Bucks owner Herb Kohl seeking new investors to keep the team in Milwaukee

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Bucks fans will spend the next 2-3 years looking over their shoulders at Seattle, and that’s because they’re in jeopardy of losing their basketball team should owner Herb Kohl fail at securing a new NBA-approved arena.

For small and mid-markets, having a state-of-the-art arena to maximize revenues is a requirement and any city that isn’t willing to make that type of commitment to the NBA will be threatened by 5-10 other cities that are dying to get into the game. It’s simple supply and demand.

Kohl, the former Democratic senator who is 78, is reportedly looking for other investors to join him in his attempt to keep the team in Milwaukee.

With a net worth that’s better described with an ‘M’ for millions rather than a ‘B’ for the billionaire owners that the NBA is attracting these days, it’s understandable why Kohl needs to deepen the pockets and broaden the influence of his group.

First and foremost he needs to deliver on an arena, and having more investors will help that along in many ways. But just as important to Milwaukee will be the overall value proposition this ownership group will have to the NBA, whether Kohl wants to continue as owner of the Bucks or not. That’s because if there ever comes a time when their arena plans are in doubt, it will be this group that gets measured against Seattle and any other city that wants to get into the game.

The NBA, whether being led by Adam Silver or David Stern, does not like to relocate franchises. In this day and age of information, the damage that relocation can do their brand is much greater than it was when Seattle’s elected officials told the NBA to go kick rocks and thus Sonicsgate was born.

At the same time, the NBA has found a sweet spot in its public subsidy pitch, which has been the target of many economists’ ire over the last 30 years when suburban arenas were all the rage. Economists have maintained that arenas don’t increase local spending because of things like the substitution effect, which simply stated means that people spend money at the game but stop spending their limited funds everywhere else. In essence, they contend, there is no overall gain.

However, economists have recently found themselves at an impasse on the issue with even the most ardent oppositionists still researching newer findings, in an area of study that isn’t exactly brimming with ongoing research.

The new revelations highlight the difference between suburban arenas and what city planners call ‘high density civic attractions,’ which are more likely to be sought after in the small-to-mid market cities that are most susceptible to relocation.  Instead of driving to a suburban arena, watching the game, and then leaving – a downtown arena can attract people for longer visits, attract all-important out-of-town dollars, and encourage use of mass transit.

In terms of increasing land value, a properly developed downtown arena district can increase surrounding land value by “hundreds of millions of dollars” according to a recent study by lead opposition subsidy voice Brad Humphreys. Arguments move into the both the micro- and mundane-levels from there, but an increase in land value around these downtown arenas stands on its face – it’s valuable for a reason.

The NBA has the cachet as an anchor tenant to bring in the private investment needed to make these downtown revitalization projects pencil out, particularly as public redevelopment dollars have dried up around the country.

With the NBA being the winner of over $3 billion in public funds since 1990, they have a massive financial stake in making sure they both polish that pitch and protect their reputation on that front.

For starters they have to maintain that they can be a loyal partner to any city engaging in good faith efforts to maintain a state-of-the-art arena.  Long-term, by building a portfolio of downtown success stories like L.A. Live, downtown Indianapolis and the soon-to-be built arena in downtown Sacramento — the league can keep the public funding narrative from collapsing under a wave of antipathy toward millionaires and billionaires bouncing a leather ball for amusement.

So look for the NBA to work with Kohl and Milwaukee to find the political will (i.e. public dollars) to get an arena deal done. As expected, the league released a statement from David Stern moments ago expressing support for that process. “Senator Kohl bought the Bucks in 1985 in order to ensure the team would remain in Milwaukee. During his extraordinary stewardship his goal remained the same — to bring the fans of Wisconsin high-quality basketball from a team they would be proud to call their ‘home’ team. With this announcement, Senator Kohl continues his mission: to assure continuity of ownership by broadening its ownership base, and assuring that the fans of Wisconsin will enjoy NBA basketball and other events in a new state-of-the-art facility,” said Stern.

And while everything is going to sound fine for Bucks fans until it doesn’t, they’re not going to know that they are indeed keeping their team until much more has been revealed in this slow-moving story.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.