Sacramento one vote away from losing the Kings last night, but still in control of their destiny

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If you build it sticky-fingered shooting guards will come.

And if Sacramento doesn’t approve an arena for the Kings quickly then Seattle has no problem playing Kevin Costner.

And let’s not bury the lede here, Seattle almost got their wish Tuesday night as the Sacramento City Council narrowly voted 5-4 to bury a resolution that would have sent the Kings packing for all intents and purposes. But let’s couch that for a second and start from the top.

Seattle mayor Mike McGinn has been working with multimillionaire Christopher Hansen to bring an NBA team back to the Emerald City, and it’s clear Hansen has been in long-term discussions with power brokers in the Seattle area and probably David Stern and the NBA. How far they are along is debatable, but this week at least some in the Seattle media have gone as far as to say that there is a “70/30” chance the Kings play in Seattle next year and that the announcement could come in April.

That sounds like wishful thinking, because there are way more questions in Seattle than there are answers, and Sacramento appears to control its own destiny when it comes to the Kings.

McGinn, who said he has met with Hansen face-to-face just once, has admitted as much in his various media appearances, refusing to give too much hope to Seattleites that the Kings could indeed be coming. “A lot of things have to align for this to work, and I can’t predict whether everything will align or not,” he said, trying to manage expectations of listeners on ESPN 710 in Seattle.

“My expectation, and this isn’t my side of the equation, that’s gotta come from the folks that are looking to own a team – I don’t think they’re moving forward unless they feel they have commitments from the NBA and the NHL, but that’s their business, and I think that’s one of the things that has to align, as well. They’ve gotta make sure that they have a pathway. My understanding is that given the way that these things work, they probably have some type of pathway but I can’t give you any information about what that looks like.”

That pathway is for the Kings arena effort to fall flat on its face. One way to help agitate the process is to leak news of the city’s very real plans to snatch the next available NBA team in the weeks leading up to Sacramento’s critical stretch run.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson was unfazed in comments made to the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis.

“I don’t blame them for trying to build an arena. I just don’t think it’s going to be Sacramento,” said Johnson, in reference to which NBA team could move to Seattle. “We have a laser focus on our business at hand, we’re controlling our own destiny and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

If Seattle cannot cash in on the Kings then the next most viable option would be the league-owned Hornets, as the NBA is closer to contraction than it is to expanding anytime soon.

Sacramento has until March 1 to present a viable funding plan to the Maloof family and the NBA, or it’s widely believed that the league will allow the Maloofs to move the team. Anaheim, like Seattle, has taken a wait-and-see approach and has appeared to be elbowed out by Seattle, and one doesn’t have to think hard to figure out what Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling think about that.

The Maloofs, for their part, have appeared committed to keeping the team in Sacramento and multiple sources have indicated that they have no plans to sell the team. They also said in December that they would be willing to be flexible with the deadline if arena talks were moving in the right direction. Regardless, assuming that anything is set in stone on their end is a fool’s errand right now.

While there have been many rumors to the effect that the Maloofs are struggling financially, nobody truly knows how they’re doing. Their sale of the Palms in June could be seen as both a sign that they freed up money to operate the Kings, or a sign that the ship is sinking. And even if they were to sell the Kings, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the NBA could continue to work with Sacramento in coordination with another buyer, as the league has spent tremendous time and resources helping the team regain its footing in the California capitol.

Going back to the lede, Kevin Johnson and his Think Big Sacramento coalition are nearing a conclusion to the year-long fight, and they had a critical vote last night that was closer than any arena insiders, including myself, thought it would be.

Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, the unofficial figurehead of the anti-arena effort on the council, made a motion to bring the Kings arena issue to a vote in June. Her motion would ask the public to vote up-or-down on whether or not the city should turn over its parking assets to a private operator for upward of $200 million to go toward a new arena. This, of course, is a disingenuous position knowing that the NBA’s March 1 deadline would render any June vote useless – and the prevailing belief in and around the city political scene is that she is exacting political revenge upon Johnson. As the story goes, he did not give her a seat in his inner circle after she endorsed his mayoral run. Sheedy has since drawn numerous competitors for her district seat amidst plummeting popularity, and last week announced that she would not seek re-election next cycle.

