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Kings staring down 'clear path' to move from Sacramento

Kings staring down 'clear path' to move from Sacramento to Seattle


POSTED: Jan 14, 2013 10:20 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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The writing seems to be on the wall for the Kings' departure from Sacramento.

There is no joy in writing this.

There is never any joy in writing about a team that's about to break a city's heart by leaving. It was awful to watch Clay Bennett play the people of Seattle when he clearly was going to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.

But the truth is the truth, and unless there's some kind of amazing change of heart or desire, the Kings are leaving Sacramento for Seattle. It's just a matter of when the announcement comes.

The weekend was filled with hopeful stories in the Sacramento Bee about groups that were lining up to make potential bids to the Maloof family to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento. Those groups may well exist. And they may have the money. It doesn't matter.

The Maloofs own the team, and they aren't interested in selling to anyone interested in keeping the team in Sacramento.

Not Ron Burkle, the billionaire founder of the Yucaipa Companies, who tried to buy the team from the Maloofs two years ago. Not Mark Mastrov, the founder of the 24-Hour Fitness chain, who tried to buy the Warriors in 2010 and said this weekend he'd be up for buying the Kings and keeping them in Sacramento. The Maloofs have already implemented plans for a cash call to their minority investors to try and raise capital to pay some of their debts, but that's not going to change their overall intent.

"They've got a clean path" to Seattle, one industry source said last week.

David Aldridge on Kings

Because Chris Hansen, the venture capital magnate who is seeking to buy the Kings and move them north, is close to Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen and the ownership group of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, it's been believed in Seattle that Hansen wanted to wait until the Seahawks' season ended before going forward with making his pursuit of the Kings public, so as to not upstage the football team. With the Seahawks' last-second loss Sunday in Atlanta, the time may have come.

The following observations come from speaking with several people on all sides of the sale, both in Seattle and in Sacramento, and industry sources with knowledge of the discussions between Hansen and the Maloof family.

A source with knowledge of the talks said the sale price to Hansen is somewhere between the $500 million Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week and the $525 million that CSN Bay Area reporter Matt Steinmetz reported Friday. The final price will likely depend on whether Hansen allows the Maloofs to maintain some sort of presence in the new ownership group; if he did, the price would be closer to the $500 million. If not, it would rise closer to the $525 million. In either case, while the Maloofs remain hopeful that they can have some kind of presence, they are resigned to the fact that Hansen wants them out.

"It's a dealbreaker," another source said Sunday.

The family finally concluded about a month ago that it was time to sell the Kings, the source with direct knowledge said. It was a wrenching decision. The Maloofs have said for years that the family's lowest point came after the death of the family patriarch and then-owner of the Houston Rockets, George Maloof, Sr., in 1982, when the family decided to sell the team to keep its other businesses intact. But the debts the family has incurred during the recession, which forced them to sell almost all of its interests in the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, make selling the Kings a financial necessity.

The cash call to the Kings' minority owners, which was first reported last week by the Sacramento Bee, was in the works well before the story of how negotiations with Hansen's have intensified came out, according to a league source.

The Maloofs believe they've "exhausted," according to the source with knowledge of the talks, every financial possibility in Sacramento. The family walked away from the $391 million deal for a new arena that everyone else involved -- including Mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star -- believed was agreed upon last year. And they were excoriated for that. But they didn't think the city would live up to its end of the bargain, and they still doubt the city can produce the money it says it can.

Arena Link: Kevin Calabro

The source said the family is "tired" after more than a decade of trying to get an arena deal done that it can live with.

"I would venture to say in the reptilian part of their brain, they're happy to leave Sacramento," said former Sacramento City Council member Rob Fong on Sunday evening. "They feel burned by the Mayor from the last time out."

Of course, people on the ground in Sacramento feel that the Maloofs, again, have things completely backward. They say the Maloofs are the ones who went back on their word, having -- at least figuratively -- signed off on the deal in February of 2012 to put a new arena in the Railyards, an area north of downtown Sacramento. That would have kept the Kings in town for 30 years.

The deal was agreed upon after extensive negotiations between the NBA, the Maloofs, Johnson's office and arena operator AEG, owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, who owns part of the Lakers and built Staples Center and numerous other buildings around the country.

