Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson lays out framework for Kings to stay put

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With reports swirling that the Kings’ move to Seattle is a mere formality at this point, the story on the ground in Sacramento is much, much different.

In the end, this story comes down to three things:

1. Can Seattle’s Chris Hansen close a deal with the Maloofs to buy the Kings? (According to reports, it was first and goal at the one-yard line about a week ago)
2. Can Kevin Johnson secure the opportunity to meet or beat that offer?
3. What will the NBA’s Board of Governors decide to do?

As we reported in September, in order for Seattle to be able to beat Sacramento’s offer financially they would have to drastically overpay for the team. This is because Sacramento owners do not have to worry about the Maloofs’ loan to the city, relocation fees, or moving costs.

The offer in Seattle has been reported to be $525 million based on the overall valuation of the franchise, so Sacramento can pay $425-$450 million based on the overall valuation of the franchise and still end up providing more money to the Maloofs than Seattle can.

With sources speaking to PBT on the condition of anonymity saying Sacramento has multiple buyers that meet both the city and NBA’s criteria for owning a franchise, the pertinent question has been whether or not David Stern and the other owners would allow Sacramento to present their offer.

We got that confirmation today at the State of Downtown Sacramento Breakfast when mayor Johnson announced that Stern had indeed approved Sacramento’s request to speak at the Board of Governors meeting in April.

This is an extremely significant development in this story. First, it displays the trust that has grown between Stern and Johnson, as well as between Stern and the city of Sacramento, who has met every deliverable that has been asked of them in the Maloof debacle.

Second, it shows that Stern and the other owners are willing to let this relocation issue play out at a more visible level. If they had no intention of giving Sacramento a chance, then it would be a curious decision to give the critical voices blasting the NBA for its relocation practices the oxygen to continue bashing them.

Indeed, the city of Sacramento has presented a “model offer of public funds” according to one league source, and for a complete rundown of what a decision to move the team from Sacramento would look like, you can check out previous write-ups about the NBA’s billion dollar subsidy industry and how that plays into the league’s decision-making here.

In short, the league has leveraged cities into providing $3 billion of public money since 1990 for the creation of state-of-the-art arenas – all predicated on the assumption that a long-term partnership would be honored so long as both parties are acting in reasonable good faith.

If Sacramento has done everything it can to keep their team, a fact that is not in dispute, then leaving them at the altar because the Maloof family ran their own finances into the ground is going to be a major problem the next time they go to ask a city for money.

Most importantly, with sources close to the situation confident that they will have an actionable offer that will reasonably meet or beat the amount of money that Hansen can put into the Maloofs’ pockets — assuming he and partner/Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer don’t turn into the drunk guys at an auction — then Stern and the other owners are going to have to make an unprecedented decision to move the team out of Sacramento.

Not only would a Sacramento offer likely break the NBA record purchase price of a franchise, and include an actionable plan to build a brand new arena with a league vetted public-private partnership, but a decision to move the team would mark the first time a mid-market city had been poached for a larger market when the original city had everything the league could ever ask for in place at the time of the move.

Looking at the Maloof side of the equation, they are both driving this discussion but are also operating at an extremely weakened position in this debacle. Owing as much as $200 million by various reports and facing a financial crisis of their own (they just made a cash call to minority investors according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge), it would be a shocking move if they did not sell the team at this stage of the game.

Furthermore, both the family and the NBA could be in for a messy breakup should Sacramento not be given a fair chance to buy the team.

Any lawsuit filed by the city to stall the deal for what legal sources say could be any number of criteria relating to the improper moving of the franchise, including but not limited to union workers’ rights and the lack of a local bidding process, would necessarily put the Maloofs into a lame duck season in Sacramento.

When considering the Maloofs’ messy financial situation and considering the league’s likely desire not to get into a protracted battle over the Kings, all signs point to Sacramento getting a chance to present their offer with everybody at the table willing to vote their way should the deal points pan out as Sacramento sources say they will.

For all of the talk about the Maloofs not wanting to sell to a Sacramento buyer, and confirming Sam Amick’s must-read report about the situation, the talk of Ron Burkle appears to be overstated at this point.

There are sources in Sacramento that believe he could still be a party to these talks, but that the KJ camp is not relying on any one white knight at this time. It has been reported here and elsewhere that the Maloofs don’t want to sell to him because of their dislike for the billionaire, who they believe ruined their chances to move to Anaheim in March of 2011.

The reality here is that they are going to have to fall in line with what the NBA’s BOG decides or face the prospect of a lame duck season going heads up against both the NBA and Sacramento, and in their financial situation that is a non-starter according to most sources with knowledge of the situation.

