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.

Report: NBA not bringing other eight teams to Disney World bubble

Knicks vs. Bulls
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The NBA bringing the “Delete Eight” teams to its Disney World bubble to train as other teams depart?

Like other plans for the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors… it’s not happening.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said.

The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said.

Bringing those other eight teams to the Disney World bubble was always a ridiculous idea. Why would the NBA jeopardize its highly profitable setup just so some lousy teams could train and maybe hold glorified scrimmages?

Voluntary team workouts are a reasonable allowance. Though it’s difficult to ensure players coming and going from a team facility won’t spread coronavirus, some players are playing basketball in groups, anyway. At their own facilities, teams can at least enforce protocols to increase safety. And players who’d rather be more careful wouldn’t be forced to participate.

There’s no reason to make anything mandatory. These eight teams’ seasons are over.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.