Seattle SuperSonics v Denver Nuggets

Kings to Seattle: It’s not done. But don’t be shocked if it is soon.


Things can change. There was already what was supposed to be a final game in Sacramento that turned out to not be so final. And anyone who doesn’t think the Maloofs can change their mind at the last minute didn’t watch the arena negotiations in Sacramento a year ago.

But the Maloof family selling the Kings franchise to Seattle’s Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer group for around $500 million is moving fast down the road to reality.

And it’s what David Stern wants, which makes it all the more likely. And he wants it to happen before March 1 so the new owners can file to move the team to Seattle next season (a lame-duck year in Sacramento would be ugly).

When the news broke Wednesday that a deal was close, it seemed to come out of nowhere. But these talks didn’t. They have been going on months or longer and I was told have been serious for a little while. More serious than Virginia Beach ever was because the money is there in Seattle. Hansen’s company is pitching in for the arena and to buy the team and it is a $2.7 billion firm. Ballmer is worth more than $15 billion by himself.

They can overpay for the franchise, pay relocation fees, and whatever else. While the City of Seattle is going to pitch in a bond for the stadium construction, this is not like the deal in Virginia or even the old deal in Seattle before the Sonics moved where the state governments were asked to pitch in some cash. Most of the money in the project is private financing and there is no state money. Those kind of projects get done.

David Stern looks back at what happened before in Seattle, a great basketball market, as a black eye, and he wants to see a team return there. It’s one of his last priorities and something he wants as a legacy, according to reports. And what Stern wants…

But that is different than saying this is a lock.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson says there is hope and there is, because this is a massive deal. A very complex deal. Remember that in all of this the Kings and Maloofs have a debt to the city of Sacramento worth more than $75 million, plus other obligations. Those have to be cleared up. The Kings owners would remain a minority owner in the new team and arena. This is an arena some in Seattle — including baseball’s Mariners — have opposed. Large deals with a lot of moving parts can crumble.

But it’s hard to see some cavalry come charging over the hill to save the Kings, because the NBA isn’t fond of the cavalry.

David Stern and the plethora of other attorneys at the NBA league offices are big on process. They want someone to be around, to work through the system, not to just swoop in last minute. Hansen has been talking to the league and working on his arena deal for years. Getting the team is just the last, big part of that.

If Hansen does buy the team, there will not be opposition from the other owners. Because Stern wants this and because stable ownership in a large Seattle market is a good thing. It will fly through the league process. However, team officials around the league have been warned not to comment on these talks, reports Sam Amick at the USA Today.

In the end, I wouldn’t bet the rent money on the Maloofs selling the team because they are unpredictable. To put it kindly. I mean a key owner of the Kings is on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” And the deal has not reached the point the minority owners of the Kings have been informed, reports the USA Today.

But the Seattle deal didn’t come out of nowhere, it’s been worked on for a while. The Maloofs were not telling Kevin Johnson about it but the talks have been happening and it’s not going to be easy for Johnson to wedge himself into them at this point. Now it’s time to see if the deal can be finalized. Something David Stern wants. And what he wants he usually gets.

Report: 76ers supporting, not blaming, Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor
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76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor fought a man in a Boston street.

The team has released a short, vague statement. CSN Philly:

“We are aware of the report and we are currently working to gather additional information. Until that time, we will have no further comment.”

But what do the 76ers really think?

Chris Broussard of ESPN:

I spoke with somebody close to him. They’ve talked to the 76ers. They’ve talked with the NBA.

The Sixers are very supportive of Okafor. They understand the situation, but they have to do their due diligence and look into it.

The Sixers are supporting him. They’re not blaming him. If they have to discipline, it still won’t sully him in their eyes.

Again, I’m told that they’re very supportive of him.

If the 76ers really support Okafor, they’ll do so publicly. Leaking their support anonymously doesn’t really move the needle.

I also find this report a little dubious, because Broussard only said he talked to someone close to Okafor. If the 76ers’ viewpoint came filtered through an Okafor rep, there could be a lot of spin – though it’s possible Broussard also spoke with someone from the team.

What choice do the 76ers have but to support Okafor, anyway? He’s a promising young player on a team that desperately needs hope. It seems he made a major mistake, but it’s not a career-ender. And as long as the 76ers are keeping him, they might as well stand by him.

However – based on what we’ve seen, which is obviously not everything – this incident should “sully him in their eyes.” He appeared to be the aggressor, and the team should be concerned by that. Perhaps, further investigation has provided extenuating circumstances, but absent new evidence, the 76ers should view him less favorably – and be proactive about helping him correct any underlying issues.

That’s the support Okafor needs from them.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.