anaheim Royals, Los Angeles Royals, Orange County Royals’ and my favorite ‘Anaheim Royals of Southern California’ has, however, been held up by an opposition from the Kansas City Royals of Major League Baseball.

On the other hand, marketing consultants for the city of Virginia Beach have registered the websites vbkings.com and virginiabeachkings.com, and along with a legitimate partner in Comcast-Spectacor the Virginia Beach threat will continue to loom for Kings fans – no matter how overstated the threat may be at this time.

And until the NBA can effectively shove the Maloofs out the door with the franchise intact in Sacramento, who league sources say has done everything that was asked of them to keep the team, these stories are going to continue to pile up and be a black eye for the league.

Heat’s Josh McRoberts says he broke foot in Game 6 vs. Raptors, remains out

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Josh McRoberts #4 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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To call Josh McRoberts‘ time in Miami injury plagued might be the understatement of the decade.

Now with Chris Bosh out, the Heat could really use McRoberts at the four, but “shockingly” he is not healthy. Wednesday he finally admitted the reason he has been limited in training camp with foot issues.

McRoberts run of bad luck continues. And foot injuries — when your job involves running up and down a hardwood floor — are something that has to be taken seriously and allowed to fully heal, lest they become chronic. I’m not sure the Heat can bet on a lot out of McRoberts this season.

With no Bosh and McRoberts, expect Derrick Williams, Udonis Haslem, and maybe Luke Babbitt will get some run there. Coach Erik Spoelstra also likely will have some small lineups where Justise Winslow will play the four.

51Q: Will Larry Bird’s renovation of the Pacers pay off?

Larry Bird, Paul George
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

There are two types of basketball analysts: Those who believe the Pacers improved by swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague and those who believe Indiana got worse in the trade.

Teague uses his superior quickness in the pick-and-roll to score and assist more. Hill defends better, commits fewer turnovers and shoots more efficiently.

I prefer Hill. Larry Bird opted for Teague.

I can’t wait to see who’s right.

Though I’m inclined to value Hill’s less-flashy contributions – and like his lead-guard skills if he were called upon for that role – I’m also not arrogant enough to believe I certainly know better than Bird. An all-time great who has excelled as a player, coach and executive deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Bird is leveraging it now.

Seemingly unsatisfied with the team that reached consecutive conference finals in 2013 and 2014, Bird has now fully torn down the roster to build a more dynamic offense around Paul George. The Pacers president has long talked about the change, and we’ll learn this season whether his vision will bear fruit.

In addition to trading Hill for Teague, Bird let Lance Stephenson leave in free agency, deemphasized and traded Roy Hibbert, offended David West into leaving and fired Frank Vogel. In came Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Teague and Nate McMillian.

And Bird hasn’t stopped after jettisoning everyone who regularly started with George in those conference-finals runs. Indiana will miss Ian Mahinmi‘s defense – maybe more than Al Jefferson works as a change-of-pace in the low post. But Bird is fully embracing the course of trading defense for offense.

Debate how he addressed it, but the team’s identity was clear. In the last four years, the Pacers stunk offensively and thrived defensively. Their rank in points per possession:

  • Offense: 20th, 23rd, 23rd, 25th
  • Defense: 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see an excellent defense propping up an offense that could have been better. Bird saw a struggling offense and couldn’t look past it.

Indiana now has a deep squad of players who can break down opponents off the dribble. They will have matchup advantages – if they pass well enough to find the player in favorable position. The ball will move plenty between the hardwood and the dribbler’s hands. Between players? That’s a major question mark.

It’s one of numerous hitches in Bird’s plan.

He tried to fast-track the offense last year by moving George from small forward to power forward. Despite Bird’s demands, George resisted. The plan was largely scrapped early in the season.

McMillian was also a curious choice given Bird’s stated goals. McMillian’s Trail Blazers and SuperSonics teams usually played slow. Still, perhaps the coach can adapt his scheme to fit his players (and appease his boss). Bird chose McMillian for a reason, after all.

Bird chose it all.

This is the team he long desired – for better or worse.

