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Steve Ballmer “on a rampage,” playing Russian Roulette with Seattle’s NBA future

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It has been said throughout the Sacramento Kings saga that the presence of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Seattle’s ownership team has been a big plus as they seek to buy and relocate the team.

Worth $15 billion according to Forbes and ranked No. 51 on its billionaire list, he and Chris Hansen were called the “perfect prototype for an NBA owner” by David Stern shortly after the NBA relocation committee unanimously recommended to reject a move of the Kings to Seattle.

But now that Seattle’s advances have been rebuffed by the NBA, sources say it’s Ballmer that has taken on a larger role in decision-making for the Seattle ownership group. The polar opposite of the soft-spoken hedge fund manager in Hansen – Ballmer is known for being loud and outrageous. Vanity Fair ran a seething piece (Microsoft’s Lost Decade) last August detailing a violent incident and more.

Now that Ballmer has taken on a larger role with the Seattle group, league sources tell PBT that the same bravado he has employed with Microsoft is turning heads at the league office – and not in a good way. It’s no secret that Ballmer is a handful — but a well-connected and filthy rich handful that the NBA would love to have in its stable. At least that was the case. According to league sources speaking to PBT under condition of anonymity, the recent power plays made by Seattle and the Maloof family have “started to weigh on the NBA to the point where any Ballmer-led proposal now or in the future could fall on deaf ears if he doesn’t change course.”

When asked to clarify, the source said that should the Seattle group continue to pursue a scorched earth policy with the Sacramento marketplace, they would jeopardize the city’s ability to secure an NBA team down the road should an opportunity present itself.

When asked how Seattle got to that point, several sources with knowledge of the situation have told PBT that once they recognized the Sacramento bid was likely to meet league requirements, and ultimately secure the Kings, then decision-making for Seattle’s strategy and PR effort slowly shifted into Ballmer’s hands. That strategy has been at odds with the due process the NBA has been following, and recently it has been at odds with the NBA itself.

“He’s on a rampage,” said one source. “He assumed he could backdoor Sacramento with a willing partner in the Maloofs, but he underestimated Sacramento and now he thinks he can twist enough arms around the league to force his way into the association.”

As reported by multiple outlets, the Hansen-Ballmer group has chosen a curious route to team ownership by working primarily with the Maloof family and often with little-to-no communication with the league office. Conversely, the Sacramento group has worked directly with the league and had very little communication with the Maloof family, who have not ruled out selling to the Sacramento group but also have done everything possible to repel it.

Leading up to the NBA’s recommendation to deny relocation of the Kings to Seattle, the Seattle-Maloof group saw their first shift in public relations strategy. Leaks attacking the NBA, David Stern and the Sacramento group had been occurring with greater frequency, but the first shot across the bow at the NBA occurred when they ignored the league’s public and private statements and tried to force a bidding war.

They “voluntarily” raised their offer to buy the team by $16 million for a total of $357 million. This development was not seen as pivotal by the league, and the Sacramento group didn’t as much as blink when they stood pat with their originally matched offer of $341 million for the Maloof-controlled 65 percent stake.

The core of the Seattle-Maloof strategy was two-fold. First, they would seek to sell owners on the idea of a higher franchise valuation – a nebulous concept given the many intangibles of such measurements. Does an equal offer in both cities create better comps for owners if it’s accepted in a smaller market? Do the next purchasing owners even include this aberration of a situation in their valuations? Regardless of the merits of the strategy, throwing money at the issue has always been the Ballmer way.

The second and more important factor in increasing the bid, sources say, is that it raised the idea of a Maloof antitrust challenge should the family not be allowed by the NBA to sell to the highest bidder. League sources say that the NBA has planned for this contingency, and while the potential litigation would always play a role in their decision-making, the ammunition the league would have against the Maloof family in court has made this a mostly benign threat.

