Kings need wins, fans' support to ensure future

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Kings need wins, fans' support to ensure future

When previewing the Sacramento Kings, we must first understand that they have a unique situation unlike any of the other NBA teams positioning themselves for position, be it playoff or draft.

In the Kings, their off-court drama is soooo much more interesting than their action between the baselines would seem to be. In looking to the '12-'13 campaign, the first question on anyones mind is simply this: will there be a '13-'14 campaign in Sacramento, or will it be Seattle, Virginia Beach, LouisvilleKansas CityAbileneJuneauBuenos AiresBedrock...

All signs point to the Maloof family wanting to keep ownership of the team. Ever since they sold the Houston Rockets in the wake of their fathers death, they did everything they could to get back into the NBA. Their Palms casino stakes have been whittled down to 2, and they sold off their cash cow beer distributorship. We now see new ventures, such as OMG phone cases and ZING vodka. Cant blame them for wanting to get back in the game, albeit with one or two questionable swings.

Yet with the Kings, the Maloofs are already in the game. Owning a professional sports franchise opens quite a few doors, and we arent just talking marketing. There is a certain standing that comes with rubbing elbows with the Busses and Cubans and Dolans and Jay-Zses, and the Maloofs would have to basically be offered the Hawaiian Islands to sell.

Dont think the fact that Larry Ellison just bought a Hawaiian Island didnt help me write that previous sentence. Yes, Uncle Larry is now in the fray. Lets get to that later.

The Kings are the only team -- of 30 in existence -- that are even remotely vulnerable. The vultures are circling.

Currently, of all the relocation possibilities, Seattle looms largest of all. The Emerald City, which was robbed years ago of its franchise and tradition. They have been forced to watch the bastardization of their beloved SonicsThunder get ever-so-close to a world title. There is no lack of motivation there.

Led by hedge-fund guru Chris Hansen, backed by money from Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) and the Nordstrom brothers, this is also not a crew that lacks resources.

Long have Sacramento types clung to the idea that their white knight comes in the form of grocery magnate Ron Burkle, who has a history of saving damsel franchises in distress (the Pittsburgh Penguins), and keeping them put in their small market homes. However, with the exception of Mayor Kevin Johnson dangling his name in front of NBA Commissioner David Stern during the make-or-break meetings in New York two years ago, no one has heard hide nor hair from Burkle or any of his lieutenants.

Although he may still have a part to play, the idea that Burkle would make the (perhaps) faulty business decision of overpaying for the Kings, as the other bidders are willing to do, would seem to be a faulty conclusion.

Reports continue to circle that the SeattleHansen group offered the Maloofs upwards of 400-425 million dollars for the Kings (a report Hansens people deny) and were turned down. Kings spokesman Troy Hanson, when asked about the existence of an offer, said, Our focus is solely on this team and the excitement for the upcoming NBA season. We are not going to comment on rumors involving relocation.

Not exactly a categorical denial, but to be fair, that statement has been consistent with just about every relocation question the media has posted to the Kings.

Consider that this is a franchise that valuates somewhere in the 300-325 million range, and we begin to realize that there will more than likely need to be a godfather type offer to budge the Maloof family off the throne.

Also keep in mind that Forbes-type valuations of teams on paper are one thing, but the Kings owners may be looking towards actual sale prices of teams like the Dodgers, Jaguars, and even the lowly Cleveland Browns that spell -illions with a B.

It is well understood that if the Hansens, Ballmers, Nordstroms, and Ellisons of the world do in fact overpay for the Sacramento team, it is ONLY to be conquering heroes in their own cities.

Hansen especially, being a Seattle native, is obsessed with erasing the wrongs done to his hometown. Ellison has long wanted to put a team down the road in San Jose, and also has endless funds to do it.

So that brings us to one logical conclusion, and one conclusion only. A conclusion that will certainly have many Kings fans shaking their heads and reaching for an Advil.

The Maloof family, once revered and now absent from many a Christmas card list in the Capital City, the clan that walked out on two ballot measures years ago meant to build a new facility, the group that refused to sign a term sheet jointly drafted by the city and NBA to build new digs, the people that have touched off more passion in the city of Sacramento than a midnight group reading of 50 Shades of Grey...

The Maloof family is the best chance at keeping the Kings in Sacramento.

It's quite simple. As stated above, any other potential suitors are buying the team solely to move it. Ron Burkle seems to have left the building, and even if he is still in the game, one would assume he is not leading with his heart. He will not likely grossly overpay for a franchise simply to keep it in a town he has no real ties to. He didnt become rich by being stupid.

And quite frankly, Sacramento isnt filled with billionaires. There are ZERO Fortune 500 companies there, no old (or even new) school wealth. The thought that Sacramento bidders can compete with giants like the Microsofts and Nordstroms is foolish.

Is the conclusion that the city and the Maloofs somehow kiss and make up?

Yes.

How?

