Dan Feldman

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Arena group proposing rapid construction timeline in Seattle

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SEATTLE (AP) — A proposal to remodel KeyArena now has an ambitious timeline that could have it ready to house a professional franchise within three years.

The timeline was laid out in a proposed memorandum of understanding between Seattle and Oak View Group. The MOU will be presented to the Seattle City Council on Tuesday but the final version of the agreement won’t be voted on until the first week of December at the earliest.

Still, the draft agreement is a significant step in the process of redeveloping the city-owned building through a privately financed project that officials believe will finally lure the NHL or NBA – or both – to Seattle. KeyArena housed the NBA’s SuperSonics until they relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. Oak View Group believes it can have the building ready by October 2020 if environmental approvals are obtained and demolition can start in October 2018.

“I think the most important part of this MOU is the fact it states very clearly to the leagues that this project is going to happen, we do have a deal with the city, they can make a deal. They are very focused ultimately not only on building a new arena here and giving us the partnership and certainty in order to do that,” OVG CEO Tim Leiweke said.

“But more importantly it sends a very strong message now to the NBA and to the NHL that everyone worried about, `Yeah will it ever get done with the city? Will they ever be able to get to the finish line? Will you ever possibly get this deal done within the politics of Seattle and the Seattle process as everyone likes to call it?”‘ Leiweke said. “Guess what? Game, set and match. We clearly send a message to everyone that this will get done, this will get built and we are ready now to go get one and hopefully soon, two teams.”

The timeframe is sure to attract attention, including from the NHL. OVG has not hidden its intentions to be aggressive in an attempt to obtain an NHL expansion franchise soon after the arena agreement is finalized. Likewise, the NHL has not hidden its interest in Seattle, the No. 14 media market in the country and the only market in the top 25 that does not have an NBA or NHL team.

OVG has lined up billionaire David Bonderman and filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer as the lead owners for a potential NHL franchise.

“From our standpoint, this timeline is geared toward what we believe is the optimal timeline in order to begin to get a team or two for Seattle,” Leiweke said.

The project is expected to total about $600 million and Oak View is also on the hook for another $40 million to help improve transportation in the area around Seattle Center. They are also responsible for regular facility upgrades for the life of the 39-year lease agreement. Should those upgrade requirements be met, there are two eight-year lease extensions that will be activated, and carry the entire life of the lease agreement to 55 years.

In all, OVG is liable for about $168 million in capital investment upgrades on the facility during the life of the lease. The project will be financed through a mix of revenue streams. OVG also has financial backing from Madison Square Garden Entertainment.

Among the other details of the MOU:

– OVG will be required to pay yearly rent equal to what the city is making off KeyArena now, estimated to be $2.6 million at the start.

– OVG will pay for the displacement and relocation of existing tenants on the Seattle Center campus during the construction.

– OVG will assume the city’s current obligation to the Seattle Storm or arrange a new deal with the WNBA team.

“One of the principals that we had was the city would never go backward as far as its ability to maintain the revenues that were received through the operations of KeyArena going forward,” said Brian Surratt, the director of the Office of Economic Development for the city. “We would be partners in any deal moving forward.”

The negotiations between the city and OVG have come as a similar agreement between the city and investor Chris Hansen is in its final stages. Hansen and the city agreed to an arena plan in 2012 that was contingent on Hansen acquiring an NBA team and included some public investment in a project to be constructed near Safeco Field.

Hansen has since offered a completely privately financed project, but has continued to run into road blocks in getting final approvals to make his arena “shovel-ready” should an NBA team become available. Hansen’s agreement with the city expires Dec. 3, meaning OVG’s agreement with the city could be approved as early as the week of Dec. 4.

Grizzlies look aimless following Grit & Grind

AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Grizzlies ended an era – just so they could take baby steps into the next one.

Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen spent seven seasons together. They built a strong identity of Grit & Grind – reaching seven straight postseasons, upsetting the top-seeded Spurs in the 2011 first round and peaking with a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals.

That success was always bound to wane. This core was growing old.

I wouldn’t have wanted to pay a 36-year-old Randolph $24 million over the next two years. It just might have been time to move on from the 35-year-old Allen.

Still, it’s sad to see the quartet – which had been together longer than any active foursome – break up. It might be even sadder when seeing what the Grizzlies have become.