NBA.com’s David Aldridge reported this past week that Hansen is not interested in any legal challenges if his bid is rejected (no word on Ballmer). Nevertheless, the threat of a lawsuit would never come from a Seattle group that hopes to one day join the NBA. The antitrust threat, benign or not, starts with the Seattle group’s offer and draws a Family Circus style map for the Maloofs to posture with. Nothing more, nothing less.

In coordination with this threat, the Maloofs have made constant overtures that the league cannot force them to sell or tell them what to do. When asked about what the league would do if the Maloofs try to act against the league’s wishes, sources say the NBA has always reserved the right to use the ‘Best Interest of the League’ clause to remove the family from the league. Sources say this outcome is unlikely, however, because there is enough “natural leverage” to manage the situation without using it.

For one, the Maloofs cannot afford to run the Kings under normal conditions, let alone with an empty arena and no sponsors – something we’re told would not be held against the Sacramento market if the impossible scenario of them keeping the team came into play. The family is also indebted to the league to the tune of an estimated $150 million, and the family has done plenty of damage to the league’s reputation on the public subsidy front and in general.

“There are no shortage of claims to be made against the Maloofs should they stumble their way into court,” said a source speaking to PBT under conditions of anonymity.

Back in reality-land, Hansen’s announcement that he would “voluntarily” increase his bid was uncomfortable for the league, but because they had not gone public with a recommendation the strategy wasn’t seen as an affront to the league’s due process.

Any doubt about Seattle’s contempt for that process would eventually be erased once the league’s relocation committee unanimously recommended against a move to Seattle. Sources say it was at that point that Ballmer officially took control over the war room.

Immediately after the league’s announcement, an aggressive statement was put out by Hansen on the SonicsArena.com website stating that despite the NBA’s recommendation, they “fully committed to seeing (the) transaction through.”

“It was at that point that Ballmer put the league on notice,” said one league source. “Knowing that he could offer virtually anything with a decision on the Kings’ future all-but made, Ballmer has been dead-set on embarrassing the league by making them turn down a much higher offer.”

This past weekend the Seattle-Maloof group leaked news of an increased $406 million offer for the Maloof-controlled 65 percent stake of the team. They also leaked news that the Maloof family would not sell to the Sacramento group.

Lastly, they leaked a scenario in which 20 percent of the team would be sold to Hansen and Ballmer as a ‘backup’ bid in case their original bid for a majority stake was denied. The Seattle-Maloof group would supposedly work with the city of Sacramento on an arena deal in this impossible scenario – one that has drawn a collective eye-roll around the league. Sources with knowledge of the league’s thinking have called that scenario a “non-starter.”

In shades of past Maloofishness, the Sacramento Bee reported today that the family is still willing to consider the Sacramento offer. Whatever the case may be, league sources have consistently told PBT that not only do the Maloofs have practically no leverage in this situation, but they also have practically no chance of being NBA owners next season. Sources expect the family to accept Vivek Ranadive’s bid after the Seattle relocation bid is denied, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

With the NBA expected to eventually stand behind the Sacramento group, the larger issue being discussed in league circles is whether or not Ballmer and Seattle will follow the Maloofs off the NBA’s ledge. Their sneak attack attempt to procure Sacramento’s team was never well-received by the league, who would have rather seen the Maloofs conduct a good faith effort to sell the team locally. Even with Seattle holding Sacramento’s feet to the fire at every turn, sources say that there was never a point in time in which insiders thought Seattle had gone too far. After all, taking a team from a market that has done everything it needed to in order to keep the Kings is messy business.

Despite an all-out assault by Seattle to create an air of inevitability surrounding the relocation of the team, including reports that the NBA would quickly and overwhelmingly approve the move, and near daily leaks from Seattle-Maloof sources about make-believe problems with the Sacramento bid – the feeling around the league was that though the situation has been undesirable, once the ball was thrown in the air, all was fair in a basketball war.

As for Seattle, the strength of their ownership group, their oversold but actionable arena plan, and strong No. 12 TV market made them a shoo-in if the Sacramento group faltered. As we know now, Sacramento did not falter, but Seattle was certainly well-positioned for the future.

