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.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.