They still have their two best players, Gasol and Conley. But their massive contracts, plus another max deal for Chandler Parsons, restricted Memphis’ ability to retool sans Randolph and Allen.

Memphis signed Ben McLemore (two years, $10.66 million) and Tyreke Evans (one year, $3.29 million) as potential bridges between eras.

That was a surprisingly high price for McLemore, who has floundered in four NBA seasons. Still, the former No. 7 pick is just 24, and Sacramento looked like a poor environment for development. Though I’m not optimistic about McLemore, I’m also not sure the Grizzlies could have better spent that money.

Evans was nice value for the room exception, but he’s clearly trying to reestablish himself for next summer by taking a one-year deal. How much will Memphis get from him before next summer?

The Grizzlies face an uphill climb to make the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference, and they’re fighting the odds without – as Gasol called Randolph and Allen – the president and mayor of Memphis. There was something to be said about letting a proud group go down swinging.

Rebuilding is also a fair option, but this is barely that.

The Grizzlies didn’t have their own first-round pick, which was traded years ago. They dealt a couple future second-rounders to acquire ones this year, No. 35 pick Ivan Rabb and No. 45 pick Dillon Brooks. (Rabb, oddly, remains unsigned.) They also signed 2016 second-rounder Rade Zagorac.

Neither of Memphis’ players on rookie-scale contracts – Wade Baldwin, Jarell Martin – have shown much. Neither has Deyonta Davis, another 2016 second-rounder who was paid like a first-rounder.

It looks like restricted free agent JaMychal Green will return at a reasonable salary, and he’ll help in the short term. So could a re-signed Mario Chalmers, if healthy. But those variables won’t swing the Grizzlies’ playoff odds above 50%.

So, what are they doing?

Gasol is 32, and Conley turns 30 before the season. Time is ticking to make something of their remaining prime years. Maybe it’s time to rip the bandage completely off and trade those two, but Memphis is strongly resisting.

The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a future first-rounder, protected top-eight in 2019 and top-six in 2020 and unprotected in 2021. That makes timing a rebuild tricky.

In need of direction, Memphis spent the offseason slowly sinking.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: Timberwolves re-signing Shabazz Muhammad

AP Photo/Jim Mone
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Tom Thibodeau never seemed that high on Shabazz Muhammad, whom the Timberwolves president/coach inherited in Minnesota. Muhammad surely never wanted to settle for a minimum contract.

Yet, here we are.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Minnesota renounced Muhammad to sign Taj Gibson earlier this summer, but this deal will restore Muhammad’s Bird Rights and allow the Timberwolves to exceed the cap re-sign him when he becomes a free agent – likely next summer. If this is a one-year deal, Muhammad could block any trade.

For now, Muhammad provides much-needed wing depth behind Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. A steady role and the prospect of re-signing could keep him from approving a trade.

Muhammad neither shoots 3-pointers nor defends well – major deficiencies for a wing this era, which explains why he didn’t receive bigger offers. He’s just 24, and he’s strong enough to create efficient shots inside against most defenders. His strength also helps on the glass.

Minnesota especially could have used a 3-and-D wing, but down to minimum contracts, Muhammad provides excess talent. He prioritized a short-term deal in hopes of earning more next summer, and getting his Bird Rights back could only help.

This is a marriage of convenience for both sides.

Bulls blew the Jimmy Butler trade, and they’ll pay the price for years

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Jimmy Butler was a one-man wrecking crew.

Now, the Bulls are just a wreck.

A half decade of frustration since Derrick Rose‘s injuries sent the franchise spiraling off course culminated in a lousy trade of the star wing, an intentional blowup after years of unintentional blowups.

The Three-Alphas idea was poorly conceived and predictably faltered. Fred Hoiberg has looked out of his element in the NBA, and his rosters haven’t fit his preferred style. Five straight first-round picks – Marquis Teague, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine – have produced little value in Chicago and stressed the Bulls closer to their breaking point.

But they still had Butler.

Butler has grown steadily as a player, approaching superstardom. Using win shares and teams’ actual wins, he accounted for more than a third of Chicago’s victories – a higher percentage of his team’s wins than anyone in the NBA, save the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns. But unlike Towns, Butler actually led his team to the playoffs. Butler could have again single-handedly carried the Bulls into the playoff race this season, which isn’t nothing.

