Source: Significant progress toward new Sacramento arena

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Look back to just before New Year’s Eve and the Kings and their fans were a despondent bunch, even more so than their recent history would entail.  Tyreke Evans’ plantar fasciitis hung over the team, reports had emerged that Paul Westphal had lost the locker room, and rumors surfaced that the team’s owners, the Maloof family, was seriously considering a move to Anaheim.

Then on December 29, Evans hit a 55-foot prayer with no time remaining to ignite the Power Balance Pavilion (then Arco Arena) in a win over the Grizzlies.  Though Evans would eventually miss 22 of the team’s next 53 games, his resurgence along with the acquisition of Marcus Thornton would propel the Kings to a 19-35 mark from that point on, compared to 5-23 before ‘the shot.’

It looks like the Kings may have hit another full court prayer, as sources close to the situation report that significant progress is being made toward securing a new Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) in Sacramento, which would necessarily keep the Kings in Sacramento beyond next season (if there is a season).

Yesterday, the feasibility study conducted by the ICON-David Taylor group, a study that would provide solid footing for decision-makers on all sides of the discussion, was formally presented to the Sacramento City Council.  The report did not outline specifically how the arena would be paid for, but did say that they had identified a “broad range” of funding apparatuses to get the ESC paid for at an estimated cost of $387 million.  The 46-page report calls for a mixture of private and public funds to be determined by the participation of various stakeholders in ownership, development, and operation of the ESC, including the city of Sacramento and any regional coalition it creates.

According to the source, a public vote will not be needed to secure public funds, a key point in the process because a funding plan needs to be in place by December 30, with the drop dead date from the NBA and Maloofs for financing to be in place by March 1, 2012.  Instead, the Sacramento City Council or regional coalition would have to approve the project, which is a much less daunting task.

The source also tells ProBasketballTalk that parties involved in the discussions are confident that a compelling financial argument will be made to the Sacramento City Council or regional coalition — that for any public funds used that there will be an equal, offsetting revenue stream to local government and businesses – and that the ESC will be a positive revenue generator for both the public and private sector within a reasonable time.

In English?  It’s a money maker.  And where there is a dollar to be made, whether you’re a public entity or a private enterprise, there is theoretically a way.  And if you’re a Sacramento Kings fan or a fan of teams not being uprooted from their loyal, passionate fan bases (because your team could be next) – this is a distinct win.

What makes this story different from your average arena dispute, however, is how exactly events have transpired in Sacramento.  Make no mistake, this team was G-O-N-E.

The Maloofs, frustrated by years of inactivity by local politicians, were downright determined to move to Anaheim, and rightfully so.  We live in a capitalistic society, and Sacramento has had years to get an arena built, and it’s not incumbent upon any team owner to stay in any city, as harsh as that sounds.

A league as a whole may have to evaluate their value proposition to fans, in other words, whether or not they want to lose goodwill with paying customers each time a team moves.  But if you can enhance yours or your business’ position by making a move, it’s entirely un-American to tell you, them, or anybody else that they cannot go.  Anaheim made some very savvy business moves to try to attract the team, and for good reason, any city with a professional sports franchise gets the benefits of increased tax revenue, business attraction, property values, and quality of life for its citizens.

For Sacramento, despite those obvious financial benefits and their pressing need for tax revenues, politicians have been quick to point out that public funding for an arena is not popular among their constituencies.  The last ballot measure for a sales tax to fund an arena, which was a flawed measure doomed before it hit the ballot box, fell by a 20-80 vote in 2006.

But everything changes when your girlfriend starts getting texts late at night.

The minute Kings fans learned their team was in jeopardy, grassroots organizations started forming.  The first group, dubbed #HereWeStay by local fan bloggers, started by selling out two otherwise nondescript home games called #HereWeStay nights.  And if you’re wondering, that pound-sign is one of the Twitter hashtags for a social media movement that Save Our Sonics could only wish they had the technology for.

On the terrestrial side of the spectrum a local PR firm, The Glass Agency, used their own money for a campaign they called ‘Sac Deflated,’ putting up billboards stating, ‘If the Kings leave, we all lose.’

Still though, the fan movement didn’t have much steam until a producer for the local Don Geronimo Show on KHTK 1140, known as Carmichael Dave, in response to the Anaheim City Council voting to approve a $75 million bond deal to entice the Kings, tweeted that he ‘voted 1-0 to pay $200 out of his own pocket toward a new arena, who’s with me?’  The #HereWeBuild movement, a play on words of the #HereWeStay campaign was born.

Two weeks of radio and thousands of tweets and Facebook ‘likes’ later he had raised $500,000 in pledges and gotten the support of local businesses like Jiffy Lube, who also paid for electronic billboards on freeways counting the total of pledges.  Slowly but surely the movement built, as #HereWeBuild planned rallies that incorporated city leaders, businesses, and of course, the fans.

