Comcast-Spectacor hasn’t spoken with Kings at all, arena project barely off the ground

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Unless there is more to come in the next few days, the Virginia Beach arena press conference didn’t do much to sway the overwhelming opinion that the Sacramento Kings are nowhere near moving there.

There were no Maloof appearances, but president of Comcast-Spectacor Peter Luukko spoke to the Virginia Beach city council in support of bringing a pro sports franchise into town.

When posing the question of why Comcast-Spectacor would get involved in the Virginia Beach market, Luukko offered two reasons, including the numerous business relationships the company has in the area and that the area “is one of the largest underserved markets (for sports) in North America.”

Luukko and Virginia Beach director of economic development Warren Harris jointly said that they would negotiate with pro sports franchises over the next two months, and that a 25-year lease would be fulfilled by the sports and entertainment giant, assuming a deal can be worked out of course. And in the unlikely event that Virginia Beach wants to stick to that timetable, it’s difficult to see the NBA racing to cooperate with that deadline unless they somehow believe that this is the endgame for the Kings.

Given what we have seen so far, that’s not likely the case, with just one reason being that David Stern loves the No. 20 Sacramento TV market that shares no space with other pro sports teams.

Virginia Beach, on the other hand, is the No. 43 TV market and that fact was not lost upon councilman Bill DeSteph, who quickly and methodically picked apart the presentation made by the city. Pointing out inconsistencies in the criteria used for market size, he called the city’s presentation “misleading” and repeatedly asked for “apples to apples” comparisons of the data used to similarly compare Virginia Beach with Sacramento.

“If we’re talking about Sacramento, let’s go out 100 miles and let’s include the San Francisco Bay Area and let’s include Fresno,” said DeSteph.

If similar radiuses had been used in the presentation then the three million people boasted by Virginia Beach would compare to 10 million on the Sacramento side.

Cost was another issue for DeSteph, who asked and was told that the $350 million price tag for the arena was an estimate and that no cost analysis had been done. He would later ask for a public vote if public funds were going to be used to pay for the arena, which is usually a death-knell for projects of this type.

For his part, mayor William Sessions followed up the emphatic opposition by some council members by pounded his hands on the table in front of him, exclaiming “me and the vice mayor will keep you updated on a weekly basis!”

Regardless of the support from notable local figures that was highlighted in Tuesday’s PowerPoint presentation, it’s clear the city council is at square one with the project. And of the three councilmen that spoke on Tuesday, two of them appeared dead set against the use of public funds and both of them openly questioned the validity of the city’s initial proposal.

On the other hand, Comcast-Spectacor is a big player in the sports and entertainment marketplace and is a serious investor here. They clearly see an opportunity in Virginia Beach, but the city is now at the starting line of a long, arduous race that includes a laundry list of municipalities that want pro basketball.

As for the purple elephant in the room, the Kings, who had not issued any specific denial of the past week’s reports and were instead tweeting out photos of their newly shined concourse floor — Luukko said that Comcast-Spectacor has not talked with them at all.

“We have not had any formal talks with the Kings. We have not had any talks,” said Luukko, which is about as specific of a denial as can be expected.

This would line up with what sources close to negotiations have said is a project being driven by the Virginia Beach side, that just happens to fit the Maloof’s current strategy of waiting and hoping that another city can provide a viable offer to move.

This sentiment was echoed by Carmichael Dave, a well-connected arena proponent and local radio personality whose dismissal from the team-sponsored radio station drew raised eyebrows in Sacramento. On his new show on the CD Networks, sources of his close to the team said that the Maloofs had rejected an offer from Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen which was upward of $400 million.

Dave also added that those sources said the Maloofs were “looking more to relocate than to sell.”

Of course, everything from the Maloof camp is part conjecture and part conundrum these days. Sources close to the situation say that the family is split internally and that George Maloof, in particular, is holding a grudge and wants to leave Sacramento. The family name has been removed from the Palms Hotel and Casino, which doesn’t exactly scream $6 million burger, and sources say that ticket sales and sponsorships continue to suffer as the team remains in limbo.

If there can be any good news for Kings fans during this debacle, it’s that the Maloofs do not appear to have filed any Virginia-based trademark applications for the terms ‘Kings’ or ‘Royals,’ and their trademark attorney Scott Hervey has no new trademark applications on file with the US Trademark office. Their trademark application for the terms ‘Anaheim Royals, Los Angeles Royals, Orange County Royals’ and my favorite ‘Anaheim Royals of Southern California’ has, however, been held up by an opposition from the Kansas City Royals of Major League Baseball.

On the other hand, marketing consultants for the city of Virginia Beach have registered the websites vbkings.com and virginiabeachkings.com, and along with a legitimate partner in Comcast-Spectacor the Virginia Beach threat will continue to loom for Kings fans – no matter how overstated the threat may be at this time.

And until the NBA can effectively shove the Maloofs out the door with the franchise intact in Sacramento, who league sources say has done everything that was asked of them to keep the team, these stories are going to continue to pile up and be a black eye for the league.

