Report: Billionaire who wants to keep Kings in Sacramento met with Stern

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If you learned one thing from the time the Maloof family tried to move the Kings to Anaheim it should have been this — Sacramento fans, led by mayor Kevin Johnson, will not give up without a fight.

While the Maloof family has reached an agreement to Sacramento Kings to a group headed by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — a group that intends to move the team to Seattle for next season — Johnson and team are working on a counter proposal.

One that includes Los Angeles based billionaire Ron Burkle, who flew out to New York to meet with David Stern this week, reports Sam Amick at USA Today.

Los Angeles-based billionaire and prospective owner of the Sacramento Kings, Ron Burkle, met with NBA Commissioner David Stern on Thursday in New York City, according to two people with knowledge of the situation…

Burkle — the supermarket mogul who is part owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins — has been planning to make a competing bid with fellow money man Mark Mastrov, the Northern California-based founder of 24-Hour Fitness, in an attempt to convince the NBA to keep the team in Sacramento. The goal all along from the Sacramento side has been to force the NBA into a tough decision by putting together an arena plan and a bid that’s competitive with the Hansen-Ballmer group.

The question is simple: Even if Johnson puts together a group with the money and a viable plan, the question is will that be enough? If they do get it together, it would certainly make approval of the sale more awkward for the Board of Governors, but the board can choose what it wants.

If you’re asking why the Maloofs don’t just sell to Burkle, there is some animosity there. Burkle stepped forward saying he would buy the team and keep them in Sacramento when the Anaheim deal was proposed, and that angered the Maloofs. They don’t want him to get the team.

Any sale of a team must be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors (made up of the owners or their appointed representative). That body meets in April in New York and Johnson is expected to make his pitch there.

But it will not be easy. He’s going to have to convince those owners (who may want to sell their team some day and don’t want a lot of precedent set) that Sacramento has an offer that is better for the league long term. While Sacramento is the nation’s 20th largest television market, Seattle is 14th. While Sacramento is pulling together an arena deal, Seattle’s is financed, through most approvals and on to environmental review (but certainly not done). Several owners — and reportedly David Stern — see leaving Seattle as a mistake they want to correct. Plus each owner would each get part of any relocation fee straight into their pockets — it was $30 million for the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, which is a little more than $1 million a team.

The Hansen/Ballmer group has worked hard to present an air of inevitability around this sale, to make it seem done and done. Smart move by them.

But it’s not done.

Sacramento certainly has its work cut out for it. But pulling out of Sacramento when city officials worked to keep the team, had quality new owners lined up plus an arena deal moving forward would be an ugly black eye for the league as well. The league says it wants communities and cities to work with them, that is what Sacramento has done only to be thwarted by the Maloofs. It also has been reported the Maloofs minority owners have a “first right of refusal” clause to buy the team if it went up for sale, something they could use to muck up the planned sale to Hansen/Ballmer.

It’s messy. But politics and business is now and always has been messy (go see “Lincoln”). However uphill the battle may seem, the people of Sacramento are not going down without a fight, they are not just letting their team waltz out of town.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.