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.

Timberwolves head into offseason in need of healing, with big decisions looming

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Another season of setback and tumult has mercifully ended for the Minnesota Timberwolves, this time in the strangest of ways after the NBA’s decision to resume virus-halted play with 22 teams.

The revelation of the makeshift plan immediately put the Timberwolves, who finished 19-45 for the third-worst record in the league, in offseason mode after nearly three months in limbo while the world wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic and all NBA arenas went dark.

There was no arguing from Minnesota, where the 18 games remaining on the original schedule before the shutdown would have had little benefit as long as star center Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined with a wrist injury.

“While we are disappointed for our team and our fans that our season is coming to an end, we understand and accept the league’s plan to move forward with 22 teams. It is important that we be a good teammate not only to the NBA, but to the other 29 teams to support the efforts to complete this season and prepare for next season in a healthy and safe manner,” president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said on Thursday after the league’s announcement.

Whether due to injuries or trades, the repeated disruptions during the season made the assessment of 34-year-old head coach Ryan Saunders difficult. First-timers aren’t typically hired without at least some commitment from the franchise to patience, but the Wolves are 36-70 under Saunders since he replaced the fired Tom Thibodeau halfway through the 2018-19 season. No NBA jobs are ever guaranteed.

Rosas, in his season-ending statement distributed by the team, appeared to apply some pressure on what will be for the Timberwolves a critical summer – and fall, since the draft has been pushed back to Oct. 15. Rosas promised an “intensive and thorough” program to help make up for the time lost to the shutdown. He also said Saunders and the rest of the staff would be “creative, aggressive and proactive” in approaching team building and player development in the meantime.

Here are some other key angles to follow as the offseason unfolds:

HEALING FIRST: Before the Timberwolves embark on the free agency and trading period, and enter the draft with two first-round selections, they could use some time simply for healing.

The city of Minneapolis became the epicenter for a nationwide wave of protest, anger and destruction after the death on May 25 of George Floyd, the black man who was handcuffed and pinned to the street by a white police officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck until and after he stopped breathing. Since then, Saunders and guard Josh Okogie have been particularly outspoken on the issue of racial justice, and they joined on Friday a group spearheaded by Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph to distribute essential goods to community members in need in front of a grocery store that was vandalized, looted and burned last week during the worst of the violence.

All this came after the organization was mourning the loss Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, the mother of Towns who died of complications from COVID-19 on April 13.

WHEELING AND DEALING: Rosas proved in his first year on the job that he could swiftly and thoroughly change the roster, making four trades in the span of less than a month that fetched nine new players and dealt nine others elsewhere, not to mention the draft picks that swapped hands. That was more than half of the roster. The linchpin of the early February activity was D'Angelo Russell, who was acquired in a deal with Golden State that sent former cornerstone Andrew Wiggins packing.

BETTER WITH BEASLEY?: The pairing of Towns and Russell gave Rosas the potential star duo he sought. Shooting guard Malik Beasley was another key acquisition during the flurry of activity, should the Timberwolves decide to keep him. The 23-year-old averaged 20.7 points in 14 games.

“We’re big fans of Malik. We tried hard. We paid a very, very strong premium to get him here in Minnesota, but we’re excited,” Rosas said.

WHAT’S NEXT: There are six players on the roster whose contracts are set to expire, with Beasley, power forward Juancho Hernangomez and power forward James Johnson the most notable.

Johnson, who at 33 is the oldest on the team, had a productive 14-game stretch after arriving from Miami during the trading spree. He has a player option he can exercise for about $16 million next season. Hernangomez, who is only 24, will be an unrestricted free agent. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound native of Spain averaged 12.9 points in 14 games with the Wolves, after coming with Beasley in the deal with Denver.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.