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Will Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen drastically overpay for the Sacramento Kings?

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News of billionaire Chris Hansen striking a deal with the Seattle City Council hit the wire late Monday night, as the sides have agreed to a framework on an arena deal that moves them a few smaller hurdles away from becoming an NBA-ready city (courtesy of Chris Daniels of King 5 in Seattle).

In a bit of twisted irony, the city that had its team stolen away will now set its sights on any available team, and there is no team that is more available than the Sacramento Kings, who nowadays have a different rumored destination every week.

This most recent news solidifies Seattle’s place on the top of that list, though they still need the Maloofs to sell, and they still have to outdo Sacramento. Neither task should be considered a slam dunk, or even likely at this point.

The idea that Sacramento could lose its team, of course, is a black eye for the league as the city has supported its team in every conceivable way, including where it counts financially and at the ticket gate. The only reason we’re having this discussion is because the Maloof family, internal squabbles aside, doesn’t want to be there.

Their roots are in New Mexico, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, and being broke in relative NBA owner terms they’re looking for a short-term infusion of cash, which they hope to find by moving the team to another city that will both build them an arena and also let them keep the profits from it.

Cities such as Virginia Beach, Louisville, Vancouver, Kansas City, and the like are potential candidates if anything because they’re willing to pay to be on the NBA map. But the math starts to get fuzzy because the markets are smaller than Sacramento, and the Maloofs end up no better off than they were in Sacramento over the long haul.

That, and the NBA doesn’t really want those markets, at least not at the expense of Sacramento, where the league enjoys the No. 20 sized TV market without interference from other sports leagues. When you factor in the public relations hit of moving the team – it’s hard to see the league supporting a move and to date we have not.

Even when considering a larger market like Anaheim, the league isn’t falling all over itself to allow a move. The NBA blocked the Maloofs’ relocation attempt last year after Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson raised over $10 million in untapped sponsorships at the drop of a hat and promised a viable arena deal. Things seemed to be moving along reasonably well and a deal for a new arena was agreed to in principle during All Star weekend in Orlando.

But that was before George Maloof created a how-to-guide for burning bridges in Sacramento. He torched the deal live on public television in a tirade for the ages, and any goodwill that was leftover at the league offices was probably lost. Commissioner David Stern has used measured words in describing the arena situation since then, and none of them have painted the Maloofs in a flattering light.

In fact, the commissioner would probably like to see the family sell the team, but as usual the issue comes down to money, antitrust law, and the other 29 owners that one day will be negotiating with both the league office and their home city about something.

Aside from not wanting anybody to tell them what to do, owners want the right to move their teams to the cities they feel they can make the most money in. Leagues don’t like to allow this as it creates a number of problems, and the courts have found that the intersection of those opposing ideals lies in the concept of a relocation fee. Relocation fees are the amount that a league can charge to indemnify parties that are damaged by an owner’s decision to move.

The law is much more detailed than this, and the case law that has been favorable to relocating owners isn’t an exact match to the situation in Sac, but one thing is clear – neither party wants to land in court over this.

And that’s why the Kings arena situation has been allowed to play out, to the detriment of the league’s image, and as an affront to the other 29 owners that one day will have to negotiate with their municipalities.

While it’s unclear right now what impact the Maloofs’ apparent bad faith dealings in Sacramento will have on other team owners seeking public subsidies, a small shift in public sentiment could cost the league and its players tens of millions of dollars and a large scale shift could put the billion dollars the league has received in subsidy back on its balance sheet.

But even with the Maloofs’ name now toxic inside the league and out, to the point it’s being pulled off the signage at the Palms, the league cannot afford a bad ruling in an antitrust case. Aside from treble damages the Maloofs would seek, which are significant, a bad ruling would be held over all sports leagues’ heads by owners wanting to play franchise free agency.

The best hope for the league has always been to see the issue play out on its own, with the Maloofs realizing that they have no options besides going back to the city with its hat in its hand, or selling the team outright.

And with Seattle standing in the on-deck circle and doing what they need to do to land itself an NBA franchise, the question on everybody’s mind is whether or not Hansen will be able to drastically overpay for the Kings.

The Maloofs owe about $70 million to the city of Sacramento and well over $100 million to the NBA, and a sales price in excess of $400 million is needed to give the 43 percent stakeholders an easy way out of Dodge. Considering the franchise is valued at $300 million by Forbes, which is a generous valuation, Hansen would need to hope that the bump of moving to a larger market in Seattle and owning land near the arena would justify the Maloofs’ likely asking price.

But more importantly, when you factor in a relocation fee, which sources tell me will be assessed to give Sacramento buyers a fair shot at buying the team, Hansen could be looking at $500 million or more to buy the Kings. After paying $300 million and counting to build an arena, that’s approaching a billion dollars to get in the game.