The city would have contributed $255.5 million toward the $391 million tag for a new arena. The Maloofs would have paid $73.25 million upfront and signed that 30-year lease. AEG was going to kick in $58.75 million, with another $3 million coming from the sale of items such as commemorative bricks and plaques around the building. The city would have made its money back by turning over its parking enforcement and meters to private companies, which it believed could raise as much as $200 million.

The deal was announced with great fanfare in Orlando during All-Star weekend. But within a month, the deal was dead, the family having walked away from it. They said they were negotiating certain terms and payments the Maloofs said they hadn't agreed to; the city said it was done negotiating.

"If you were to ask everyone around that table if a deal was going to get done, they'd say it was going to get done," a source said Thursday.

The Maloofs had discussions not only with Virginia Beach, Va., about a new arena, but also with the cities of Las Vegas and Louisville, Ky., about potential moves. And they spoke with four separate groups that had made serious overtures about buying the team. In the end, though, Hansen and his partners, which include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nordstrom magnate Pete Nordstrom -- who owned a very small piece of the Sonics when they were owned by Starbucks owner Howard Schulz -- won the Maloofs over.

While Burkle, with an estimated worth of $3.1 billion, according to Forbes, certainly has the money to buy the team, the Maloofs remain angry with him over his public declarations in 2011 that he wanted to buy the team, even though the family had said repeatedly the team was not for sale at that time.

There is no such animosity toward Mastrovan, who bid $350 million for the Warriors, losing out to a group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber that reportedly spent $450 million. But the Maloofs don't think Mastrov can get to the Hansen numbers, according to the source.

Kings Tentatively Sold to Seattle

All that Sacramento can hope for is that the negotiations between the Maloofs and Hansen hit some kind of 11th hour, 59th minute snag, leaving the family no choice but to turn back to Sacramento. (I'm not a businessman, but wouldn't you assume Hansen and the Maloofs have an exclusive rights window in which to negotiate terms of a sale, which would legally bar the Maloofs from having discussions with anyone else?)

The new Sacramento plan, detailed by the Bee Saturday, would convert a poorly performing mall downtown to a new arena for the Kings. The hope is that the Maloofs would give the idea consideration because by selling to a group that would keep the team in town, the Maloofs wouldn't have to repay the $70 million loan they took from the city in 1997 in exchange for their promise to keep the team in Sacramento for 30 years.

"I think it's pretty plausible," said Jack Robinson, the editor of the Sacramento Business Journal, in a telephone interview Sunday. "Especially if you consider people like Mastrov, there's definitely money to make this happen. The scenario where the new owner of this beleaguered downtown mall would tear it down and build an arena is a surprise, but there's history to it. It makes sense to a lot of people. The only big question mark is the Maloofs, and they've shown themselves to be so irrational to not be trustworthy."

Robinson said if the new arena goes on the Downtown Plaza Mall site, the city could then put retail stores at the Railyards site.

"The city isn't going to necessarily object to this," Robinson said. "It's only a question of the Maloofs being willing to sell. There are a lot of local developers who could get involved, like David Taylor (who helped develop the Railyards Arena project). Burkle keeps coming up, and I would not be surprised if he is one of the people involved in this venture involving the mall. That doesn't surprise me in the least. But the Maloofs have shown their willingness to make a handshake deal and then back out."

Fong, who didn't run for re-election last year after eight years on the City Council, is skeptical that a local group can finance both a purchase of the Kings and a new arena.

"The people who are being mentioned with the money, they're not from town," Fong said. "The people in town, they don't have that kind of money. You're not just talking about buying the team; you're also talking about building an arena. That's a big lift."

Sacramento folks are hopeful as well by David Stern's assertion last week that the Maloofs should give a local group the right to match any offer. The Commish is a lawyer, a really good one, and he's very precise with what he says. He said "match" any offer. But it's clear that Hansen's group is willing to exceed anything that's been discussed by the Sacramento groups, at least publicly.

Johnson is not deterred, saying on Wednesday, "I want the community to know that we're going to fight like crazy to get where we need to be."

But there are other, realpolitik factors that are also working against Sacramento.