Lakers GM Kupchak tries to brush off Jim Buss’ timeline discussion

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak speaks to reporters at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, April 15, 2016. With Kobe Bryant's $25 million salary, ravenous shot selection and dominant personality gone from the basketball team after 20 years, Kupchak says he will meet with head coach Byron Scott and owner Jim Buss in a few days to discuss their options for the Lakers, which finished with the NBA's second-worst record at 17-65 in Bryant's farewell season. (AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
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Consider this a little preview: On Thursday the ProBasketballTalk podcast returns, opening with a discussion of the Lakers and the Pacific division with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. We talk about the young core — D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, etc. — and how Luke Walton fits with them. How this is a team that if handled properly could develop into something of quality in a couple of years as these players come along. Patience is key.

But then we got to what Medina called the “elephant in the room”: Jim Buss’ timeline for returning to contending. He’s the head of basketball operations and vowed to at least make the second round of the playoffs at least by this season. Which is not happening. Will Buss be patient? Is he grounded in today’s NBA reality? Will the woman with the hammer, Jeanie Buss, hold him to that timeline? Does she have the backing of the other Buss children to push him out? (Reportedly she does.) It has Shakespearian drama potential.

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was asked about that Tuesday and wanted no part of the question. Via Medina at the Daily News.

“I’m not in a position to debate the stuff you talked about,” Kupchak said on Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara. “I’m not sure what was said with certainty. From my point of view, we’ve created a team that has a lot of young talent that can grow into really good NBA players that can leave an imprint on this league. I think we’ve surrounded them with older veterans to help us win games. I’m excited about our coaching staff….

“Wins and losses, I couldn’t pick a number,” Kupchak said. “I could guess. But I would not guess in front of you. That’s not something I would do. That’s something I would stare at for the rest of the year.”

The Lakers should win more than the 17 of last year, maybe climb into the upper 20s, with 30 wins being the goal. That would signify a good season. But what matters is development, and if the Lakers are better at the end of the season, if their young players are on the right track, then that is success for this season.

Everyone around the Lakers understands that.

But is that enough to save Jim Buss’ job? That’s a different question.

New challenges face Portland guard CJ McCollum in Year four

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) CJ McCollum became a starter for the Trail Blazers last season, broke out as the NBA’s Most Improved Player then signed a big contract over the summer.

Driving him all along the way was third-year pressure.

“Because I knew that was a make-or-break year for me. I know that going into year three I hadn’t played particularly well. I’d had flashes, but I just didn’t sustain a level of consistency for a season.

“In our league you get three years, you get traded, you get put in a box and they say `This is what you are,”‘ McCollum said when the team convened this week for training camp.

The 25-year-old guard became a star in the Blazers’ backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team’s starters left in the offseason.

With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Blazers were considered a team that was rebuilding.

But they surpassed expectations, finishing 44-38 and earning the fifth seed in the Western Conference and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

At one point last season, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle referred to Lillard and McCollum as “a younger version of those Golden State guys.”

McCollum averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists during the regular season. He had 197 3-pointers, fourth most for the Blazers in one season. He scored in double figures in 79 games.

He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season and the dramatic turnaround earned him the Most Improved Player award.

That improvement was the most since Tony Campbell from an average of 6.2 points to 23.2 points with Minnesota between the ’88-89 and `89-90 seasons.

McCollum averaged 20.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the postseason last season.

But at times he was nervous that he was just an injury away from seeing all the hard work fizzle away.

“It was nerve-wracking for me because if you get hurt so many times you fear it. You’re like, `Oh, this could be it,”‘ he said. “So for me to get through a season healthy and to play well, it was comforting.”

McCollum, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Lehigh, missed the first 34 games of his rookie season with a foot injury.

The next season he was a reserve, but he started to turn heads down the stretch and into the playoffs after starter Wesley Matthews was knocked out with a ruptured Achilles. His postseason included a 33-point game against Memphis.

This summer the Blazers solidified their backcourt for years to come by signing McCollum to a four-year contract worth $106 million. It will keep him in Portland through the 2020-21 season.

While McCollum says he feels “less pressure” this season, he’s still looking to grow. The Blazers signed free agent Evan Turner in the offseason to help shore up the Blazers’ depth at guard.

“As a younger player you just play and react,” McCollum said. “As an older player you start to get more experience and you start to `think’ the game. I think once I put those two things together I can be a special player.”