Jimmer fever in Sacramento might help bring new arena

17 Comments

Jimmer Fredette, the most talked about player in this year’s NBA draft, was selected No. 10 overall by the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.

30 minutes later, the Kings had a splash page with his likeness up ready to sell tickets on their website. Within another 30 minutes, Jimmer was trending worldwide on Twitter and was the 20th most searched term on all of Google.

By the time he arrived at the royal airport the next day, the Sacramento fans had gathered en masse to welcome him to his throne, conveniently forgetting the contention by many basketball types that he is a slow, white, geeky chump.

So as he descended down the airport escalator doing a poor man’s rendition of the Heatles’ introduction in Miami (not four times, not five times, not six times did he ride the escalator), even the most ardent Kings fan had to wonder if he is more Ringo than John.

None of this hullabaloo should be surprising, however, after Jimmer left college basketball with a formidable cult following, recognition from just about every corner of the basketball universe, and a music video to help explain how that all works (with a very white version, here).  And while he would have likely received significant attention wherever he landed, the honeymoon in Sacramento has been amplified due to the fans’ grassroots efforts to save their team.

As we’ve reported, the Here We Build coalition being quarterbacked by former Suns PG and current Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson has brought together 70 regional leaders to try to deliver an arena, including heavy hitters from the world of money and politics to go with the Joe Lunchbuckets that refused to leave Power Balance Pavilion when everybody told them that their team was gone.

Without a new arena, the Kings will almost certainly pack up for Anaheim, who has rolled out the red carpet to become an NBA city.

And despite precise measurements available to anybody with an Internet connection showing how the public would benefit both economically and culturally by funding an Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) in Sacramento, the appetite to publicly fund sports arenas in California is decidedly bulimic. And because of that recent history, and the ease with which one can complain about any tax, politicians in the greater Sacramento region have balked at the very real threat of the Maloofs leaving Sacramento for over 10 years.

But this time around things are different, perhaps due to reality setting in when moving vans started circling Power Balance Pavilion. Or maybe it’s the 12.7% unemployment rate in Sacramento and the 4,000 jobs the proposed ESC will create, or the hundreds of millions of dollars the region would lose if the Kings leave and within just a handful of years – that word million graduates to the word billion.

The result is a creative set of funding proposals that will be considered over the coming months that will attempt to blend the perfect amount of public and private money to pay for the estimated $387 million price tag for a new ESC.

That’s right, public money. Now public money does not have to come through a direct sales tax. It can come from hotel fees, taxes on cigarettes, and just about anything a city or region would like – but it has to be approved (in this case) by a city council or regional authority that ultimately wants to get re-elected. Whereas prior arena funding efforts were largely unpopular, in conversations I’ve had with local politicians off the record, there is a palpable fear of the political fallout in future elections should they fail to deliver here.

As for the Maloofs, they liquidated nearly all of their ownership in the Palms Casino, eliminating $400 million of debt from the family’s balance sheet. For all intents and purposes they appear to be mobilizing to contribute to the private portion of the funding arrangement, though it’s unclear how much they’re able or willing to spend.

The question the Here We Build committee will seek to answer is what an operator would be willing to pay (and for what type of profits in return), what the Maloofs would be willing to pay as simple tenants (and what other profit-centers they would be willing to invest in), and then what funding the Sacramento region can get approved through its decision-making apparatus for the public piece – which naturally will happen when they compare the cost of their investment compared to the projected revenues and profits from audited reports.

And naturally, the investment will look better when the Kings are playing well, when they’re selling tickets and securing sponsorships, and when the Maloofs can kick in more money to the project with those higher projected revenues to lean back on.

Enter, the Jimmer.

Less than 24 hours after touching down on the tarmac, the Kings rolled Jimmer out with his two fellow draftees, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt, for a ‘Rookie Rally’ that begs the question of whether Justin Bieber grabbed Doc Brown’s DeLorean and kicked off his 80s mall tour. I’m only slightly sure that reports of grown men screaming and fainting were exaggerated by the press.

Despite the obvious marketing opportunity Jimmer brings to the table, the contention from Kings management is that he was drafted based purely on basketball ability, and whether the fans believe it or not — they don’t care.  It is a rare, if not unprecedented, example of a team’s fans and media knowingly and willingly taking the bait.

The fans in Sacramento know that his defense is an issue, they know the team’s defense is an issue, and they know that the team has at least five shooting guards and no true point guard. They know that the Kings could have addressed the gaping hole at small forward by drafting Kawhi Leonard, who is also known as the guy that the four-time NBA champion Spurs traded up-and-coming George Hill for.

