Anyone who wondered how anxious the mood was in Sacramento these days need only be paying attention last Thursday night. During the Kings' game against the Thunder, TNT's only telecast in Sacramento, the announcers all but declared that the city's beloved team was leaving. And sure enough, the fallout ensued.
It was news the locals never wanted to hear -- even if they knew it wasn't true.
With just two weeks before the city's March 1 deadline to have a viable arena plan in place or risk losing the team to relocation, the confusion started when Sacramento Mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson did a courtside interview with Cheryl Miller. Johnson, who has aptly run the political point for his hometown after the Kings looked headed for Anaheim last season, attempted to explain how the city council's recent rejection of a ballot measure that would have required public approval for the use of revenue from proposed parking bids was actually a good thing for his cause (a "yes" vote would have pushed the process past the deadline while, as Johnson and arena backers saw it, unnecessarily involving the public).
Instead, the message had somehow been sent (
A day later,
But here's the likely good news for the Kings fans who were incensed by it all: Chances are -- and this is just educated opinion here -- the team will stay and this will all be remembered as the silliest of subplots someday. While Johnson is still working to finalize a financing plan that needs to be worth about $387 million for a new building, and despite all the white noise created by Seattle and its well-publicized attempt to swoop in and steal the Kings like their Sonics were taken from them in 2008, the overwhelming optimism among those heading the Sacramento effort is making it hard to envision this not getting done.
Johnson, who famously lobbied for the team to stay last season rather than go to Anaheim, as the owners had hoped, told SI.com that there are still obstacles ahead. A unanimous city council vote on Tuesday to move forward with the plan of leasing parking garages, spaces and enforcement to raise an estimated $200 million for the arena was the latest hurdle cleared. But there is another to cross on Feb. 28 when the council is expected to vote on a finalized "term sheet" that details the financing.
In short, the arena is expected to be funded by a combination of the parking money and contributions from arena operator AEG, as well as the Kings' owners, the Maloof family, and perhaps the NBA. The question of whether the Maloofs -- who sold their lucrative beer distributorship and lost controlling interest in their Las Vegas casino in recent years -- are willing or able to close the financial gap at the end remains. And while that factor alone means nothing is for certain, there is an internal confidence that creative financing can be utilized.
"I would say I'm cautiously optimistic," Johnson said as he sat courtside at Saturday's game against the Suns. "I think we have our destiny in our own hands. We have an excellent opportunity in the next three to four weeks to put ourselves in a position that we basically have figured out a financing plan. And if we're able to do that, Sacramento will be the final resting place for the Sacramento Kings."
"We'll either have an extensive phone conversation or sit down before the All-Star Game," Johnson said. "And I think the critical things [of their meeting] are [telling Stern], 'What are we trying to accomplish in Sacramento by Feb. 28?'
"We want to have a term sheet, a financing plan, everything in place where we deliver our side of the equation going into the 28th. And then secondly, we want to do our part to make sure that the March 1 deadline is something that we stick to on our end. Those are the two big objectives."
The J.R. Smith watch will heat up later this week, as the free-agent shooting guard is due to return from China and will pick his next destination soon thereafter.
The Clippers and Knicks are known to be two possible landing spots for the 26-year-old scorer. Sources close to Smith also said that Minnesota is in the running. The Timberwolves can offer the mini-midlevel, worth $2.5 million, while the Knicks can offer a prorated portion of their mini-midlevel and the Clippers the veteran's minimum. A source with knowledge of Minnesota's thinking, however, said Smith is not in the team's plans.
Smith has extensive ties with the Clippers (former Denver teammates Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups, friend and fellow CAA client Chris Paul) and the Knicks (former Nuggets teammate Carmelo Anthony and former Denver executive/backer Mark Warkentien, who is now part of the Knicks' front office). Considering Smith is known to have been analyzing his potential role with both teams, Billups' season-ending Achilles injury suffered on Feb. 6 would appear to increase the odds of a move to Los Angeles.
Smith has been teasing about his potential destination on Twitter. The location on his official account reads "NYK? LAL? LAC? CHI? ORL? iNDI?" And Smith tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he "just had a great talk with Coach Brown!" but didn't specifically mention the Lakers, who are coached by Mike Brown. It's no secret that the Lakers need help in the backcourt.
