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.

Gordon Hayward says he is willing to come off bench as he struggles in Boston

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Gordon Hayward just isn’t right. Yet.

Nor should we expect him to be — just over a year ago his leg was turned in a direction no leg should turn. It’s a long road of surgery, rehab, and time on the court to get back. Hayward is not all the way back yet: 9.9 points per game shooting below 40 percent overall and 31.9 percent from three, with a below-league-average PER of 12.9.

At the same time, the Celtics have stumbled out of the gate, going 7-6 with a still-elite defense (most nights, there have been some games on that end in the last five) but a bottom-five offense. Throw in some slow starts in games for the Celtics and you have an unimpressive start to the season for a team expected to be the team to beat in the East.

Hayward realizes he’s part of the problem and told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe he’d come off the bench if that would help.

“For me, I’m happy to be on the court, No. 1 more than anything and, No. 2, whatever I can do to help us win,’’ Hayward said at the Auerbach Center in Brighton. “I said it before the season, it’s whatever to me….

“There’s obviously a little bit of rust and sometimes you just go through those phases. You go through slumps. The shot feels good in practice and looks good and for whatever reason in the game, they’re in and out.

“Sometimes it gets frustrating, but for me, I’ve played in the league long enough to know you just have to put in the work in practice and shoot with confidence, shoot your way out of it.”

Hayward’s ego is not completely wrapped up in starting vs. coming off the bench (unlike someone the Rockets may be about to release). It’s about a process to get back to the All-Star level player he was, and he knows that the process is still ongoing, it didn’t reach a culmination when the season tipped off.

Coach Brad Stevens has got to get Hayward time on the court and the chance to get back to form — Boston needs that Hayward in April and beyond. But for now, more Marcus Smart — heck, more of just whoever is hot that night — is the right move, even if that means Hayward begins games sitting.

One Warriors’ player: “With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back”

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Since before training camp opened, the Warriors — players and management — have been mentally prepared for this being Kevin Durant‘s last season with the team (Durant is expected to opt out next summer and become a free agent). That doesn’t mean they want it to end. The front office, in particular, will do whatever it can to keep him. It’s just that everyone senses the reality.

That reality was pushed into the spotlight after the end of regulation in an eventual loss to the Clippers when Draymond Green chose not to defer to Durant and pass him the ball, instead trying to do it all himself (Green fumbled the ball away and the Warriors didn’t get a shot off). Durant called out Green for the decision (as did other teammates later), Green stood his ground and called Durant a “b****” and said he was making the season about himself with how he has handled his pending free agency.

Where does that leave the Warriors? Not in a good space, one veteran told Marcus Thompson II in a must-read piece at The Athletic.

“With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back,” one player said. “The only hope is that they can say this summer, ‘See, KD. We’ve got your back. We protected you from Draymond.’ ”

Hence the suspension, rather than just a fine for Green. The Warriors wanted the punishment to be public, not just internal. Just to show Durant they have his back.

It’s very likely not enough — and it very likely would not have mattered anyway. Whatever you may think Durant is saying on the court, the stage has already been set for next July. It feels like Durant wants to win one more title, then to go try to pad his legacy with his “own team” somewhere else.

The Warriors players, including Green and Durant, are professional enough to put all this aside to win. None of this means the Warriors are not still the heavy title favorites.

The challenge now for Steve Kerr and everyone else is to just keep focused, keep their eye on the Larry O’Brien trophy and not all the distractions. So, they will keep playing what happened down.

Since before training camp opened, the Warriors — players and management — have been mentally prepared for this being Kevin Durant’s last season with the team (Durant is expected to opt out next summer and become a free agent). That doesn’t mean they want it to end. The front office, in particular, will do whatever it can to keep him. It’s just that everyone senses the reality.

That reality was pushed into the spotlight after the end of regulation in an eventual loss to the Clippers when Draymond Green chose not to defer to Durant and pass him the ball, rather trying to do it all himself (Green fumbled the ball away and the Warriors didn’t get a shot off). Durant called out Green for the decision (as did other teammates later), Green stood his ground and called Durant a “b****” and said he was making the season about himself with how he has handled his pending free agency.

Where does that leave the Warriors? Not in a good space, one veteran told Marcus Thompson II in a must-read piece at The Athletic.