The final game in Sacramento turned into must-see TV, a 20-point comeback against the hated Lakers that finally fell short in overtime, followed by a spine-tingling show of civil disobedience when 2-3 thousand fans stayed and chanted until Carmichael Dave had to get on a ladder at center court and tell them to go home two hours after the final buzzer had sounded.  And if you haven’t seen the tearful sendoff from Kings TV guys Grant Napier and Jerry Reynolds, set to the music of local band Tesla, then you don’t know Kings basketball.

By the time the NBA was ready to wrangle over whether or not big market owners like Jerry Buss of the Lakers wanted small market owners moving into their territory, or how a Kings move would play into revenue sharing negotiations between the haves and have-nots, or what impact a looming lockout would have on the situation – the league and the Maloofs had a nasty little PR issue on their hands.

National media outlets (including us) started to cover the movement, Chris Webber and Charles Barkley bemoaned the move on national TV, and nobody wanted the NBA or the Maloofs to let this town of maniacal fans stare listlessly at the moving trucks.

So when mayor Kevin Johnson switched out of his Clark Kent costume and tossed away ‘the Kings are probably gone’ rhetoric, securing over $7 million of previously untapped corporate sponsorship dollars while simultaneously convincing NBA owners at their Board of Governors meeting that Sacramento could indeed support an NBA franchise, there was enough pushback to send the Maloofs back to Sacramento for one more year.

Does it happen without the grassroots movement?  Who knows.  It would be naïve to suggest that the economic and political landscape of the NBA and the greater Sacramento region weren’t the biggest drivers of what has gone down.  But it’s pretty clear that if these fans just rolled over, accepted their fate and moved on with their lives, that the politicians who now get to make the call may not have even had a decision to make.

Now, armed with actionable information that gives them one more chance to save their team, and by extension, a major piece of their economy, we’ll see if the local pols can deliver.  This time, though, they’ll have an army of organized eyeballs, supported by the NBA, the Maloofs, and the mayor’s office watching their every action.  If the financial information is as compelling as it is reported to be, a ‘no’ vote will be a tough sell to a public that will have access to all of the same financial data, while a ‘yes’ vote will enhance the financial position and stature of the region.  That’s some pretty good math for Kings fans.

That said, there’s still a ways to go in this saga.  But the combined efforts of the grassroots organizations, the NBA, the Kings, and the mayor’s office (operating under the #BeHeard Twitter hashtag) are hitting on all cylinders.  It’s a far cry from 45 days ago when sources pegged the Kings’ chances of leaving at ’95 percent.’

Compare to that to three weeks ago at the most recent #HereWeBuild event, the #BeHeard rally in downtown Sacramento – Gavin Maloof stood on stage to celebrate the announcement that the team would stay one more year, and the born again owner led cheers with his fist-pumping brother Joe, who was picked up and spun around on stage by mayor Kevin Johnson.  The Maloofs said the decision to stay was all about the fans, and in this case it might actually have been true, even if only in a roundabout way.

Tesla played their song, lead singer Jeff Keith low-fived Gavin at the crescendo, and love for the Kings found a way.

Robert Horry’s three has nothing on this full court prayer.

Watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go off for 42, Thunder blow out Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder took what coach Mark Daigneault called a “bloodthirsty mentality” into Saturday’s rematch with the Houston Rockets.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points to help the Thunder blow out Houston 153-121.

They were disappointed in losing at Houston on Wednesday and responded by setting an Oklahoma City record for points in a game, surpassing the 150 they scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

“Just (wanted to) be the aggressors,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Play our style, our brand of basketball. I think we got away from that a little bit in Houston, and we just wanted to get back on track.”

Daigneault was most pleased that the approach was player-led.

“It wasn’t like I was giving motivational speeches,” he said. “But, you know, as a team, they kind of banded together and decided that they were going to come out and play the way they did. And they were impressive because of it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone by scoring 20 points in the first quarter.

“I thought tonight was, like, a pretty big leadership statement game for him,” Daigneault said. “I think when you need a response like we needed tonight coming out of the other night, you rely on your guys that are most experienced, who play the most minutes.”

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 from the field in the first matchup, but bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals on Saturday, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists for the Thunder, despite not playing in the fourth quarter because the Thunder led by 42 points at the end of the third.

Mike Muscala scored a season-high 19 points and Josh Giddey added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for Oklahoma City.

“We’re a team that’s growing in confidence, and I think our habits are growing,” Daigneault said. “And I think a lot of things are moving in the right direction.”

Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points and Tari Eason added 18 for the Rockets.

The Rockets were playing without Eric Gordon (sore right knee) and Jae'Sean Tate (right ankle injury).

Rockets coach Stephen Silas didn’t want to hear it.

“You’ve got to step up in these situations, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We succumbed to back-to-back, three-in-four, no Eric, no Tate, all that stuff. … We succumbed to it. That’s not – we’re talking about winning habits. That’s not one.”