No clue.

So much vitriol has been spit, the fact that both sides took a summer break is nothing but good. Contrary to many reports, there is not a ton of animosity between the two sides. There were never screaming matches in negotiation halls, in fact both sides have been highly cordial. Also contrary to many reports, there actually HAS been communication between the two sides over the last few months. They are simply at an impasse.

For the Sacramento fan, they may end up having to rely on the two ownership faces they are used to most, brothers Joe and Gavin. Ever since other brother from the same mother George stepped in, the other two have been mostly silent, and semi-reclusive in Sacramento. With the season about to get under way, that should change. Both Joe and Gavin are historically emotional, and deeply tied to the wonloss record of their team. More Cuban-esque than George, who is the business mind of the group.

Should the team start off on the right foot, it may in fact make a difference. The recent multi-year signing of Sleep Train to take over naming rights for their home building (from now bankrupt Power Balance) is also a good sign, although there is an out-clause.
RELATED: Kings to play in newly-minted Sleep Train Arena

If the Kings begin to turn a few heads locally, put together a few unexpected wins, and allow the city to experience some of the excitement they felt in the early part of this millennium, dont think it wont get back to Joe and Gavin. These guys are notoriously sensitive to the pulse of their reputation in Sacramento, and would love nothing more than to go out in public again without fear of dirty looks and pleading fans.

Its eerily similar to the plot of the baseball classic Major League. In that instance, a showgirl inherits the lowly Cleveland Indians, and tries to tank the team to exercise an out in their lease allowing them to relocate (to sunny Miami). In the classic Hollywood ending, the group of reject baseball players show unexpected ability, and the city rallies around them, selling out games, and making it impossible to relocate.

Sure its a stretch, but it could be possible that this group of Las Vegas-based owners, surprised by a city rallying around their business, could get the kick in the pants necessary to come back to the drawing board with the Mayor?

No one wants to be around people that dont like them, and whether youre a Maloof fan or not, we can all agree they arent winning many popularity contests in the state capital.

But wins heal wounds, and there are some big scars that need repair. Unless Kings ownership gets an unheard of deal, combining money AND the ability to retain control of the team, the Maloofs understand that going elsewhere is a financial catastrophe on their own.

Consider their ownership stake stands at anywhere from 51-60 percent. If you take the high end, and go by Forbes most recent (Jan 2012) valuation at 300 million, youre looking at 180 million in the Maloof war chest.

The SonicsThunder paid 30 million in 2008 to the NBA to move to Oklahoma City, and that figure would certainly go up based on the market size being relocated to, plus NBA inflation.

The Kings also owe the City of Sacramento around 77 million stemming from a loan previous owner Jim Thomas took out years ago.

The Maloofs also owe the NBA an unknown amount of money received through loans from the Association, and it is yet unclear as to what, if any, amount the NBA would require to be repaid should a move be consummated.

When you add the numbers together, plus the actual hard costs of moving (vans, supplies, etc.) the math is a tough road to hoe.

If they hold fast and refuse to sell, they put themselves in a potential no-win situation, checkmated between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.

Its a rock and a hard place, if NBA ownership can be considered as such. So much off-court drama has been present as of late in Sacramento, it may be the best thing for Kings fans to have some of that same drama spill out onto the paint of Sleep Train Arena. In the meantime, the fan base will take its recent and customary position of children caught in divorce, simply waiting to see what decision the parents will make.

Should be a mighty interesting season.

Isaiah Thomas continues to show Kings he's the one that got away

Isaiah Thomas continues to show Kings he's the one that got away

The one that got away. 
 
There have been plenty of faces that have come and gone over the last decade of futility in Sacramento. But rarely has there been a player that has gone on to become something more than just a standard role player in the NBA. 
 
Isaiah Thomas is the exception.
 
Selected with the 60th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas went from zero to hero in the strike shortened 2011-12 season with Sacramento. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
 
In three seasons with the Kings, the generously listed 5-foot-9 Thomas became known as “The Pizza Guy” in Sacramento due to his commercials for a local pizza restaurant and his ability to deliver in the clutch. With a million-dollar smile and the presence of a man a foot taller, Thomas became the Kings’ most marketable player. 
 
By his third season, he was much more than just a novelty item. Despite his size limitations, Thomas posted 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game in his final season with the Kings, forming a nice trio with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay under head coach Michael Malone.
 
During the summer of 2014, the Kings, under general manager Pete D’Alessandro, decided to go in a different direction. Sacramento’s regime valued Thomas around the $5 million per season range, although they may not have even gone that high to retain the high-scoring point guard. 
 
When the Phoenix Suns came calling with a 3-year, $21 million deal offer for Thomas, D’Alessandro dealt the fan favorite for Alex Oriakhi (a second round pick that has never played a game of NBA action) and a trade exception. 
 
The Kings went a different direction and basically received nothing for one of their best assets. 
 
