Sacramento gets to keep Kings for now, but new building key

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Champaign corks should be popping. Horns should be honking in downtown as people in cars shout “here we stay.” There should be spontaneous parties in the street. Bloggers should hug mainstream newspaper writers.

The Kings are staying in Sacramento. That is fantastic news — this is a market that has proven it will wholeheartedly supported that team, making it one of the most feared home courts a decade ago. They didn’t deserve to lose their team.

But if they want to keep them the real work starts once the parties end.

If plans for a new arena are not an unstoppable force of momentum a year from now, today’s decision is simply a stay of execution.

David Stern himself has made this plainly clear — the future of the Kings in Sacramento is all about a new building. In the end, it is all that matters. Here is what George Maloof told the Associated Press, emphasizing this is a one-year deal right now.

“I think it’s the fair thing to do,” Maloof said. “We’ve always said we think Sacramento has the best NBA fans in the world. Their overwhelming show of support was incredible. But now they realize that we’re giving them another opportunity and we’re anxious to play basketball.”

Former Arco, now Power Balance Arena is one of the last of the old generation of arenas. Those were great for the average paying fan because those old arenas were intimate, with fans seeming right on top of the court. They were loud. But modern sports economics demand luxury boxes and high-end VIP seats near the court. Those boxes and seats generate more income (far more) than the “real fans” that fill the upper parts of an arena in the less expensive seats. And the Kings arena lacks the needed high-end seats and boxes to make it work.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson wowed the NBA owners when he met with them in New York with talk of a new arena in downtown, and showing off the experienced team putting it all together. The NBA Board of Governors was swayed, it started the momentum that led to the Kings staying put.

But if this arena does not have financing in place, if the plans and approvals are not well down the road by next spring, the Maloof brothers will again talk of moving the team — and this time other owners will support them.

While the building is key, there are a lot of factors in play here.

One is the Maloof family finances. The brothers have reiterated — and did so again today to Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick — they are not selling the team. But the Maloofs are hurting financially — they own a casino and a hotel, two industries hit very hard by the recession. Next to their beloved Palms in Las Vegas they built a massive new condominium building that sits more than half empty, also due to the economy. They have racked up a lot of debt (which seemed to be part of the rational for the move, it came with another loan from Henry Samueli, which might have helped keep them a float for a while). But they insist they have money and will spend some during free agency.

Then there is Ron Burkle, a billionaire in the grocery store industry and buddy of Bill Clinton, who Johnson said wants to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento. He has deep, deep pockets. The Maloof brothers want him out of the picture, but he is sitting there on the sidelines.

Well, not totally on the sidelines. His associate and Sacramento lobbyist was one of the key people helping mayor Johnson round up $10 million in new sponsorship money. Helping keep the Kings in Sacramento, putting more pressure on the Maloofs, who could have to sell and… just a thought.

The real pressure now is not on the Maloofs but on Sacramento to keep the Kings. They have to pony up the sponsorship money and fill the building next season. They need to prove again they care about the Kings.

But more importantly, the fans and voters need to apply pressure to make sure this building becomes a reality. Because in the end it’s all about the building. That is the real work to do in Sacramento.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.