Kevin Johnson to Maloofs: There will be no negotiations during critical Friday meeting

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I wrote on Thursday about the recent developments in the Sacramento Kings arena situation, and namely the Maloofs’ recent actions that amount to a legal full court press designed to land the franchise in Anaheim. The quick and dirty to catch you up is this – the Maloofs, Sacramento, AEG, and the NBA came to an agreement in principle on a $391 million Entertainment and Sports Complex during All Star weekend. A few weeks ago, the Maloofs publicly refused to pay for pre-development costs totaling $3.26 million that were agreed upon during that time. The Maloofs are the only party that disputes that they agreed to the amount, and the dispute has landed at the NBA Board of Governors meeting, which is where we pick up.

The Maloofs pitched at the BOG meeting for about 90 minutes yesterday, and afterwards they disappeared through a side exit not to be found by reporters guarding the various orifices of the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.

Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee provided this report following the meeting:

In particular, the Maloofs have said they never agreed to contribute $3.26 million toward environmental studies and other “pre-development” costs, as the term sheet says. Spokesman (Harvey) Englander declined to elaborate on the Maloofs’ presentation, other than to say the topic of relocation didn’t come up. “They asked good questions and it was a very good meeting.”

Earlier, Englander said the family would present a “historical analysis of the transaction” to owners, and hoped to have a clear path set toward a deal by the time the meetings end on Friday. Englander said it could take days or weeks, however, to come to a resolution.

On one hand, if you take the statement at face value, it’s encouraging for Kings fans that the topic of relocation didn’t come up.  But the last part about ‘days or weeks’ is where the rub lies, as it reflects the Maloofs’ position that there is still more to discuss about a deal that was already supposed to be done. During this departure from the handshake agreement, the Maloofs’ actions have become increasingly adversarial and this has culminated in Sacramento business leaders asking commissioner David Stern to remove them as owners. From the city-side, nothing is up for grabs, and the parties opposite the Maloofs have stood united in maintaining that the major elements of the deal aren’t going to change.

So what exactly transpired during the closed door session at the BOG meetings on Thursday? We’re still flushing that information out, but David Stern apparently setup a meeting between mayor Kevin Johnson and the embattled family. This was announced mid-day Thursday after the meeting had concluded, by Maloof family spokesman Englander, no less:

“The commissioner said the mayor (Kevin Johnson is) flying out, taking the red eye, (and) suggested we meet with him. And we are,” said Englander.

Questions swirled once the vague itinerary of events was disclosed to the public. What did Stern and the owners tell the Maloofs? Did they tell them to go kick rocks, to take the deal that they had already negotiated? Did they tell the Maloofs that they could indeed try to make a change to the main elements of the deal after the fact? And under what pretenses would Johnson and the Maloofs be meeting?

Clearly, there had to be a plan other than to stick the two parties in a room only to see them storm out 20 minutes later.

After about six hours of radio silence, Kevin Johnson’s office released to PBT a letter they sent to the Maloofs regarding Friday’s meeting. In the letter, Johnson made it entirely clear that he does not plan on negotiating when the sides meet up. Here are selected excerpts and the entire text:

I understand that during today’s NBA Relocation Committee you and your team made a presentation. During the discussion, it was suggested that a meeting with me tomorrow might be beneficial. As has been my commitment throughout this process, I am always happy to meet in the spirit of open communication and partnership. However, in advance of our conversation, I believe it important to make clear several key points:

First, all parties agreed to a deal in Orlando on February 27th, codified in the term sheet subsequently approved by our City Council. At the time, George Maloof explained the Maloof Family’s reason for agreeing to the deal, saying to the Sacramento Bee that it is a “fair deal…worth taking.”

Any representation that a deal was not reached is simply not consistent with the perspective of every other party to the negotiation nor the actual statements of the family.

Second, throughout this process, we have worked closely with the NBA as a valued partner at your request, as documented by the following Kings’ public statements that the “NBA take the lead on this” while remaining “in very close contact with the league” and being “apprised of everything that’s going on.”

Third, and most critically, under no circumstances will the City make material adjustments to the current terms of the deal. Put simply, we have done our part. And there should be no expectation in tomorrow’s conversation that this deal is subject to further negotiation.

We take you at your word that you are committed to Sacramento as you’ve said repeatedly in recent weeks. The best – and only – way to demonstrate that commitment is to honor the “fair deal” as all other parties have done. Your handshake is your handshake. Your promise is your promise.