These sources aren’t going to predict what the Maloofs will try to do, but most believe that the family will take a financially favorable offer in Sacramento and also that if the league decides to back Sacramento in a relatively close deal that they family will back down and take the offer.

With the decision to have Kevin Johnson out to the BOG meetings already made, the focus of this story shifts to the work at hand for Sacramento. They have to get their ownership group finalized and ready for presentation.

Those following the situation should not be surprised if a deal is announced in Seattle, but like the San Francisco Giants’ eventually blocked sale to Tampa Bay in August of 1992 this will be decided by the owners once Johnson’s deal is finalized should Hansen come to an agreement with the Maloofs.

And for those handicapping the action, Kevin Johnson is not going to make that presentation without having owners in place that meet the shared criteria of both his camp and the NBA office. He will come boasting a ravenous No. 20 television marketplace with some advantages and disadvantages compared to Seattle, but nobody will deny Sacramento’s appetite for NBA basketball.

In 24 hours since announcing their grassroots effort, Here We Buy has received pledges totaling nearly $10 million from local individuals and businesses toward season tickets under the new ownership group.

Johnson will come armed with the ability to force the Maloofs into a lame duck season if he has to, but mostly he will arrive at that meeting with yet another stirring example of his city stepping up with all odds against it.

The images of the Sign Lady, Carmichael Dave on a ladder telling crying Kings fans that ‘this is not over by a long shot,’ and the 600-1000 arena workers that are going to lose their jobs are not going to be lost on the proceedings, and for the owners without tear ducts in their eyes they will look at the financial risk of a decision against Sacramento side by side to the incremental benefit of a very qualified Seattle offer.

That decision to rip out Sacramento’s heart is all risk and marginal gain, assuming Kevin Johnson has one more career-defining slam dunk left in him.

And since he hasn’t missed a shot yet, it seems silly to bet that he’s going to fall apart in the fourth quarter.

Report: Spurs pissed about Marcus Morris reneging to sign with Knicks

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Marcus Morris backed out of a two-year, $20 million agreement with the Spurs to sign a one-year, $15 million deal with the Knicks. (Don’t blame Rich Paul.)

Occasionally, teams allow committed players to look elsewhere. But that apparently wasn’t the case here.

Frank Isola of The Athletic:

the Spurs didn’t like it.

“They’re pissed” is how one general manager described it.

Pissed at Morris? Pissed at the Knicks? Pissed at both?

I don’t blame the Spurs for being upset. They traded Davis Bertans in anticipation of signing Morris and watched other quality free agents go off the board. San Antonio settled for Trey Lyles.

At some point, Morris should explain himself. It’s a major breach of decorum to renege on an oral agreement in free agency. Why did he feel strongly enough about ditching the Spurs for New York to go back on his word?

The Knicks should also explain themselves. They got extra cap space when Reggie Bullock‘s spine injury shuttered his original deal. But poaching an already-committed player at least raises eyebrows.

Unfortunately for San Antonio, there’s nowhere productive to direct this anger. Shortening or eliminating the moratorium would help in some similar situations. But Morris agreed to terms then backed out all after the moratorium.

The Spurs just have to eat this one.

Report: Lakers feel they got played in Kawhi Leonard pursuit

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The Raptors reportedly felt Kawhi Leonard‘s advisor and uncle, Dennis Robertson, made unreasonable requests of them before Leonard signed with the Clippers.

The Lakers, the other team that waited for and missed out on Leonard, also apparently has misgivings about the process.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

I’ve heard complaints in the days after the signing. I heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played. I heard complaints from the Raptors that Kawhi came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars then left them at the altar.

The implication: Leonard knew all along wasn’t signing with the Lakers, waited a week into free agency so other top free agents would commit elsewhere then announced his decision just to sabotage the Lakers.

I don’t think Leonard did that. That’d be so calculating and sinister.

But I don’t know. We really don’t have much insight into how the famously secretive Leonard operates. I can’t rule it out.

Also, if Leonard did execute a devious plan to spite the Lakers, it’d look a lot like his actual free agency went.

Of course, nobody forced the Lakers to wait a week for Leonard. There had been longstanding reports Leonard didn’t want to play with LeBron James. The Lakers could have followed the Knicks model of dropping the Leonard pursuit to sign other players.

This is the calculus small-market teams must do frequently. They often bow out of star races, lacking confidence about succeeding.

The Lakers (often incorrectly) believe they can get anyone.

