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Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson lays out framework for Kings to stay put

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With reports swirling that the Kings’ move to Seattle is a mere formality at this point, the story on the ground in Sacramento is much, much different.

In the end, this story comes down to three things:

1. Can Seattle’s Chris Hansen close a deal with the Maloofs to buy the Kings? (According to reports, it was first and goal at the one-yard line about a week ago)
2. Can Kevin Johnson secure the opportunity to meet or beat that offer?
3. What will the NBA’s Board of Governors decide to do?

As we reported in September, in order for Seattle to be able to beat Sacramento’s offer financially they would have to drastically overpay for the team. This is because Sacramento owners do not have to worry about the Maloofs’ loan to the city, relocation fees, or moving costs.

The offer in Seattle has been reported to be $525 million based on the overall valuation of the franchise, so Sacramento can pay $425-$450 million based on the overall valuation of the franchise and still end up providing more money to the Maloofs than Seattle can.

With sources speaking to PBT on the condition of anonymity saying Sacramento has multiple buyers that meet both the city and NBA’s criteria for owning a franchise, the pertinent question has been whether or not David Stern and the other owners would allow Sacramento to present their offer.

We got that confirmation today at the State of Downtown Sacramento Breakfast when mayor Johnson announced that Stern had indeed approved Sacramento’s request to speak at the Board of Governors meeting in April.

This is an extremely significant development in this story. First, it displays the trust that has grown between Stern and Johnson, as well as between Stern and the city of Sacramento, who has met every deliverable that has been asked of them in the Maloof debacle.

Second, it shows that Stern and the other owners are willing to let this relocation issue play out at a more visible level. If they had no intention of giving Sacramento a chance, then it would be a curious decision to give the critical voices blasting the NBA for its relocation practices the oxygen to continue bashing them.

Indeed, the city of Sacramento has presented a “model offer of public funds” according to one league source, and for a complete rundown of what a decision to move the team from Sacramento would look like, you can check out previous write-ups about the NBA’s billion dollar subsidy industry and how that plays into the league’s decision-making here.

In short, the league has leveraged cities into providing $3 billion of public money since 1990 for the creation of state-of-the-art arenas – all predicated on the assumption that a long-term partnership would be honored so long as both parties are acting in reasonable good faith.

If Sacramento has done everything it can to keep their team, a fact that is not in dispute, then leaving them at the altar because the Maloof family ran their own finances into the ground is going to be a major problem the next time they go to ask a city for money.

Most importantly, with sources close to the situation confident that they will have an actionable offer that will reasonably meet or beat the amount of money that Hansen can put into the Maloofs’ pockets — assuming he and partner/Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer don’t turn into the drunk guys at an auction — then Stern and the other owners are going to have to make an unprecedented decision to move the team out of Sacramento.

Not only would a Sacramento offer likely break the NBA record purchase price of a franchise, and include an actionable plan to build a brand new arena with a league vetted public-private partnership, but a decision to move the team would mark the first time a mid-market city had been poached for a larger market when the original city had everything the league could ever ask for in place at the time of the move.

Looking at the Maloof side of the equation, they are both driving this discussion but are also operating at an extremely weakened position in this debacle. Owing as much as $200 million by various reports and facing a financial crisis of their own (they just made a cash call to minority investors according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge), it would be a shocking move if they did not sell the team at this stage of the game.

Furthermore, both the family and the NBA could be in for a messy breakup should Sacramento not be given a fair chance to buy the team.

Any lawsuit filed by the city to stall the deal for what legal sources say could be any number of criteria relating to the improper moving of the franchise, including but not limited to union workers’ rights and the lack of a local bidding process, would necessarily put the Maloofs into a lame duck season in Sacramento.

When considering the Maloofs’ messy financial situation and considering the league’s likely desire not to get into a protracted battle over the Kings, all signs point to Sacramento getting a chance to present their offer with everybody at the table willing to vote their way should the deal points pan out as Sacramento sources say they will.

For all of the talk about the Maloofs not wanting to sell to a Sacramento buyer, and confirming Sam Amick’s must-read report about the situation, the talk of Ron Burkle appears to be overstated at this point.

There are sources in Sacramento that believe he could still be a party to these talks, but that the KJ camp is not relying on any one white knight at this time. It has been reported here and elsewhere that the Maloofs don’t want to sell to him because of their dislike for the billionaire, who they believe ruined their chances to move to Anaheim in March of 2011.

