Sacramento City Council votes 7-2 to go forward with next step in arena process

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City council meetings can be dull, but the Sacramento City Council meeting on Tuesday to decide if the Kings should go forward with a key element of their plan to secure a new Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) was anything but.

Alright, it was still pretty boring, but Tuesday’s meeting had everything you could ask for in a five-hour local government showdown, including human PowerPoint presentations, #Occupy protestors, some normal people, the villain city council member, people whose sole purpose in life is to show up at every city council meeting and speak on every issue, people that sang during their two minutes to speak, the transvestite with a keen business acumen, and of course, the mayor that dunked on Hakeem Olajuwon like he was Timofey Mozgov.

On the docket was a vote to determine if the city should go forward with a Request for Qualification (RFQ) from parking lot operators that could end up providing $200 million or more toward the city’s stake in the estimated $400 million arena.  Once the vote passed, the city manager would then be authorized to have parking lot operators produce preliminary bids for the right to operate city-owned parking lots for terms up to 50 years.  This is said to be the funding nut that will push the Kings over the finish line, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough.

What made Tuesday’s meeting critical, aside from the unlikely scenario that the council would vote down this motion, was getting to see once again how each council member would act, as they will ultimately determine the project’s fate. During the last procedural vote in which $500,000 was requested to secure a qualified arena negotiations team, I wrote about how each council member discussed the arena project and said that things looked good for Kings fans.

They voted 7-2 on that day to authorize funding that would move the process to its next step, and on Tuesday they voted the same exact way to authorize this RFQ. Again, the main opposition to the arena plan has come from two council members, Sally Sheedy and Darrell Fong.  After Kevin McCarty talked extensively on Tuesday about how the parking funds could be used in other ways, he also joined my unofficial ‘no’ side of the ballot.  Meanwhile, Sheedy has taken a Judge Judy like role in proceedings, barking out commands to city staff and generally trying to muck up the process.  She is seeking re-election under an anti-arena campaign.

On the other side of the ballot I had identified four arena proponents prior to Tuesday that, as I see it right now, will vote yes when the vote matters in February (Rob Fong, Angelique Ashby, Bonnie Parnell, and Jay Schenirer).

Following Tuesday’s meeting I added Steve Cohn to that list after he offered up this tidbit following an exchange with ‘no’ voter McCarty. After Cohn cited a Green Bay Packers-like stock plan as a creative example of a funding mechanism, McCarty said “It probably helps that the Packers are 13-0.”

To that point, Cohn said “Yeah but they’re going to keep their team no matter what. So we need to keep ours.”

Kevin Johnson’s ‘yes’ vote would only be needed to break a tie, so essentially Kings fans need 4-of-8 members to vote ‘yes.’

All said, I’m predicting a 6-3 vote in favor of funding the arena, but like everything else having to do with Sacramento versus Los Angeles, this will come down to the wire. Assuming my word-parsing, eye-tests, and other voodoo analysis are correct, the deal still has to come to the city council’s desks without any major flaws. Then, it has to provide enough time for council members to vote on it without having any reservations about moving too fast.

As of now, Kevin Johnson has yet to make a mistake and has conducted the campaign to a presidential degree, with a former campaign manager to Bill Clinton, Chris Lehane, at his side co-chairing the Think Big coalition. Until Johnson screws something up, it’s wise to bet that he’ll continue to hit his deliverables.

Meanwhile, Kings fans continue to impress in their role of drumming up public support.  During Tuesday’s meeting, a diverse set of seven Kings fans spoke during the time for public comments, but the twist was that they scripted their comments to fit a theme. The theme was that the city’s need for an arena is “bigger than basketball,” so before each of them spoke they removed their Kings jerseys to reveal a white T-shirt with one of the words ‘Concerts, Regional $, Events, Revitalize, Nightlife, Jobs, and Pride.’

They live-tweeted each person’s talking point and along with the streaming video of the council meeting the entire Kings’ grassroots network trended on Twitter in Sacramento.  Small gestures, big impact.  I’ve said it before, but Save our Sonics needed Twitter to invent itself a few years earlier.

I asked the leader of the group that came up with the idea for the T-shirts why they did it, and Mike Taveres of #FANS (Fund Arena Now Sacramento) said, “We wanted to show this was more than just our Sacramento Kings. They’re a piece of the puzzle but not the only piece.”

What’s going on in Sacramento is much bigger than basketball, indeed. The region has 12 percent unemployment and lost $40 million in tax revenues in the last year alone due to falling property values. The city’s normally stable public sector has been hammered by budget cuts at the state level, and big businesses are leaving with regularity (for places like Anaheim that cater to business no less).

Should Sacramento not fund the arena and they lose their team, they will need to find an anchor tenant before they could entertain the idea of building a game-changing downtown anything district. Their citizens will continue to pour money into other regions when they travel outside of Sacramento for shows and events, property values will likely continue to struggle, and businesses will see the city’s inability to build an arena as a failure of leadership. They already are. The citizens, already slumping through bad economic times, will see their crown jewel going away as a sign that things aren’t working, and confidence will erode all the way around. These aren’t my words – they’re the words of the many citizens I’ve interviewed that desperately want to keep the tumbleweeds outside of city limits.

Yes, there is a discussion to be had about the public funding of sports arenas, but ironically that discussion is in a pending status within the academic community. As I reported back in August, the go-to economist on sports subsidies, Brad Humphreys, is in the middle of a study to address the hundreds of millions of dollars of increased property value a facility like the proposed Kings arena might bring. I spoke with Humphries in great detail, and he said that as long as the Maloofs and the NBA were throwing in the type of money that had been reported, that the Kings deal shaped up as a “good deal.” As for the study, that’s on pause until his co-author can catch a break from his two newborn kids. They’re in no hurry to finish the study and under no societal obligation to do so, but for anybody with so-called claims that they understand the economics behind this – they don’t. Simply put, the experts are still studying it. In the meantime, Humphries and others have noted that the previous approach of building a stadium or arena in the middle of nowhere was flawed, and building them in the middle of downtown hubs is the best way to monetize the value of a sports franchise. He wrote,

A new state of the art facility integrated in a comprehensive urban redevelopment program and located in the heart of a large city might be expected to generate increases in residential property values in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of dollars within a mile of the facility, if the location, planning, construction, and development are carried out carefully.

This is what the Kings fans and community leaders are fighting for. It’s not just the increase in tax revenues an extra ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ of land value might bring, but rather the overall economic activity the arena will spur. It’s why these normal citizens have given all of their waking hours to a cause, it’s why a documentary is being made about the #HereWeStay guys, it’s why thousands of fans refused to leave after the team’s final game, and it’s why they continue to outpace their opposition at every turn.  Their community literally depends on it.

Kevin Johnson heads to New York on Friday to meet with the NBA and AEG to discuss how much private contribution the league and the Maloofs are going to make. All of this is going to come together in the next 60 days, and ultimately there will be a final vote.

Sure public opposition could pick up, and yes, unappealing deal-points could make the deal go bad, but with Kevin Johnson pitching a shutout and Kings fans handling the public education piece – it sure seems like they’re on track to finally get that win over Los Angeles.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.