“(Seattle) was in the driver’s seat when it came to potential opportunities with the Bucks or whatever team might face arena or market troubles down the road,” said one league source. “If the league was going to consider expansion, you could have written Seattle’s name in ink to get a team.”

Now that Ballmer is leading Seattle down the path of conflict with the NBA, sources aren’t so sure.

“You don’t get into a knife fight with the NBA and then ask if you can come hang out in the clubhouse,” said one high-level source. “Ballmer is playing a game of Russian Roulette with SEA’s NBA future. He can’t throw money at the problem like this is Microsoft.”

Perhaps this is an unsolvable problem for the Seattle group – a zero-sum game and all participants have nothing to lose by going all-in. Perhaps they know that expansion is off the table.

With the way the local media has demonized David Stern and the NBA the average fan in Seattle is being told that they’re being screwed if Stern doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul. Perhaps the Hansen-Ballmer group believes that the only thing that can satisfy the masses is the Sacramento Kings, or an iron-clad promise of expansion down the road. If you listen to the most strident voices in Seattle, they believe it’s time to spill blood in one gigantic last stand.

Sources say these realities are understood by the league, as is playing hard through the final whistle. “The league is more than willing to support Seattle in its bid for NBA basketball, but when they choose to trash an existing, supportive market in Sacramento and then set their sights on the logo, all bets are off.”

The NBA’s Board of Governors conducted a conference call on Monday and no changes were made to the relocation committee’s recommendation. The owners will see presentations by both groups on Wednesday with Jon Humbert of KOMO in Seattle reporting that a full vote will indeed take place.

Pelicans searching for right plan with DeMarcus Cousins in fold

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis #23 react during the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — As Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins hoisted up extra shots near one another after practice, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry stood in a far corner of the club’s practice gym, trying to explain why New Orleans hasn’t won in three games since the All-Star big men became teammates.

“We have to become more consistent, and the only way you can become more consistent, I think, is that you’ve got to consistently have the same people out there so that you’re learning the ins and outs of a system and learning the ins and outs of each other,” Gentry said Monday.

“I do feel good about the progress we’ve made the last three games, and I think we’re just going to continue to get better,” Gentry added. “Unfortunately for us, we’ve got to do it on the fly. That’s really tough to do in some situations.”

The trade that brought in Cousins last week sent three guards – Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway – to the Kings. New Orleans then added two free agent guards – Hollis Thompson and Jarrett Jack – to the regular rotation in the past week.

“We’ve just got to stay with it,” Pelicans forward Solomon Hill said. “Minutes change for people, and we have new roles that we have to learn.”

That seems to be the case for everyone but Davis and Cousins. Davis has averaged 35.3 points and 10 rebounds in the past three games. Cousins has averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds despite being limited to less than 30 minutes per game by foul trouble. During a loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday night, Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes before fouling out.

However, Gentry has noticed instances when Davis and Cousins may be trying too hard to defer to one another.

“They are producing in the team concept, but unfortunately right now, after three games, they’re much better when one or the other one is off the court,” Gentry said. “We have to find a way to make that work when both of them are on the court.”

That might not be an issue on Wednesday night, when Cousins is expected to serve a one-game suspension for receiving his 18th technical foul this season Sunday night in Oklahoma City. He’ll only play if the league rescinds that technical on appeal from the club.

Cousins’ arrival also seems to have affected point guard Jrue Holiday‘s game in unexpected ways. Holiday averaged 21.4 points and eight assists in the 10 games before the trade. Since, he has averaged 10 points, six assists and 5.3 turnovers.

Davis said part of Holiday’s problem is that “he’s looking to be a pass-first point guard.”

“We don’t need him to come out and try to be a guy who’s getting 15 assists. That’s not who he is,” Davis said. “He’s a great scorer and a great defender. … When you’ve got two guys that you want to give them the ball as much as possible, you just overthink a lot.”