Whether it's Steve Nash recently becoming just the fourth player age 38 or older to make an All-Star team, or 39-year-old Grant Hill shutting down players two decades younger than him, everyone knows of the Suns' knack for revitalizing the careers of veterans. Now, after 11 years in Milwaukee (his last three spent suffering through ACL and MCL injuries), Michael Redd is the latest project for Phoenix's trainers.
The 32-year-old, pegged by many for early retirement, is producing in the NBA again after signing with the Suns on Dec. 29. After a slow start in which he was hardly used in his first 20 games, Redd -- an All-Star in 2004 who averaged at least 21.2 points from 2003-09 -- has become a regular part of coach Alvin Gentry's rotation in the last six games.
He had his finest moment yet in his reunion game in Milwaukee, where he scored 14 points on 7-of-14 shooting in a 107-105 win. In all, Redd is averaging 6.9 points and 13.7 minutes -- and loving every minute of it.
"I missed it," Redd said recently. "I love spending time with my family, too, but at the same time this is my love, just being back here and playing and playing at high level after having two of these [ligament tears in my knees]. I'm grateful, man. It's a great fit."
If for no other reason than the walking inspirations that surround him.
"It's hope," he said. "I look at Grant and what he's been through with the injuries, and I look at Steve and I'm saying, 'I'm young.' To watch him run around at 38 and continue to play at a high level, and I'm 32 and I'm continuing to get my body back where it needs to be -- I'm encouraged."
Speaking of small-market relocations, Brandon Jennings warned Bucks fans that they shouldn't count on him signing an extension when he's eligible to do so this summer.
The third-year point guard told ESPN.com that he was "doing my homework on big-market teams" as he plotted his future, although he clarified that it didn't mean he had completely ruled out signing an extension. Still, it was the sort of public relations blunder that was completely unnecessary considering the timing. Jennings, the 10th pick in the 2009 draft, won't be a free agent until after next season and the fact that he's studying up on the big cities is sure to rub some locals wrong.
While Redd was not aware of Jennings' comments when asked recently, he said their situations were simply too different to compare.
"I enjoyed my time there, and I think my perspective is a little different because I came in as a late second-round pick and was just grateful to get drafted," Redd said. "They stuck with me, so when it was time for me to be a free agent I was like, 'I'm sticking with the team that stuck with me.' That was my perspective.
"I don't know his perspective and how he feels right now. I know I talked to him last year before I left there and kind of passed the torch to him and shared some things with him that I went through."
Redd remains close with Jennings and said he planned to reach out to him soon.
"I think he just has to continue to be professional," Redd said. "I'll text him once in a while, and would probably tell him, 'Continue to lead, lead by example.' When you're going through tough times, one of the hardest things to do is to keep your head and stay professional, so he's got to continue to do that."
While the Bucks are just 12-16 and have lost five of their last seven games, Jennings is doing his part on the floor. He leads the Bucks in scoring with a career-high 18.4 points and is on pace to set a personal best in shooting (41.5 percent).
If Jeremy Lin's offseason work ever winds up paying off, there could be another layer to "Linsanity": The Knicks' point guard might become an outside threat, too.
Lin, who has done much of his damage attacking the rim during New York's five-game winning streak but has hit just 3-of-17 three-pointers, spent much of his time during the lockout focusing on his long-range shooting at his old high school in Palo Alto, Calif. He was on Golden State's roster at the time, though he would later by cut by the Warriors and Houston before landing in New York.
And while Warriors owner Joe Lacob wasn't permitted to watch his player in action during the lockout, he heard that Lin was working hard to improve his most glaring weakness.
"I knew exactly what was going on [with Lin's training], and I told our coaching staff that this kid has worked on this incredibly hard," said Lacob, who considers Lin a family friend because his son and Warriors director of basketball operations, Kirk, grew up playing against him in the Bay Area. "He was working out every single day taking hundreds and hundreds of three-pointers, with his old high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock. He was working hard."
The Warriors would ultimately cut Lin in order to make a run at center DeAndre Jordan. The next stage of his story will involve Knicks stars Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom have been out for most of his time in the spotlight.
Stoudemire missed the last four games after his brother died in a car accident, but he's expected to play Tuesday in Toronto. Anthony (strained right groin) is expected to return later this week.