Nets reportedly sign Donta Hall for restart games in Orlando

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Donta Hall went undrafted out of Alabama last June, then made the most of the opportunities he was given. The 6’9″ big man tore up the G League for the Grand Rapids Drive, averaging 15.4 points a game on 66.9% shooting, plus gabbing 10.6 rebounds a night. It was good enough to get him a call up to the Pistons and getting in four games for them.

Now he’s going to play in the NBA restart for the Brooklyn Nets, a story broken by Marc Stein of the New York Times.

The shorthanded Nets are without big men DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, and Nicolas Claxton (Jarrett Allen was the only center on the roster). Donta Hall will get the chance to impress the Nets — and other teams — and try to earn a contract for next season (he will be a free agent when the Nets are eliminated).

Hall is a tremendous athlete, he’s bouncy and long (7’5″ wingspan). If his skills develop, he has a role in the NBA.

The Nets were hit hard by injuries and had to make substitute signings such as Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley. Here is what the final Nets roster looks like in Orlando.

After four months off, first NBA teams practice in restart bubble

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Orlando Magic practice of the restart, and some of his teammates remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.

After four months, basketball was truly back.

Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus earlier this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotel and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.

“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers among them. Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family, and 76ers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bubble. … Hated to leave the (hashtag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.

Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Florida — they’ve been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.

Brooklyn, Utah, Washington and Phoenix all were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. Denver was originally scheduled to, then pushed back its opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven different facilities.

Exhibition games begin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor.

Many players have passed the time with video games; Miami center Meyers Leonard, with the Heat not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.

“For the most part, everything has been pretty good in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”

Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of different facilities while getting back into the practice routine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”

Zion Williamson’s stepfather accused of taking $400,000 before Zion’s season at Duke

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The legal fight over NBA rookie Zion Williamson’s endorsement potential now includes an allegation that his family received $400,000 from a marketing agency before his lone season for Duke.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed a lawsuit last summer in a Florida state court, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. That came a week after Williamson filed his own lawsuit in a North Carolina federal court to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

In court filings Thursday in North Carolina, Ford’s attorneys included a sworn affidavit from a California man who said the head of a Canadian-based firm called Maximum Management Group (MMG) told him he paid Williamson’s family for his commitment to sign with MMG once he left Duke for the NBA.

The documents include a marketing agreement signed by Williamson with MMG from May 2019, a December 2019 “letter of declaration” signed by Williamson and his stepfather agreeing to pay $500,000 to MMG president Slavko Duric for “repayment of a loan” from October 2018, and a copy of Williamson’s South Carolina driver’s license — which listed Williamson’s height as “284” and his weight as “6′06.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Williamson attorney, Jeffrey S. Klein, said those documents were “fraudulent.”

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent – and neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealings with them,” Klein said. “We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.

“This is a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson at the very time he has the opportunity to live his dream of playing professional basketball.”

The affidavit is from Donald Kreiss, a self-described entrepreneur who worked with athletes and agents in marketing relationships. He had recently contacted Ford then provided the affidavit last week outlining interactions with MMG and Williamson’s family, according to one of the filings.

Ford’s attorneys have sought to focus on Williamson’s eligibility. His lawsuit stated that Prime Sports violated North Carolina’s sports agent law, both by failing to include disclaimers about the loss of eligibility when signing the contract and the fact neither Prime Sports nor Ford were registered with the state.

Ford’s attorneys have argued the Uniform Athlete Agents Act wouldn’t apply if Williamson was ineligible to play college basketball from the start.

Ford’s attorneys had sought to have last summer’s No. 1 overall NBA draft pick and New Orleans Pelicans rookie answer questions in Florida state court about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils. They had also raised questions about housing for Williamson’s family during his Duke career in a separate filing in North Carolina.

A Florida appeals court last month granted a stay to pause the proceedings there, shifting the focus to the North Carolina case.

Duke has repeatedly declined to comment on the case because it isn’t involved in the litigation, but issued a statement in January that school had reviewed Williamson’s eligibility previously and found no concerns.

Russell Westbrook, James Harden do not fly to Orlando with Rockets, will join team later

Russell Westbrook James Harden
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The Houston Rockets have landed in Orlando to be part of the NBA’s restart bubble.

Except for stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Neither was on the team’s charter flight from Houston, but both plan to join the team soon. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news, with the story confirmed by others soon after.

Just-signed Luc Mbah a Moute and assistant coach John Lucas also did not fly with the team and will catch up soon, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Westbrook and Harden are not the only stars to delay their arrival in Orlando, the Clippers Kawhi Leonard did the same for personal reasons. The teams have agreed to this, but with limited practice time in the run-up to the eight seeding games, coaches want everyone in camp to work on rebuilding chemistry as fast as possible.

Coach Mike D’Antoni did fly with the team and was cleared to be in the bubble. D’Antoni, 69, was subject to extra consideration for entrance into the bubble by the NBA due to his age and the risk factors for people older than 65 with COVID-19.

The Rockets are one of the most interesting teams to watch in Orlando because of their all-in commitment to small ball — 6’5″ P.J. Tucker will play a lot of center. In the uncertain world of the NBA’s restart, that unconventional approach could get them upset wins. Or, they could get bounced early. There is no more high-variance team in Orlando than the Rockets.