Perhaps, the prospect of another early postseason exit was no longer appealing. Chicago has gone nine years without a losing record, but has advanced past the second round only once since Michael Jordan’s last championship, reaching the conference finals in Rose’s 2011 MVP season. There would have been nothing wrong with choosing to rebuild in aim of something bigger, and Butler – locked into a team-friendly contract for two more seasons – would have given the Bulls a huge leg up.

Instead, they squandered that elite asset.

Chicago traded Butler to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and moving up from No. 16 to No. 7 in the draft. That last aspect is the cherry on top of an awful trade. The Bulls didn’t even get an additional first-rounder! They gave up their own in a deal that still would have been awful if they hadn’t.

LaVine is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in February, a troubling injury for someone whose upside is tied to the athleticism he displayed while winning the last two dunk contests. Chicago will have him for only one year on his cheap rookie-scale contract before paying him market value (or so), either with an extension this summer or in restricted free agency next summer. Maybe the Bulls can get LaVine on a discount due to his knee, but they would be assuming real risk.

What did they see in him to make him the centerpiece of their Butler return?

LaVine has garnered attention by upping his scoring average in three NBA seasons – 10 to 14 to 19 points per game. Though LaVine’s efficiency is solid thanks to a smooth 3-point stroke, his heavy workload under Tom Thibodeau – 37.2 minutes per game, third in the NBA – contributed to LaVine’s impressive traditional statistic. He ranked 37th in points per game, but just 69th in points per possession, which is not so nice.

For all his athleticism, LaVine hasn’t really applied it to defending, rebounding or drawing fouls. His injury raises questions about whether he’ll maintain the athleticism necessary to make a jump. Just 22, LaVine still has time to blossom. But it’s worth acknowledging how one-dimensional he is.

Dunn, the No. 5 pick just last year, is actually older than LaVine. A rough rookie year was particularly disappointing, considering Dunn’s age. He has a way to go before his production warrants playing time, though he’ll see the court to develop – especially on this team.

Lauri Markkanen was a fine pick at No. 7, but the shooting big will have to majorly exceed expectations to make this a worthwhile package for Butler.

After surrendering with the Butler trade, Chicago looked directionless in free agency. Quickly securing Cristiano Felicio on a four-year, $32 million contract might have been commendable last year. In 2017 – a tighter market, especially for restricted free agents and big men – it’s a misread. Justin Holiday looks like decent value on his two-year, $9 million contract. Nikola Mirotic remains a restricted free agent.

Getting a second-rounder for paying a portion of Quincy Pondexter was a wise use of resources. Committing to rebuilding sooner and convincing Dwyane Wade to opt out of his $23.8 million salary would have created more room for similar salary dumps. We’ll never know whether Wade would have gone for that, but he might have.

The saving grace of this offseason: Chicago should be bad. Really bad. Maybe worst-in-the-league bad. That’ll net a high draft pick, unlike the Pacers, who are trying to win a moderate amount after their own flop of a star trade.

But the Bulls could also remain bad for years as they try to build back up. Their young core is lacking, and they don’t have a single extra first-rounder.

They never should have been this destitute after starting the summer with Butler.

Offseason grade: D-

Report: Lakers to retire Kobe Bryant’s numbers — 8 and 24 — in December

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The Lakers will obviously retire Kobe Bryant’s number.

When?

TMZ:

the Lakers are planning to retire his jersey before the Warriors game on Dec. 18 … multiple sources tell TMZ Sports.

So 8 or 24? It’s going to be both according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

It might seem strange to retire two numbers for one player, an unprecedented honor. But it’d be even stranger for another Laker to wear No. 8. (If the Lakers retire only one number, it’ll almost certainly be Kobe’s preference of No. 24.)

Also note the timing of the ceremony – before the game. A new rule penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime, and these ceremonies can take longer. Nobody wants to short Kobe or anyone speaking about him.

I’m not sure why teams schedule events like these against premier opponents. Obviously, the Lakers have little trouble selling tickets, but a game against Golden State is sure to be packed regardless. Why not save Kobe’s number retirement for a game that would draw less interest otherwise?

Alas, that’s when the Lakers picked. Now, we await news of which number(s) they’ll pick.