It’s possible that the man known for his patience will wait for a less toxic situation to pop up, and it’s fair to wonder now if the league would reconsider expansion now that multiple cities have expressed interest in NBA clubs.

As for Hansen’s involvement with the Kings, he said weeks ago that he had not made an offer to purchase the Kings after a local report emerged saying otherwise. If he decides to make a play for the team, and assuming the Maloofs are ready to cry uncle, it probably puts Sacramento on notice that it’s time to formalize an offer to buy the team.

Sources on the city’s side have indicated that they have more than one buyer lined up, and ultimately Seattle’s progress could force some sort of endgame here. If the goal is to sell for the Maloofs, then they will likely have squeezed the best sales price out of Sacramento that is possible, and anything close to a Seattle offer (after the relocation fee) will likely be supported by the league.

If the Maloofs still don’t want to sell, they’ll continue to play the dating game with other cities and the league will continue to deal with a public relations nuisance. The family will not get a different arena deal in Sacramento, and any talk of renovating the unrenovatable Arco Arena with public funds has been met with collective laughter both inside and outside of the city.

Even if the Maloofs can find a sweetheart deal somewhere else, it’s unlikely that they’ll have the clout to force a move the league doesn’t want. Sure, they may have some antitrust law on their side, but they probably can’t afford the lawsuit and even if they win, they’re left in a place where they’re not wanted. They don’t have the fortitude of antitrust victor and deceased Raiders owner Al Davis. And other than George, they want to be wanted.

In Sacramento, the framework for a deal exists not just for the Maloofs but for any owner that wants to pick up the ball and run with it.

The deal that was struck between the city, arena giant AEG, and the NBA is still considered a good deal by each of those parties, and the only thing that would theoretically change are the owner contributions. In a concept the Maloofs cannot come to grips with, if a new owner wants to pay more for arena construction they can enjoy more of the profits.

Unlike anywhere else in the country, including Seattle, an agreement can be reached in Sacramento under the current terms and design could start within about a month according to sources.

As usual, though, the story goes right back to the Maloofs and whether or not they’re ready to face the music. They can’t do nothing, as Arco Arena is dilapidated and barely up to NBA code. They’ll eventually need to do more than polish the concourse floors.  Eventually, they’ll either need to take the Sacramento offer, try to make something out of nothing in an unlikely move out of town, or sell the team.

And when the music stops and the only thing left to do is sell, will Hansen or any other buyer want to drastically overpay for this particular franchise to the extent that Sacramento can’t match the offer?

Until these questions are answered or the Maloofs are nudged out the door with greater efficiency, Sacramento Kings fans have to endure the same fears that plagued Sonics fans before their team was ultimately ripped away.  And that’s just not right.

Report: Jimmy Butler telling people he will be back for playoffs

Associated Press
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We don’t know a lot about Jimmy Butler‘s meniscus injury (other than that it’s not an ACL injury as feared). Because of that, it’s impossible to put a timeline on his return. We don’t know what kind of surgery he likely needs — a traditional meniscus partial removal takes six weeks or so to get a player back on the court (but is harder on the knee long-term as cushioning in it is removed, Dwyane Wade had this), but a repair could take three months or more before he is back on the court. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said this pregame Saturday:

However, Butler himself is telling people he will be back for the playoffs.

Is that the optimism of a fierce competitor? Players are often the worst judge of their ability to return from injury.

Or, does he know that a meniscus repair is out of the question with his injury, that a partial removal is the only option (as is true in some cases)? That has a speedier return that could have him back for the playoffs.

In the short-term, Minnesota is going to need a lot more out of Andrew Wiggins, and they need to play a lot better team defense, to hold on to a playoff slot in the West. The Timberwolves have been -8.3 per 100 possessions without Butler this season, but went 2-2 in the four games he missed. Minnesota is currently the four seed in the West at 36-26, but just three games from falling out of the postseason in a crowded conference.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.

Steve Ballmer: “Difficult” Blake Griffin trade moves Clippers toward modern NBA

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Last summer, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer went all-in on Blake Griffin. They wooed him with a mini-museum tour of his life, did a mock jersey retirement, told him they wanted him to be a “Clipper for life,” then sealed the deal with a five-year, $173 million maximum contract offer. Griffin accepted and never even met with another team.

Within eight months, the Clippers traded Griffin to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovich, and a lightly protected 2018 first-round pick.

What changed? Was it another injury to Griffin that sidelined him and had the Clippers questioning their investment? Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN asked Ballmer about the decision.