So let the games begin. The Maloofs’ statement that it could take days or weeks to come to a resolution reeks of haggling over the price of clear coat, and it remains to be seen how much negotiating the NBA is going to actually permit here. For example, negotiating over a small stipulated clause involving little to no dollar value is probably on the up-and-up. On the other hand, should the Maloofs say they want to pay $25 million and not the $73 million they’ve already committed – that would definitely be a non-starter.

Right now, the argument is over $3.26 million in pre-development costs, or one year of Travis Outlaw’s salary. Before the Maloofs’ legal maneuverings started to resemble that of a family that wanted to get out of Dodge, I had surmised that the family’s argument over pre-development costs was really designed to extract a concession down the road.

And now it doesn’t matter if it’s up-front costs or back-end revenues, though, because Johnson is not negotiating. Sources in several different arena camps have made this much clear, and if it wasn’t clear Johnson’s letter was loud and clear. The only real question is – how much juice does Johnson have?

This is one of two things for him. One less settling possibility for Kings fans is that this is Johnson’s line in the sand, a way for him to say to his constituents that he wouldn’t back down. In this case Johnson believes (and he is right) that the city of Sacramento has done enough, and for better or worse he’s going to stand on that principle at least for now. So he draws the line in the sand with the hopes that the odds are in his favor, that the NBA and other owners will recognize that the city has done their part, and not allow the Maloofs to exit stage right.

Then there’s possibility No. 2, which is much more likely in my opinion, and that is that Johnson has already taken his cues from commissioner Stern. He isn’t gambling with the years of work completed by all of the various stakeholders. He isn’t gambling with all of the political capital he has spent on getting an arena deal done. He isn’t gambling with the political capital spent by all of his colleagues and he certainly isn’t putting the entire project on the line with a take-it-or-leave-it demand that isn’t rooted in reality.

In other words he knows that his price is firm, and he’s not buying the clear coat.

We’ll see later Friday who had the juice and for the Maloofs, if the juice of owning an NBA franchise is worth the squeeze.

Clippers extend contract of coach Doc Rivers

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While not many people were noticing, Doc Rivers did arguably his best coaching job since coming to Los Angeles this season. Chris Paul forced his way to Houston before the season, then during it Blake Griffin was shipped off to Detroit. Then there were the injuries to Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari, two players expected to be key contributors who played a combined 32 games. The offense too often felt like Lou Williams vs. The World, yet the Clippers finished above .500 (42-40) and pushed for a playoff spot until the final days of the regular season.

The Clippers noticed what a good job he did, and how well he handled things after losing his GM powers to Lawrence Frank. That’s why they have rewarded him with a contract extension (the details of which are not yet public).

“I am proud of the success we have had here over the last five seasons, but there is more work to be done,” said Rivers in a statement released by the team. “We are coming off a year where our team battled through many challenges and much adversity, proving deep talent and even greater potential. I am looking forward to getting back to work on the court to develop our players and compete with the NBA’s elite.”

“Doc is one of the top coaches in the NBA, coming off one of his finest seasons since joining the Clippers,” Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “We trust Doc to lead a competitive, tough, hard-working team while upholding a culture of accountability expected to resonate throughout the organization.”

Rivers was entering the final year of his contract, and neither side wanted him to be in a lame duck status.

For a Clippers franchise in transition, this is a stabilizing move. CP3 and Griffin are gone, DeAndre Jordan can be a free agent this summer, and Los Angeles has some big-picture questions about the direction to take the team it needs to answer. Unlike in Boston, Rivers is going to stick around for this restructuring.

Plus, this is good for Rivers, who makes no secret of the fact he likes living in Los Angeles. He has a comfort level with the city and the organization. Rivers likely took a healthy pay cut from the more than $10 million a year he was getting to be coach and GM, but it’s still good money and an organization he likes. So he is sticking around.

Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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It can be one of the most challenging selections to make on the ballot — NBA All-Defensive Teams.

The reason is all the variables: What kind of system was the player in? What were they asked to do within that system? Were they asked to cover a lot for lesser defenders on the court with them?

The votes are in, and it is Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis at the top with the most points. Just as interestingly, six players made All-Defense for the first time.

Here is the voting breakdown. Voters had to choose one center, two forwards, and two guards for each team.

FIRST TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Rudy Gobert, Utah, 192 (94)
Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 163 (73)
Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 90 (27)
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 136 (58)
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 105 (39)

SECOND TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia, 90 (4)
Draymond Green, Golden State, 86 (26)
Al Horford, Boston, 85 (24)
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio, 80 (32)
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota, 79 (20)

Just missing the cut were:
Chris Paul, Houston, 74 (20); Paul George, Oklahoma City, 69 (22); Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 43 (15); Kevin Durant, Golden State, 31 (7); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 24 (8); Josh Richardson, Miami, 22 (3); Marcus Smart, Boston, 18 (5); Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 17 (3).