Oklahoma City led 79-53 at the break after shooting 55% from the field. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points in the first two quarters, a career high for him in a first half.

The Thunder continued to roll in the third quarter, making 16 of 26 field goals in the period to go up 123-81 heading into the fourth.

Oklahoma City set the Thunder single-game scoring record on a 3-pointer by Darius Bazley that banked in during the final minute.

Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury, MRI Sunday

Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Warriors fans everywhere — not to mention coaching staff and players — are holding their breath.

Stephen Curry left the game against the Mavericks in the third quarter when he was defending Danny Green and the two collided, knocking knees. On the replay, Curry’s knee seems to bend slightly at an awkward angle.

Curry went to the Warriors’ bench, was looked at by the team medical staff, and soon went back to the locker room and did not return. X-rays taken of his knee were negative, but the MRI expected Sunday will be more telling.

Of extra concern is that this is the second injury to that leg in as many games, Curry was able to play through the first one.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game. Of larger concern, the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when Curry is on the court and 5.4 when he is off. At 27-26 the Warriors sit seventh in the West.

The defending champs have not lived up to that billing this season, never putting together a consistent run of high-level basketball to show us what we believe they are capable of. If Curry misses significant time (and potentially the All-Star Game) it will be longer before we get to see if these Warriors can pull it together.

Bamba suspended four games, Rivers three for fight Friday night

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The NBA came down hard on Mo Bamba and Austin Rivers (in a way they didn’t with Dillon Brooks).

The Magic’s Bamba was suspended four-game and the Timberwolves’ Rivers got a three-game suspension — both without pay — for their part in a fight between the teams Friday night.

In addition, Magic guard Jalen Suggs was suspended one game for “escalating the altercation by aggressively grabbing Rivers around the neck and pulling him to the floor.” The Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels was fined $20,000 for running into the scrum and pushing Bamba in the back.

As for why the relatively stiff penalties in this case, the NBA said: “Following the incident, Bamba attempted to continue to engage with Rivers in a hostile manner in the corridor outside the locker rooms where he also aggressively shoved a security representative. Both Bamba and Rivers continued the escalation on social media following the game.”

Friction between Bomba and Rivers started a few plays earlier when Rivers — who was in the game — missed a corner 3 in front of the Magic bench, and there was jawing from Bamba and others. Rivers came over and confronted and the fight started soon after, with Bamba coming off the bench. After an official review, five players were ejected: Rivers, McDaniels and Taurean Prince from the Timberwolves; Bamba and Suggs from the Magic.

Banba and Rivers did continue the fight on social media, which added to their time off.

The suspensions will all start on Sunday, Feb. 5.

Kyrie Irving trade request update: Clippers reportedly make offer, LeBron says ‘duh’ Irving helps Lakers

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Nets fans booed Kyrie Irving when he was put up on the jumbotron at Barclays Center before the game Friday night (Irving was out vs. the Wizards).

Irving requested a trade out of Brooklyn before the Feb. 9 trade deadline, and the Nets are talking to several teams about a potential deal, with the Lakers, Suns and Mavericks at the front of the line. This trade could come together in the next few days, allowing the teams involved to make other moves before next Thursday’s deadline.

Here are the latest Kyrie Irving trade rumors:

• The Los Angeles Clippers have thrown their hat in the ring and made an offer for Irving, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Law Murray of The Athletic.

There is pressure from ownership on down for the Clippers to win big this season — the team’s fourth with Kwahi Leonard and Paul George — and they need help at the point guard spot (they are interested in the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet if he becomes available as well). The Clippers have a lot of salaries between $10 million and $20 million — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged in different configurations, plus they have young talent that can be added in Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Bringing in Irving would be a massive gamble by the Clippers — do they need another mercurial star prone to missing games? — but the Clippers want to win and will push all their chips into the middle.

LeBron James was asked after the Lakers’ loss Saturday night if Irving is the kind of player that can get the Lakers to the finish line and have them thinking championship.

“Obviously that’s, the word you use, ‘duh’ question when talking about a player like that.”

• Whatever you think of Irving the person, his trade demand is a smart business move — the Nets were not going to give him the max contract extension he wants, so he is trying to force his way to his next team, one that will pay up. And by pay up, that’s a four-year, $198.5 million contract. Wojnarowski of ESPN said this on NBA Countdown Saturday.

“Irving, who is in the final year of a deal that pays him $36.9 million, has been seeking in the neighborhood of a four-year, $198.5 million maximum extension available to him until June 30, sources said. If Irving is traded, he is eligible to sign a two-year, $78.6 million extension with his new team until June 30.”

Any team that trades for Irving will have to pay up this summer when he is a free agent — he’s too expensive to be a rental. There are reports the Lakers and Mavericks are hesitant to give Irving that kind of long-term deal.

• If Irving doesn’t get traded before the deadline, he could hold out for the rest of the season, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN reports.