“With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back,” one player said. “The only hope is that they can say this summer, ‘See, KD. We’ve got your back. We protected you from Draymond.’ ”

Hence the suspension, rather than just a fine for Green. The Warriors wanted the punishment to be public, not just internal. Just to show Durant they have his back.

It’s very likely not enough — and it very likely would not have mattered anyway. Whatever you may think Durant is saying on the court, the stage has already been set for next July. It feels like Durant wants to win one more title, then to go try to pad his legacy with his “own team” somewhere else.

The Warriors players, including Green and Durant, are professional enough to put all this aside to win. None of this means the Warriors are not still the heavy title favorites.

The challenge now for Steve Kerr and everyone else is to just keep focused, keep their eye on the Larry O’Brien trophy and not all the distractions. So, they will keep playing what happened down.

Without Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves move on with warm welcome for newbies

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless walked into their hotel rooms in Minnesota, they found appropriate gifts from Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns: winter coats.

After the overnight temperature dropped to 7 degrees, the newest members of the team by way of the Jimmy Butler trade with Philadelphia appreciated the welcome from Minnesota’s best player. Butler’s awkward and drawn-out departure created an icy atmosphere around the organization, but now that the deal is finally done, the Wolves have begun trying to warm the atmosphere back up.

“We can’t wait to get on the court, put on that jersey and put it on for this city,” Covington said at a news conference inside Target Center on Tuesday afternoon that carried just a bit less buzz than Butler’s open-to-the-public introduction at the Mall of America less than 17 months ago.

As Butler formally joined the 76ers , the Wolves pivoted forward after a pressure-relieving win over Brooklyn on Monday night following an 0-5 road trip.

Neither Covington nor Saric played against the Nets, but they’re on track to take the floor on Wednesday night against New Orleans. Bayless is injured, rehabilitating a hyperextended right knee, and with a glut of point guards on the roster he’s not expected to see playing time even once he’s healthy. Both Covington and Saric were starters for the Sixers, who finished third in the Eastern Conference last season at 52-30.

“They’re both young, and they’re going to get better. Both are very good defensively. They both shoot the 3. We think they fit well with the guys that we do have,” said president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau. “Once we got to that point where we felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal. When we initially started off, that wasn’t the case.”

As for whether the Timberwolves could be better without Butler, the four-time All-Star with exceptional ability on both ends on the court, Thibodeau demurred.

“We have to focus on who’s here. We think we have a good, young nucleus, and we have to build off of that,” Thibodeau said.

Covington is the centerpiece of the package.

The 27-year-old, who went undrafted out of Tennessee State and began in the NBA with Houston in the 2013-14 season, has career averages of 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game with a 35.9 shooting percentage from 3-point range. The 6-foot-9 Covington was an All-Defensive First Team pick last season with a career-most 315 deflections and a defensive rating of 99.0 that led all forwards in the league with at least 30 minutes per game. He was ninth in the NBA in steals with an average of 1.7 per game.

That’s the area where he’ll help the Timberwolves the most, the area that Butler was also acquired to help improve.

“In order to stay in this league and be effective, you’ve got to be able to go down there and be able to stop somebody on the other end,” Covington said, adding: “I think I watched more film the first few years than I’ve ever watched my entire life, as far as just different guys and watching how they read certain things and build the habits of watching players and everything. So I’d say the past couple seasons is when everything started to click.”

The 24-year-old Saric was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2016-17. The native of Croatia has career averages of 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He shot 39.3 percent from 3-point range last season.

Covington will likely fill Butler’s starting spot. Thibodeau could move Taj Gibson to the second unit and keep Saric as a starter. The 6-foot-10 Saric, who was the 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft, is the classic “stretch four” with a power forward’s size and a small forward’s shot. He meshed well with Sixers center Joel Embiid, so Towns has the potential to similarly complement his game.

“KAT is shooting so much better from the 3-point line than Joel, and it seems like we can play with each other,” Saric said, adding: “If I find a way how to play with Joel, I think I can find a way how to play with KAT.”

 

Three Things to Know: Durant’s pending free agency looms over Green suspension

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kevin Durant’s pending free agency looms over Draymond Green suspension. It has been the subtle — and, at times, not so subtle — subtext to the entire Golden State season, the cloud casting a shadow over everything:

What is Kevin Durant going to do as a free agent next summer?