They also know the move to trade Beno Udrih for John Salmons was made to accommodate Jimmer’s development, and while most of them believe that Salmons was not the right guy to bring in, only a muted few are screaming about not drafting Leonard.

When team president Geoff Petrie conveniently forgets the extra year on Salmons’ contract when he talks publicly about the trade leaving them in the same spot financially, nobody points out the $3-5 million per year that Leonard would have cost – compared to the 31-year old Salmons at about $8 million per year for three years (and a partially guaranteed fourth year at $7 million).

And no, the fact that the Kings may need five basketballs to be used during the game to keep everybody happy is not lost upon them. But while Kings fans recognize that there could be some chemistry issues, they’ll be quick to point out that Jimmer’s new teammates have all made statements that they’re excited to play with him.

Though Kings fans have watched their neighbors in Golden State crash and burn with it for years, they want to know what Don Nelson’s fun-and-gun offense would look like with Jimmer at the helm. After all, nobody in their right mind is expecting anything more than a No. 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs, so why not play a brand of basketball that’s exciting to watch.

And yes, they know that for every Steve Nash that there is an Adam Morrison, though if Morrison could have jumped like this then maybe he wouldn’t be out of the league.

Most importantly, Kings fans know that it doesn’t matter who the team drafts if they’re playing in Anaheim. And that’s where they’ll be if they don’t sell some tickets.

As for Jimmer-mania, the only thing that appears to have the ability to stop it would be the lockout.

Talking with vice president of tickets sales for the Kings, Phil Horn said “We are excited to welcome all of our rookies to the market,” adding, “As far as specific marketing initiatives, stay tuned.”

Horn could be playing coy because something big is coming down the pipeline or he could be in a holding pattern due to the lockout, and surely it should be a concern that any momentum for the arena effort get halted for any reason.

But judging by the estimated 5,000 people who showed up to see him at the mall, I’m guessing the Kings will have no problem marketing him with or without his presence on the team appearance circuit.

And whether or not he was a selected based solely on the merit of his play, it is inconsequential to Kings fans right now.

For them, Jimmer clearly gives them the best chance to win, and anything else that he can do on the basketball court right now is icing on the cake.

LeBron James talks missing playoffs: “It’s not what we signed up for”

Associated Press
Leave a comment

For the first time in 13 years, LeBron James will not be in the playoffs.

While a few hearty souls predicted the Lakers would fall short of the postseason — shout out to Tim Bontemps of ESPN — the conventional wisdom was the presence of LeBron was enough to lift the Lakers at least into the playoffs. That was certainly the expectation within the organization (where many thought things were more like home court in the first round good). A combination of a poorly constructed roster, injuries, and a perfect storm of little things all added up to the Lakers missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

Here is what LeBron James said after the Lakers’ loss to Brooklyn Saturday that officially knocked Los Angeles out of the playoffs. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s not what we signed up for. Throughout the year, things happened. Suspensions, injuries, things of that nature. And just not being able to play sustainable basketball for 48 minutes. But you don’t even try to wrap your head around it, you just keep pushing. Just try to get better tonight, move on to tomorrow, and go from there. Playoffs are never promised. You’ve got to come out and work. For me personally, you just continue to put the work in and see what you can do to help.”

There were a lot of things that kept the Lakers out, but on Christmas Day the Lakers had just beaten (a very disinterested) Warriors team, were 20-14, the four seed in the West, and with a top-10 defense. However, in that game LeBron injured his groin and missed the next 17 Lakers games, and even when he returned was not completely right and his old self (how much of that is the injury and how much of that is father time is a matter of speculation). LeBron couldn’t lift this team up like he had previous teams, and there was not enough talent on this roster to lift him up (and the good young talent there was kept getting injured).

Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed he guys they did — Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley — to maintain cap space for this summer. Now the pressure is on them to do something with that money to get both another star and a better supporting cast around LeBron.

Now what for No. 23? LeBron is not shutting it down.

“I’m probably going to have a conversation with the coaching staff and my trainer and go from there,” he said. “But I love to hoop. S—, I’m going to have five months and not play the game. So, you know, hopefully I can be in as many games as possible.”

Celtics reportedly near 10-day contract with big man Greg Monroe

Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.

Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.

This likely gets done.

There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

Associated Press
Leave a comment

TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.