Holiday said he appreciates the advice but added that it’s hard to ignore the temptation to pass to Davis or Cousins when “they’re so dominant in the paint.”

“We’re trying to figure something out that’s new to us and trying to get as good at it as possible as quick as we can,” Holiday said.

The Pelicans often don’t practice the day after ending a road trip, but Gentry decided to bring them in on Monday and instead give them off on Tuesday, which is Mardi Gras, a state holiday in Louisiana. Davis and Cousins were invited to ride in the historic Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade – the same one in which Louis Armstrong rode in 1949.

Gentry thought it was important to encourage participation in Mardi Gras, suggesting that those who’ve never experienced it in person don’t have “any idea of the magnitude of what it means to the city and what it means to the people.”

Perhaps the chance to celebrate Mardi Gras like a local will inspire the Pelicans to make Lent, which starts Wednesday, more festive than usual for area basketball fans.

NBA quickly reverses course, says Dwight Howard should not have been ejected Monday

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 27: Dwight Howard #8 of the Atlanta Hawks is ejected from the game following his second technical foul against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter at TD Garden on February 27, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Dwight Howard was sent to the showers early in Boston Monday night, picking up two technical fouls in the third quarter of a game between two teams fighting for playoff seeding in the East.

The first one was unquestioned, Howard pushed Al Horford after a foul.

Five minutes later, Howard got a second technical for doing a pull-up on the rim after a dunk.

That’s two technicals, and Howard was ejected. The NBA didn’t wait for the Last Two-Minute Report to say that was a bad call.

Note that the league is saying that Howard should still have gotten the technical foul called, just not been ejected for it. According to NBA rules, “non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls” such as calling too many timeouts, delay of game, an untucked jersey and hanging on the rim, are technical fouls but do not count toward an ejection from the game.

Personally, I think the Karmic scales in the universe are balanced after Howard did this to a Celtics fan who really wanted his jersey.

The ejection was moot in the grand scheme. Not long after Howard was tossed, the Hawks went on an 8-0 run and pulled away to beat the Celtics anyway, 114-98. Dennis Schroder led the way with 21 for the Hawks.

Three Things We Learned Monday: No Kyle Lowry, so DeMar DeRozan steps up with game winner

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 27:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after hitting the game winning shot against the New York Knicks during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 27, 2017 in New York City.   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.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We know things get weird and busy for you, like trying to convince police not only did your dog eat your homework he shot your girlfriend, so you missed out on a busy Monday around the NBA. We got you covered, here are the big takeaways.

1) Kyle Lowry’s out, so DeMar DeRozan steps up with game-winner to beat Knicks.
Monday started with harsh news for the Raptors: Kyle Lowry needed wrist surgery and was going to be out until around the start of the playoffs. Yes, he played in the All-Star Game through it (and was in the three-point contest), but the surgery is there to remove loose bodies, something that builds up over time rather than happening in one traumatic moment, it just caught up with him. It happens.

It just happened at a bad time — with the trade deadline additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, the Raptors were trying to make a push back up to the three seed (at least) and set themselves up for a deep playoff run. They want out of the four seed, which would mean facing Cleveland in the second round. In the three games since the trades the Raptors defense has been improved, but now where will the points come from?

DeMar DeRozan. He had 37 Monday night against the Knicks, including the game-winner in Madison Square Garden.

This is going to have to be the norm for DeRozan and the Raptors for the next month or so — DeRozan is going to have to carry the offense. Other guys can score — Ibaka will get some buckets, Jonas Valanciunas will have good nights, as will Cory Joseph and Norman Powell — but buckets and shot creation will fall heavily on DeRozan. With the win over the Knicks the Raptors moved past the Wizards into the three seed in the East, if they stay there will fall in large part on DeRozan, he has to step up.

2) Dwight Howard ejected, then NBA says it was a bad call. Doesn’t matter, Hawks beat Celtics anyway.
Dwight Howard got tossed in the Boston Garden Monday night for picking up a couple technical fouls. The first one was well deserved, pushing Al Horford after a foul.