“[Griffin] is obviously a superstar player,” said Ballmer. “But if you look at what happened injury-wise, if you look at the kind of chemistry we were getting on our team, the thing you can see at the high level with the numbers when I started — one guy got all the assists, one guy got all the points and one guy got all the rebounds. It’s not all quite that way, but I think in the modern NBA, we were seeing it more and more — there’s a greater distribution of responsibility….

“We have to add some pieces obviously, but I think we’re building for what I think is the modern NBA, and that trend has only accelerated since we signed Blake last summer.”

Ballmer thinks he can use this trade and the Chris Paul one last summer to begin to retool a roster in that fashion, saying that winning a ring is his goal. Maybe he can, but…

The Clippers are a long way from being that kind of a modern NBA team.

Talent still wins out in basketball. Those elite “modern NBA” have superstars — Stephen Curry, James Harden, etc. — who rack up a lot of numbers, but also where the other players are versatile threats. With Brad Stevens in charge, Boston runs a modern, egalitarian offense, but at the heart of it is Kyrie Irving and, eventually, Gordon Hayward as stars who can just get buckets and use their gravity to draw defenders, opening things up for others. Then there are All-Star level players around them such as Al Horford.

Without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick this season, the Clippers had to run the offense through Griffin because, well, who else? Danilo Gallinari can create some when healthy, but he’s really a second or third option and works better of the ball. DeAndre Jordan is a threat as a roll man but it takes a special point guard and passer to bring out the best in him. Austin Rivers has developed into a solid rotation point guard in the NBA, but he’s not a No. 1 option. Lou Williams is really their only other guy who can create at that level. The Clippers may have leaned on Griffin too much, but it’s not like Doc Rivers had better choices sitting around.

What is going to be interesting is to see what the Clippers do this summer — do they back up the Brinks truck and re-sign DeAndre Jordan? Do they try to bring back Bradley and Patrick Beverley? Do they keep or trade Lou Williams, who just extended with the team but at a very reasonable price ($8 million per year)? Can they move Danilo Gallinari (which would require attaching a first-round pick)?

Ballmer says he doesn’t want to bottom out and rebuild, but if Jordan leaves how much does that change the scenario? The Clippers 2019 first-round pick belongs to Boston but is lottery protected. What the Clippers don’t want is for a year from now to be exactly where they are today in the standings — on the cusp of the playoffs trying to get in. While the lottery odds change in 2019, they need to either be a rebuilding team that’s going to keep that pick, or find a way to push up into the standings (which is not going to be easy in a deep West).

It’s good to be moving toward a more modern NBA, but it’s going to be a process for the Clippers.

 

Lonzo Ball rusty in return, likes playing with Isaiah Thomas

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball took the pass and set his feet at the arc. Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr. gave him space, so Ball put up the shot — and drained it.

And Staples Center erupted.

Lonzo Ball returned to the Lakers for the first time in 15 games following an MCL sprain. He was up and down (3-of-8 shooting) as to be expected, but had nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 17 minutes. (He will not play Saturday in a back-to-back in Sacramento.)

“I feel pretty good, only played 17 minutes so nothing crazy out there…” Ball said. “I could feel (his MCL), but the doc says I can get no worse. Just sliding a little bit, especially going right. Other than that it was OK.”

“I thought he looked good, I thought his shot looked good,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, noting that he could have played Ball a little more under the minutes restriction.

Ball had three three-pointers on the night (3-of-6 from three). His shooting motion isn’t any quicker or less quirky, but he’s gotten much better and knowing when he has the room to get it off. When his feet are set and he has room, he can knock it down.

His ability to push the pace, find teammates and pick up the pace is a welcome return to the Lakers.

Ball fit in well as part of a blowout win over a Dallas team that, to use coach Rick Carlisle’s words, “played without any force.” The final was 124-102 and it was never really in doubt for Los Angeles. The Mavs looked like a team tanking, not that their owner would ever tell them to… oh, wait. Carlise and the Mavs are not trying to lose, but this is a time when Dallas needs to get a look at its players about to be free agents — Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell — and young players to see who will be part of the future. The question is how to best utilize them.

“You got to trust your gut in a lot of instances,” Carlisle said of how to evaluate his young players. “It’s not rocket science, certain things become obvious. But it’s important to compete.

Luke Walton is doing the exact same thing and he liked how his team competed. He tried something different playing Ball and Isaiah Thomas together for stretches.

“I liked it a lot,” Ball said of being on the court with IT. “Two playmakers on the court, I think we benefit from it. Look forward to playing with him all the time.”

The two were -6 when on the court in a game the Lakers won in a blowout. Still, expect to see more of that and some other odd combos the rest of the way.

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