GameTime: Johnson on the Kings

The NBA's revenue sharing program kicks in full force starting next season. Teams such as the Kings that are expected to be recipients of the revenue sharing funds will get up to $16 million apiece under the new plan from the taxpaying teams. A sale of the Kings to Hansen's group would almost certainly change the team from a tax recipient to, if not a payer, a team that would not need the financial largesse of other teams to survive.

The NBA's current television deals with ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports (which employs me, in the interest of full disclosure) expire in 2016. Forbes has already estimated the next deal will increase by at least 30 percent above the $7.4 billion the league gets from its TV partners. A new TV deal that replaces Sacramento, the nation's 20th-largest market according to Nielsen ratings, with Seattle, the nation's 12th-largest, is likely to be worth more.

And if the Kings stay in Sacramento, the other owners wouldn't get their hands on the relocation fee money that Hansen would have to pay them to move the team to Seattle. (It would be Hansen who would pay the relocation fee, not the Maloofs, because Hansen would, obviously, be buying the team before the March 1 deadline teams have to inform the league of their intentions to move the following season. And that team would still be in Sacramento.)

The Thunder paid their fellow owners $30 million in 2008 when they moved the then-Sonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City. But the league's Board of Governors can ask for any amount in any relocation.

The Maloofs don't appear to have many moves left. The Anaheim Gambit, in which the Maloofs would move there, as they'd planned to in 2011 before NBA owners scuttled the deal, can't be put back together. (While the family did hire an antitrust attorney last year, leading to murmurs that it might try to sue its way to California, a source indicated that attorney was retained only if the NBA had insisted the Maloofs accept the Railyards deal last year.)

Anaheim never got off the ground, even with a commitment by Henry Samueli. Samueli owns the NHL's Anaheim Ducks and vowed to bring the Honda Center, where the Ducks play, up to NBA specs. The NBA's other owners weren't crazy about chopping up a market in which the Lakers and Clippers get a large share of their ticket base (I was told last year it's around 20 percent for the Lakers and a little less for the Clippers) from Orange County.

And the Lakers' 20-year, $4 billion deal with Time Warner Cable to broadcast their games on two cable channels has a clause in it that reduces the deal by $30 million per year if another team moves into the L.A. market. That's per year.

The NBA's other owners don't like the Lakers' deal with TWC because it keeps the already financially gorged team flush with loot well into the 49th President of the United States' term. But those scoffing owners also have dreams of building their own regional sports network/cash cows some day, so they didn't mess with the Lakers' plan.

People with knowledge of the talks between the various groups stressed that there are a lot of bumps left in the road before the Kings can move.

Inside the NBA: On the Move

For one, the Hansen Group's agreement with the city of Seattle isn't finalized.

In February, Hansen won over the most skeptical group in Seattle -- the Seattle City Council. They approved a plan for a $490 million arena to be built in the city's South of Downtown (SoDo) area, near Safeco Field, where the Mariners play -- but only after Hansen secures a team, or teams, to play there. (Rumors abound that Hansen will add an NHL team to play in the new building as well, though both the hockey and basketball teams would have to play in Key Arena for at least two years while the new building is constructed.)

There are still environmental impact studies being done at the would-be arena site on the request of local groups that thought the project was being fast-tracked too quickly. "You don't even have the environmental impact study on the arena yet. That's not nothing," said one source.

A local union filed suit against the city last October, claiming the new arena could cost its workers jobs near the Port of Seattle, which loads and unloads tens of thousands of ships annually. That suit has received an expedited hearing, which will be held in February.

There also remains the issue of who will pay Sacramento the $70 million the Maloofs owe the city, and how the NBA will get back the $75 million it loaned the Maloofs a few years ago through its line-of-credit program established to give teams loans to pay bills at interest rates they'd almost never be able to get from banks. (More than half of the league's teams have used the line of credit over the years.)

Phoner: Sam Amick

Those kinds of details are not little things to the league, which wants certainty that the arena will be built before it can put its full weight behind the Hansen Group's purchase of the Kings.

"If they're tapped out, as far as their debt ceiling, I would say it's a highly leveraged franchise," a longtime former NBA team executive said Friday. "If the Maloofs can get some cash out of this, it's a great deal for them."