The reality here is that they are going to have to fall in line with what the NBA’s BOG decides or face the prospect of a lame duck season going heads up against both the NBA and Sacramento, and in their financial situation that is a non-starter according to most sources with knowledge of the situation.

These sources aren’t going to predict what the Maloofs will try to do, but most believe that the family will take a financially favorable offer in Sacramento and also that if the league decides to back Sacramento in a relatively close deal that they family will back down and take the offer.

With the decision to have Kevin Johnson out to the BOG meetings already made, the focus of this story shifts to the work at hand for Sacramento. They have to get their ownership group finalized and ready for presentation.

Those following the situation should not be surprised if a deal is announced in Seattle, but like the San Francisco Giants’ eventually blocked sale to Tampa Bay in August of 1992 this will be decided by the owners once Johnson’s deal is finalized should Hansen come to an agreement with the Maloofs.

And for those handicapping the action, Kevin Johnson is not going to make that presentation without having owners in place that meet the shared criteria of both his camp and the NBA office. He will come boasting a ravenous No. 20 television marketplace with some advantages and disadvantages compared to Seattle, but nobody will deny Sacramento’s appetite for NBA basketball.

In 24 hours since announcing their grassroots effort, Here We Buy has received pledges totaling nearly $10 million from local individuals and businesses toward season tickets under the new ownership group.

Johnson will come armed with the ability to force the Maloofs into a lame duck season if he has to, but mostly he will arrive at that meeting with yet another stirring example of his city stepping up with all odds against it.

The images of the Sign Lady, Carmichael Dave on a ladder telling crying Kings fans that ‘this is not over by a long shot,’ and the 600-1000 arena workers that are going to lose their jobs are not going to be lost on the proceedings, and for the owners without tear ducts in their eyes they will look at the financial risk of a decision against Sacramento side by side to the incremental benefit of a very qualified Seattle offer.

That decision to rip out Sacramento’s heart is all risk and marginal gain, assuming Kevin Johnson has one more career-defining slam dunk left in him.

And since he hasn’t missed a shot yet, it seems silly to bet that he’s going to fall apart in the fourth quarter.

Pistons-Kings game delayed for smoke over court (video)

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DeMarcus Cousins, in his eternal battle with referees (and everyone else), retroactively won every argument he’s ever had when he had to alert the officials in last night’s Pistons-Kings game to the large cloud of smoke coming toward the court. It was only then that the refs stopped play.

But the best reaction to the mistimed fog machine was Sacramento coach Dave Joerger:

LeBron James tweets: I’m not mad at Cavaliers GM David Griffin

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers rallies his teammates in the huddle during player introductions prior to the game Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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After tearing into the Cavaliers’ roster construction last night, LeBron James said he’d tweet even more thoughts.

LeBron delivered, softening the point everyone amplified (that he wants roster improvements) and emphasizing the point that got overlooked (that he’s on board with Cleveland general manager David Griffin):

I’m guessing LeBron saw how his comments went over and wanted to quiet the storm he created. What he said sounds so much more resentful. These tweets read as much more constructive.

But the underlying point remains: LeBron is unsatisfied with the roster.

He won’t be a free agent until 2018, but remember, dissatisfaction with the Heat’s roster contributed to him bolting Miami.

Wizards wearing all black to Celtics game for a figurative funeral

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The Celtics and Wizards have a little rivalry brewing:

The latest chapter comes for tonight’s game, with the Wizards – imitating a commonly used fashion for closeout playoff games – wearing all black to the arena.

Kelly Oubre Jr.:

We’re wearing all black to the game. So you know where we’re going with that.

Round three. Let’s get it.

Wall (as Beal yells encouragement in the background):

All black everything. A funeral.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

When Jae Crowder was asked about the Wizards all-black gear, his initial response…“That’s cute!”

Isaiah Thomas, via Blakely:

“This is definitely not Game 7 or the playoffs,” said Isaiah Thomas. “But if they want to take it that serious, they can.”

Gotta agree with the Celtics here. This is an absurd level of motivational showmanship for a January game.

But I also love it! These petty feuds are fantastic and spice up a long regular season.

My favorite part of the Wizards’ funeral motif: Even if they “bury” Boston tonight, these teams meet again in March.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top 10 to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?