That was the foundation of what Draymond Green used to go back at Durant after Green did not pass him the ball on the final play of regulation against the Clippers, with Green saying Durant was making the season about himself. It was the foundation of why GM Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr came down so hard on Green with a one-game suspension (costing Green more than $120,000).

It shows the cracks in that Warriors foundation.

Maybe not big enough ones to keep them from winning the title this season. The players on the roster are too good and too professional for that. However, the cracks may well be big enough to break the team up next summer and send Durant elsewhere.

After the Warriors, without Green or the still-injured Stephen Curry, barely held off the Atlanta Hawks for a win Tuesday night, everyone around the team played down the incident.

It all came to a head when a frustrated Durant called out Green on the bench after the final play of regulation against the Clippers, which we all have seen — Green got the rebound and decided to go coast-to-coast and create himself, rather than defer to Durant, who was clapping his hands and calling for the ball.

Green is vocal, emotional, and will defend himself even when he knows he is wrong (and he was wrong not to give up the rock in that situation, other teammates called him out for it, too). Green, apparently showing off a built-up frustration (that, reportedly, is not just his own) came back hard at Durant calling him a “b****” and that is officially what got him suspended.

But Green also stomped into the space where all season the Warriors organization top-to-bottom has walked on eggshells — Durant’s looming free agency. Green reportedly said Durant has made it the season all about himself by very publicly keeping his options open (right out of the LeBron James playbook). Klay Thompson is a free agent next summer as well but has made it clear at every step he doesn’t want to leave the Warriors. Green is a 2020 free agent but has followed Thompson’s path. Durant has gone a different direction, and now all the Warriors have to answer media questions about KD’s future at every road stop.

Mentally, the Warriors players and organization are prepared for Durant to leave next summer. However, when Green threw Durant’s free agency out in the middle of the room and threw a light on it, the organization felt it had to signal to Durant it has his back. Ideally, the Warriors want to keep KD and the suspension — rather than a fine and handling it internally — was part of that. Green is given a lot of latitude by the Warriors for his emotional outbursts because he’s a unique player and that emotion is part of what makes him one of the top 15-20 players in the league. Management felt Green crossed a line this time, but it’s also a message to Durant that the Warriors will back him.

All of that still hangs in the air in the Warriors’ locker room. How Green responds to this long-term — how pissed will he be the franchise backed KD? — now hangs out there, too.

Don’t think that this will get in the way of the Warriors title run. The Warriors have had their spats before and gotten over it, at least enough to play and win together. These are adults and professionals, they can work together enough to get past it.

But next July when free agency hits, remember all of this.

2) Rockets win in Denver shows they have found their stride again. Maybe. Tuesday night up in the Rockies an interesting Xs and Os battle was going on.

In the first half Denver did what a growing number of teams have tried with Houston this season: Rather than switch when James Harden gets a high pick (allowing him to isolate on a big man or the victim of his choice), they double and trap Harden, taking the ball out of his hands. The idea is “make someone else beat us, not the MVP.”

Denver’s gambit worked in this sense: Harden didn’t get his first bucket until 5:22 was left in the second quarter, and he was officially 1-of-5 with three points in the first half. However, Denver’s strategy didn’t work in this sense: Chris Paul had 14 points in the half, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon each had 9, the Rockets still put up 54 points with a 117 points per 100 possessions net rating. The other guys did step up and looked like they might beat Denver.

Sensing it was not working as well as hoped, and because the Rockets were adjusting and getting better looks, early in the second half Denver went back to switching. Harden predictably tore the Nuggets apart and finished with 22 points, and 11 assists and the Rockets pulled away late for the 109-99 win.

That’s not why the Rockets seem to be finding their stride again. Rather, for the last couple of games Houston’s defense has looked better — not great, but close to last season’s version than we have seen this season. If the Rockets start defending well then they will be a threat again.

3) Good news: Caris LeVert’s injury not nearly as severe as it looked. When you watched the video of Caris LeVert’s injury, you couldn’t help but flash back to Gordon Hayward and Paul George and some of the other more gruesome and terrible injuries we have seen in the NBA, and in sports, in recent years. It looked that bad for the young Nets star, so bad other players were crying on the sideline.

Fortunately, it out it was not that bad. LeVert’s diagnosis is a dislocated right foot, but without a fracture and with relatively minor ligament damage. No surgery is required and the Nets said he is expected to be back on the court this season.

That is amazing news.