"He was very honest and met all their questions," said former Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens, who has remained in the area, and knows Hansen and most of his group. "One situation I thought he could have walked away from. To improve the area down there, the streets, that's not really his thing. That's really for the City Council. But he was willing to help find a solution for that. I think that's why they like him."

And that's where things are. The great fans of Sacramento are pulling out the stops, again, talking bravely about grass roots efforts to keep the Kings in town. They have been to the brink before and lived to cheer another day, so they're right to play this out to the end. Who knows what can happen?

But right now, the only thing that looks real is that the Kings are leaving. And that would be a shame, because no team that deserved it less -- other than during the Webber/Divac years -- was supported, and loved, more.

"My rookie year (2005-06), I got close to all the workers in the [Power Balance] building," said Blazers guard Ronnie Price, who spent his first two NBA seasons in Sacramento. "'Cause I'm from Texas, and everybody down there reminded me of a Southern-style hospitality. All the security guards, all the ladies, the workers, everybody was super, super nice to me. They showed me a lot of love when I was there. More than anything else, the people of Sacramento, I'll never forget them, man."

If the Kings leave, Sacramento will most certainly dry its tears and figure out what Seattle did. They'll line the political ducks up -- who will be happy to build a building that the Maloofs don't own -- find a single, deep-pocketed maestro and get about the business of taking someone else's team when that city is exhausted, angry and vulnerable. It is, as Fong said, the apparent nature of these things.

DRIBBLES

On opening night in Washington, John Wall dribbled left to right, probing the Hawks' defense, and then whipped a crosscourt pass to the short corner, where first-round pick Bradley Beal drained an open 3-pointer created when Wall sucked in Atlanta's defense. It was exactly what the Wizards hoped would happen when their third-year point guard and rookie shooting guard played together.

Wall Returns

Unfortunately for the Wizards, their opening night was this past Saturday, in early January, 34 games into the regular season. And their solid play in a 93-83 victory produced only a sixth win of the season, against 28 losses.

Once again, the Wizards are doomed to an appearance in the Draft lottery. But with Wall finally back from the stress reaction in his left knee that kept him off the court three months, the Wizards will finally be able to evaluate their team. They'll also know whether or not Wall can improve shooting the ball.

Wall played 21 minutes Saturday, scoring 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, to go with four assists. He'll be on a minutes limit of about 20 per game for a while as he gets his conditioning back, and as the Wizards make sure there are no setbacks with the knee.

"I think you're a little anxious and overly excited, so you get tired quicker," Wall said Saturday. "Something like it's your first game of your rookie season. You go out there and you're so excited to play at home for the first time, you get tired at the snap of your finger. Any game, you have butterflies. I have butterflies before every game. But once the ball goes up and I have it in my hands, I'm cool."

In D.C. these days, injuries to franchise-defining players have become the norm, as has the debate over how each team handled its player's rehab.

The Nationals were roasted nationally when they announced in the spring they would shut down ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg at around 160 innings, no matter what the team's standing was. They did that in September, just before the team clinched the National League East crown. They didn't change their mind in the playoffs, keeping Strasburg off of the postseason roster. But for the most part, the local media in town backed the Nationals' decision.

That wasn't the case with the Redskins, after details of the injury and return to play of the team's star quarterback, Robert Griffin III, came to light. Griffin initially injured his knee in December against the Ravens, with what the team called a strained lateral collateral ligament. After missing just a week, he was back on the field wearing a knee brace. Griffin had none of the speed and explosiveness he'd shown before the initial injury, though, and things got worse early in the Jan. 6 playoff game against Seattle; his knee buckled in the first quarter.

But Griffin kept playing, looking worse and worse, until the knee gave out early in the fourth quarter. Now, the LCL was torn, and Griffin had to undergo a total knee reconstruction last Wednesday after doctors determined he'd also torn his anterior cruciate ligament. For not removing him from the game sooner, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has been excoriated.

The Wizards took a more Nationals-like approach to Wall's injury, shutting him down immediately after he had disclosed he was having pain in his knee during September workouts. An exam with physician David Altchek in New York revealed the start of what was termed a stress reaction, a precursor of sorts to a fractured patella, an injury that usually keeps a player out a year. But they weren't reacting to the Redskins; this was the plan all along.