Rumors swirled afterwards about Thomas’ departure of discourse was between he and Cousins, but neither has ever substantiated the claims. In fact, both have denied that there was a rift.
 
“That’s all this league is, what people think they know - 99 percent of the time, they don’t know,” Cousins said. “That’s my guy. I’m extremely happy for him. I’m happy for all of the success he’s gotten so far.”
 
To take it a step further, Thomas has even lobbied to have the Kings star center join him with the Celtics.
 
“If he came to Boston, that would be good, really good,” Thomas told the Sporting News over the summer. “The thing is, I’ve got his respect. I’ve always had that."
 
“When I was with him, I didn’t back down,” Thomas added in his conversation with the Sporting News. “I’m a point guard and that was my job. No matter if we did or didn’t get along off the court, on that court we were going to get along, and I was going to hold him accountable. That’s just how it is. It’s how I’ve always been. And he respects me for doing that.”
 
Instead of paying slightly more for Thomas in 2014, Sacramento signed Darren Collison to a 3-year, $15 million deal that summer. The Suns already had two point guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe and after 46 games, they dealt Thomas to the Celtics in a 3-team deal for Marcus Thornton and a future first round pick.
 
Through multiple conversations with management at the time, it was clear that Sacramento’s front office didn’t value Thomas as a starting point guard and they also didn’t believe that he would willingly accept a role as a six-man. 
 
Their valuation of Thomas was wrong. 
 
Fresh off his first All-Star game appearance and back-to-back playoff runs with the Boston Celtics, Thomas has taken his game to even greater heights this season under coach Brad Stevens. 
 
Thomas came into Friday night’s showdown with his former team averaging 26.1 points and 6.3 assists. He ranks ninth in the league in scoring and has the Celtics in the mix for a third straight playoff run. 
 
Sacramento made his life difficult, but the pint-sized point guard still managed to post 20 points and seven assists in the win over the Kings.
 
Thomas, 27, is a free agent at the end of the year and looking to cash in off his stellar numbers. Not only does he bring an ability to hit the big shot, but he’s a leader that has proven that he can take a team to the playoffs. 
 
The move to let Thomas slip through the Kings’ fingers goes down as one of the all-time gaffs in team history. Watching him thrive in Boston is a painful reminder to fans in Sacramento and the fact that the Kings got nothing in return makes it that much worse.  

Instant Replay: Kings battle in Boston, but come up short vs Celtics

Instant Replay: Kings battle in Boston, but come up short vs Celtics

BOX SCORE

Sacramento fell to 1-2 on their six-game road trip and 7-12 overall Friday night when they lost to the Boston Celtics by a final of 97-92 at TD Garden. 

Al Horford showed a new wrinkle to his game, stepping out and hitting 4-of-7 from long range. The veteran big finished the night with 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks for the Celtics as they improved to 11-8 on the season.

Former Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas started off slowly, but still managed to drop in 20 points and hand out seven assists. 

Jae Crowder added 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and Avery Bradley hit the Kings for 15 points and nine rebounds.

DeMarcus Cousins came into the contest with four straight games of 30 points or more, tying Kings greats Chris Webber and Mitch Richmond for the Sacramento-era record. The Kings All-Star center fell just short of setting a new high, finishing the night with 28 points and nine rebounds in the loss.  

Darren Collison quietly posted a solid night, dropping in 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting and Rudy Gay squeaked out a tough 13 points and eight rebounds, but the second unit was the real story of this game for Sacramento.

Matt Barnes came off the bench to stuff the stat sheet. The 36-year-old veteran scored 12 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, handed out five assists and swiped two steals in 31 minutes of action with the second unit. He was active from the moment he stepped on the court.

Barnes wasn’t the only one off the bench to make a huge impact. Willie Cauley-Stein ran the floor and his teammates found him for easy baskets at the rim. He finished with six points on 3-of-5 shooting. Omri Casspi ran the floor and launched from three on his way to seven points and five rebounds.

Ty Lawson handed out four assists and scored eight points, while Garrett Temple played stellar defense as the Kings bench outscored the Celtics bench 33-12. 

STANDOUT PERFORMER 

Horford burned the Kings early and he burned them late. He ran the floor, blocked shots and played tough defense all night.

TURNING POINT 

With 7:08 remaining, Cousins caught an elbow near the right eye and had to leave the game to get treatment. He returned a little over two minutes later, but the Celtics had already pushed the lead to eight. Sacramento drew to within three late, but didn’t get a foul call on a blocked 3-point attempt from Cousins inside of 10 seconds to play. 

INJURY UPDATE 

Cousins likely needed stitches, but the Kings’ training staff used temporary glue to close the wound and taped him up which allowed him to return to the floor.

WHAT'S NEXT  

Sacramento continues their shortened five-game road trip when they take on the New York Knicks on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. They have a two-day break before facing the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday at the American Airlines Center.