In this case, they were correct to chase Leonard until the end. He’s that big of a prize. Leonard is arguably the NBA’s best player. He can transform any franchise. The Lakers could also offer Leonard his desired Southern California locale and an opportunity to inform an incredible top trio with LeBron and Anthony Davis. For better or worse, that differentiated the Lakers from the Clippers.

The plan just didn’t work. Getting to the Clippers was clearly Leonard’s priority. He convinced George to join him, even moving a meeting with the Lakers so he could meet nearby with George unseen. That probably adds to the Lakers’ suspicion.

I don’t mind the Lakers venting. It must have been frustrating to miss out on Leonard.

Most importantly, they took care of business in the aftermath. The Lakers signed some good role players, chiefly Danny Green.

Their roster would likely look better now if they never pursued Leonard. But that opportunity cost was absolutely worth the potential upside of landing Leonard.

Report: Celtics complained about 76ers tampering with Al Horford

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Kyrie Irving was thinking about leaving the Celtics in December, according to Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Rumors of Irving leaving Boston had gotten so intense by February, he practically admitted he was open to leaving. Even Celtics president Danny Ainge said he got the impression by March or April that Irving could leave. By early June, it was apparent Irving wouldn’t re-sign. By mid June, it was clear he’d sign with Brooklyn. Irving announced July 1, the second day of free agency, he chose the Nets.

Al Horford‘s exit from Boston came more suddenly.

He declined a $30,123,015 player option that had to be exercised by June 18. The Celtics were on board with that, hoping to re-sign him to a long-term deal, presumably with a cheaper starting salary but more overall compensation. But the same day, a report emerged he’d leave Boston. Horford reportedly believed a four-year, $100 million contract awaited him in free agency. On the first day of free agency, he agreed to a four-year deal with the 76ers that guarantees $97 million and could be worth $109 million.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Celtics were, from what I am told, one of the teams that kind of stomped their feet about what they felt was tampering. Not with Kyrie, although that looked like it was lined up pretty far in advance. But with Horford. What happened with Horford – again, from what I am told – really upset the Celtics, that they were thinking they were going to be able to negotiate with him, talk to him about a new contract, and all of a sudden, it was like he already knew what his market was and was out of there.

The Celtics are hypocrites.

By June 26, Boston had become clear favorite to sign Kemba Walker. By June 29, he had reportedly told the Hornets he’d sign with the Celtics.

Again, free agency began June 30.

How does that happen without Boston tampering?

This is the game. Teams are generally clear to talk to players after the season, even though that’s technically against the rules. The Celtics cut the same corners as nearly everyone else. It’s ludicrous for Boston to complain about Horford’s departure, as if Walker didn’t arrive the same way.

The NBA hasn’t announced any fine for Philadelphia. But the league doesn’t announce all tampering violations.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is correct: This system is broken. The league’s tampering rules are vague and arbitrarily enforced. The NBA should set realistic rules then enforce them fully.

Rumor: Marcus Morris left agent Rich Paul over backing out of Spurs deal to join Knicks

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Thes are the facts on the ground: Powerful agent Rich Paul negotiated a two-year, $20 million contract for Marcus Morris with the Spurs, and he verbally agreed to it. The Spurs made a series of moves to clear out the cap space to honor that agreement. However, by the time the moratorium ended and players could sign deals, Morris had started to move on and soon reached a new, one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks. A few days later, Morris and Paul parted ways.

Now the rumors are starting to come in around how that went down.

The buzz at Summer League was Morris was disappointed with the market for his services, which he thought would be more robust. He took the Spurs offer that Paul set up, but when the Knicks came with $5 million more per year on a one-year deal — which makes Morris a free agent again in a much weaker class next summer — he wanted it. Paul, however, was not part of those talks and urged him to stick with the original Spurs deal, according to Marc Berman of New York Post.

Morris’ super-agent, Rich Paul, was not involved directly in Morris breaking his verbal agreement with the Spurs, according to a source, and the Knicks and Morris worked on a new deal together. The source reports Paul preferred Morris stick to his original agreement and the two are headed toward a breakup over the incident.

Morris’ move did not sit well with teams executives I spoke to at Summer League. Not because he backed out of a deal, that does happen (it’s not common, but it’s not unheard of), but because in this case the Spurs moved on from Davis Bertans and made roster moves to clear the cap space for Morris they would not otherwise have made.

Morris has made a bet on himself that there is a bigger, better contract for him next summer after he puts up numbers in New York (plus he gets $5 million more this season). We’ll see how that plays out.