The second came for doing a pull-up on the rim after a dunk.

The NBA didn’t wait for the two-minute report to say that was a bad call.

Interesting. The NBA says that should have been a technical, however “non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls” such as calling a timeout when a team doesn’t have one, delay of game, having an untucked jersey, and hanging on the rim should not count toward an ejection.

Doesn’t matter, not long after he was tossed the Hawks went on an 8-0 run without him that stretched into a 22-11 run, and the Hawks pulled away to beat the Celtics anyway (a rough loss for Boston in the playoff chase, see No. 1 above). Dennis Schroder led the way with 21 for the Hawks.

Maybe hanging on the rim shouldn’t have gotten Howard tossed, but consider the Karmic scales balanced after he did this to a fan who wanted his jersey.

3) Stephen Curry goes ice-cold 0-of-11 from three. Not that it matters, Warriors beat Sixers 119-108. Here is Stephen Curry’s shot chart from Monday night in Philadelphia.

Stephen Curry shotchart

That’s redder than a certain district of Amsterdam, and notice that Curry was 0-of-11 from three.

Didn’t matter, these are the Warriors we are talking about. And while the Sixers are scrappy under Brett Brown, they don’t have Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons or anyone that really scares opponents anymore. Kevin Durant had 27 points, Klay Thompson added 21, and while the Warriors as a team shot 20 percent from three they got the win in Philly 119-108.

Sit back and enjoy KD’s work on the night.

Seth Curry, Mavs hand Heat third loss in 19 games with 96-89 win

Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry (30) shoots against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. The Mavericks won 96-89. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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DALLAS (AP) — Seth Curry scored 29 points, Harrison Barnes added 24 and the Dallas Mavericks beat Miami 96-89 on Monday night, handing the Heat just their third loss in 19 games.

Curry looked a little like famous older brother Stephen Curry of Golden State by hitting two long 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the latter giving Dallas a 90-89 lead. The Mavericks rallied from 14 points down in the first quarter and let an 11-point third-quarter lead get away.

Two games after scoring a career-high 31 points in a loss at Minnesota, Curry was 5 of 7 from long range to help the Mavericks improve to 2-0 with forward-center Nerlens Noel, who came from Philadelphia before the trade deadline.

Goran Dragic scored 24 points for the Heat, who went scoreless over the final 4:37 as a three-game winning streak ended.

Hassan Whiteside, a free agent target for Dallas last summer, had 19 points and 19 rebounds. Now the Mavericks are preparing for a future with the 22-year-old Noel, who had a crowd-energizing block from behind on Whiteside and finished with six points and six rebounds.

Dragic finished a 9-0 Heat run with a 3-pointer that bounced high off the front of the rim and went in for an 89-84 lead. But Miami missed its last seven shots, and the Mavericks scored the final six points on free throws after Curry’s go-ahead shot.

Curry scored 11 points in the second quarter, including a three-point play that gave Dallas its first lead at 48-46 after the Mavericks trailed by 14 in the first quarter. He had another flurry late in the third, hitting a long 3 and a pull-up jumper for the final five points as Dallas took a 78-69 lead into the final quarter.

TIP-INS

Heat: C Willie Reed won’t need a boot or crutches to treat bursitis in his right ankle. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Reed was day to day. … The visit to Dallas was the Miami’s last road game against the West this season.

Mavericks: Coach Rick Carlisle said G J.J. Barea is at least a week away from returning from a left calf strain that has sidelined him the past 16 games and for 33 of the 41 games he has missed this season. … G Quinn Cook, undrafted in 2015 out of Duke, made his NBA debut a day after signing a 10-day contract, getting two points and two assists in 17 minutes. … Seth Curry had a big night while his brother had a most miserable one. Stephen Curry was a career-worst 0 for 11 from deep in the Warriors’ win over Philadelphia on Monday.