The six first-timers on the All-Defensive Teams are Covington, Oladipo, Holiday, Embiid, Murray, and Butler.

The fact that two Pelicans — Holiday and Davis — made All-Defense but the team was just average defensively speaks to what they were trying to cover up on that roster much of the season.

Forward was particularly deep and difficult to choose this season. On my final (official) ballot I had Antetokounmpo on the squad, but that meant leaving off Green (who is unquestionably an elite defender when he wants to be, but was up and down during the regular season with his focus on that end). The injuries to Andre Roberson and Kawhi Leonard took some of the pressure off at forward and let a deserving Horford in the club, but it was still a deep field.

Guard was a challenge as well, with CP3 being deserving (he was on my ballot) and Klay Thompson being the perennial “I wanted to put him on the team but…” guy.

Clint Capela with the Rockets had a fantastic defensive season, but with Gobert and Embiid filling the center spot that’s a tough field to crack.

Celtics hope return home can slow LeBron, Cavs in Game 5

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BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics expected to see a different LeBron James in Cleveland after the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 hole to open the Eastern Conference finals

Two games and back-to-back wins later, James has reminded everyone exactly why he’s been to seven straight NBA finals.

Boston will be back in the embrace of its raucous fans at TD Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. But a team that has thrived on youth this postseason suddenly looks disoriented without a go-to player and opposite a more veteran squad that has found a new attitude thanks to the fuel being provided by its biggest star.

“My teammates are putting me in position and wanting me to be in attack mode and trusting me to put our guys in position to be successful,” James said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the collective group, and I’m one of the byproducts of that.”

While the Cavs are certainly feeling rejuvenated, coach Tyronn Lue said it hasn’t changed their sense of urgency.

“We still gotta play,” Lue said. “We have veteran guys who have been there and know what it takes, but this is a young team, a good team that’s playing at home so experience is not going to be a factor. We have to come in there and have the same mentality that we had in Game 3 and 4.”

Two games ago, the numbers seemed all on the Celtics’ side.

They had moved to 9-0 at home during these playoffs and taken 2-0 series lead, which has been a magic number for a franchise yet to surrender such an advantage during its storied history (37-0). Over the last 96 minutes, Boston has been outscored by 39 points, has dropped to 1-6 on the road and is suddenly facing a must-win game to maintain home-court advantage.

Coach Brad Stevens said at the start of the playoffs that he believed there was value in the greenness of a young group that had several players getting their first taste of postseason basketball. He was proven right with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum all thriving as first-time postseason starters.

Their success had the cumulative effect of masking the absences of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Now, the lack of an alpha like Irving capable of creating his own shot is sticking out with every 40-point game James produces.

Al Horford, Boston’s only healthy All-Star, was never a dominant scorer, but more of a facilitator who worked well in a finely tuned system.

Horford started off the series strong but his scoring and assist numbers have declined over the last two games.

Lue’s move to reinsert Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup in Game 2 is a huge reason.

Thompson has not only helped things move better on the offensive end for Cleveland, he’s combined with Larry Nance to make things difficult on Horford. Horford had just four shots and seven points in 30 minutes in Game 3. He scored 15 points in Game 4 but was just 5-of-13 from the field with one assist.

If the Celtics are going to get back to the by-committee style that got them here, it must begin with his leadership. To that end, Horford said they’ll focus on correcting their issues, but also won’t dwell on them.

“As a group, we’re excited to be back, going back home,” he said. “Obviously we understand the challenge of it. We can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about this opportunity. We have a Game 5 at home, and we have to make the most of it.”

Cleveland is hoping James’ once quiet supporting cast continues its surge in Boston.

Kevin Love just missed his third straight double-double in Game 4 and sharpshooters JR Smith and Kyle Korver were 12 of 19 from the 3-point line in Games 3 and 4.

Korver’s efforts have stood out.

At 37 years old he was all over the court scoring in Game 4, diving for loose balls and collecting three blocks. While he anticipated being sore from all the activity, Korver said playing “fun basketball” is still propelling a guy looking for his first ring after appearing in 124 playoff games for five different teams during his 15-year career.

“There’s not many of us `03 class guys still around,” James said of Korver. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age.”

 

Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

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In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.