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.

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
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The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
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The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

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It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.

Nate McMillan agrees to contract extension as Pacers coach

Nate McMillan extension
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The rumor that Nate McMillan was on the hot seat in Indiana? Turns out, about as accurate as the rumor Nicholas Cage is a time traveler.

McMillan and the Pacers have agreed to a contract extension, the team announced Wednesday (it was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). McMillan had one year remaining on his current contract. There are no details about the length or compensation. But McMillan isn’t going anywhere.

“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results. He also represents the franchise, the city and our state in a first-class manner.”

This is the right move by the Pacers, McMillan has been one of the better coaches in the NBA the past couple of seasons (he was fourth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago and will get votes again this season). He has gotten the Pacers to exceed their on-paper talent level a few seasons in a row. Talks to extend McMillan were likely in the works already, but the push to get a longer contract announced now — while the Pacers are still playing at the NBA restart in Orlando — likely was tied to that rumor going public.

The Pacers are the fifth seed in the East and will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That Indiana got there without a healthy Victor Oladipo — thanks to strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis for most of the season, then from T.J. Warren at the NBA restart — is a testament to McMillan’s coaching.

McMillan’s style isn’t flashy or modern — the Pacers are bottom eight in both three-pointers attempted and pace this season — but it works. The Pacers offense has been pretty average this season overall (18th in the league), which is not bad considering the team was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level). The Pacers also have found and developed good young players.

All of that ties back to coaching, which is why McMillan earned this extension.