In following the commentary made by council members throughout the past few months, only two had made strong statements against using public funds for an arena, and I had handicapped the total vote to be in favor of Kings fans. What we saw last night was the most recent ‘call’ in arena poker, with one anti-arena leaning vote (Kevin McCarty) making his position clear after supporting Sheedy’s resolution, one swing vote (Jay Schenirer) swinging hard to the pro-arena side and voting against a public vote, and one arena cheerleader (Bonnie Pannell) going completely off-script with a vote to support Sheedy’s resolution.  The resolution ultimately failed by a 5-4 vote, so there will be no deal-breaking public vote and the decision to keep the Kings will be made by the council itself in the coming weeks.

Combining the new projected anti-arena votes with the old ones, there are four councilmembers that have acted to send the Kings packing, including Sheedy, Darrell Fong, McCarty, and Pannell. Arena supporters Rob Fong and Angelique Ashby join Steve Cohn and Schenirer as leaning yes votes on the eight-person panel, with mayor Johnson as the tie-breaking ‘yes’ vote.  While I suspect this is a group that votes ‘yes’ to keep the Kings in Sacramento, this situation is much too close to call with just one more defection needed to kill the deal.

They will meet on February 14 to discuss the finalized list of parking lot operators that the city will request final proposals from.  Chances are at some point KJ is going to have to get an extension on the March 1 deadline. With those parking numbers in hand, the last step is for all of the public and private funding sources to get in a room and decide finally, once and for all, what everybody is going to contribute to the estimated $400 million price-tag of the new Entertainment and Sports Complex.

Multiple sources tell me that number is going to be reached, and the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place quickly. Earlier Wednesday James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom reported that Sacramento is going to ask the NBA and the Maloofs for $80 million and his cohort Rob McAllister reported that two executive level sources with the Kings have a “strong belief” that if the “numbers are close” that the league will come up with the balance.

While things are coming into focus, for now there will be speculation, and with last night’s close city council vote the vultures will descend and you’ll find more reports trying to pry the Kings from Sacramento’s nowhere-near-dead hands.

“Stern is one of the guys who the group in Seattle is talking to, and he wants a team (in Seattle), and he’s apparently told them that they can play in Key Arena while an arena is being built,” said Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times, who also made the 70/30 comment tying a Kings-to-Seattle announcement to April.

Stern was more diplomatic when speaking to Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Obviously, we certainly have been supportive of Mayor [Kevin] Johnson’s efforts with respect to the building and we sure would like to see that happen,” Stern said. “But we cannot guarantee or [assume] it, and we’ll have to deal with the realities as we find them.”

Surely the commissioner could take umbrage to Kelley’s reports that he is knee-deep in talks with Seattle, but I’m betting he lets the Emerald City flex its arms and scare the cow poop out of Kings fans and councilmembers alike.

The irony here is that Sonics fans were exactly where Kings fans were when Clay Bennett moved their team away, and the producer of the acclaimed documentary Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Dream, Jason Reid, was outspoken in supporting Kings fans last April – showing up at a Thunder playoff game ringing cowbells for all the cameras to see. But all is fair in love and sports.  When news broke about Seattle’s interest they tweeted out an old 2010 video that states, “No Team Is Safe,” and at the end shows a Seattle Kings logo. Colin White, web and graphic designer for Sonicsgate said, “It is what it is. We want (their) team.”

So, no, Stern won’t put a blanket on the bidding war at this late hour. If anything he’ll ratchet it up. The only difference here is that Kevin Johnson has the ball in the final seconds, and as long as he gets four council members to agree with him he’ll probably hit the game-winning shot.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.