"I just wanted to take my time," Wall said. "A lot of people didn't think my injury was that serious, but it was. Almost breaking your kneecap is something serious. That's something Blake (Griffin) did. And then you want to make sure everything's right, because knees (are) something you need to play this game. I just wanted to make sure everything was right. I'm still getting it stronger, but I feel like I'm good enough to play. My coaches feel like it, and my coaches and teammates feel like it, the way I've been practicing. It's just about getting my legs underneath me and keep getting stronger, but I felt like I had to make sure everything was right before I came back, or do something worse and have to miss most of next year."

For weeks, Wall could not do significant on-court activity. The pain finally began to subside after doctors administered a third SynVisc shot last month, to help treat a mass that had begun to collect behind his knee. SynVisc is the lubricant that has become more commonly used by NBA players looking to ease inflammation in the knee. Still-mending Sixers center Andrew Bynum, for example, has had several over the years.

"I didn't start working out, but one day I told Eric [head athletic trainer Eric Walters] I felt good to come in and try some things," Wall said. "And I tried jumping and I tried defensive sliding and cutting, and I felt no pain that day. He said, 'Come in and do it again the next day. See if you can do it three or four days in a row.' And I did it without pain. And eventually I got to doing the dummy offense, and no pain kept coming, and I finally got into some contact practices, and the last two or three days of practice have been pretty good."

Wall returns to a Wizards team in shambles. With Nene also limited while playing with plantar fasciitis in his foot, Washington was down to counting on first-round pick Beal and third-year guard Jordan Crawford for scoring. And while Beal has come on lately, hitting the game-winner in an improbable win over Oklahoma City last week, he struggled shooting the ball with no other legitimate scoring options on the court.

The Wizards, via trades, added Nene (last season), Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza (over the summer) and signed veterans Martell Webster and A.J. Price last summer to try to surround Wall with higher-character vets than he'd played with his first two seasons. But the losing has grated on everyone, and there have been whispers that Wall isn't thrilled with the Wizards' latest rebuilding efforts.

Wall says that isn't so.

"I'm cool with it," Wall said. "I like it a lot. Especially when you went out and got Nene; that helps a lot. Then you went out and got Brad, that can definitely help out with knockdown shooting, and he's finding his comfort level in the league now. Then you got Emeka Okafor, that's a presence and blocks shots and rebound, and Trevor Ariza does his job, being on a championship team. So there's a lot of guys that know the game. They're professionals. They know how to do it, being in the playoffs, being in The Finals. We've just got to get these young guys to keep developing, like myself."

A big one is second-year forward Jan Vesely, who has struggled mightily to contribute without Wall on the court to get him the ball in transition. Shooting a horrific 24 percent from the foul line, Vesely looks like he doesn't want to shoot the ball in any halfcourt situation for fear he'll be fouled. So the Wiz will have the two on the court as often as possible ("He's my project," Wall says) and hope they're running when they play together.

Wall has his own improving to do. He shot 3-for-42 from 3-point range last season (that's 7 percent if you're scoring at home), which made Vesely's free-throw percentage look like Rick Barry's in comparison. Wall spent all summer working on his broken jumper, but he has to prove it in games as defenses eventually back off of him and don't allow him to use his speed for blow-by drives.

"September is the last we saw in workouts and stuff," coach Randy Wittman said. "He's made improvements in shooting, but he hasn't been in a game. That's where it counts. You can be a great shooter in practice. You've got to be able to do it in a game. So we haven't seen him in any kind of competition, whether it was training camp or anything."

Saturday, Wall's jumper was still ... evolving. But Wall was able to get his teammates some easy looks on dribble penetration, something that has been lacking all season. He moved Webster to the right spot with his eyes, and Washington didn't have to grind out every possession.

"When you know what your point guard is capable of doing, it makes your job a lot easier," Webster said. "If he's going to go in there hard and guys are going to sink in, it's obvious -- get to the open spot. If not, then he's getting all he can eat. And when we come down in the halfcourt and you are set, we know what we're looking for."

The Wizards will spend the rest of this season looking for some wins.

Owner Ted Leonsis said at the start of the season that another lottery appearance would be "unacceptable," but has not said since whether that's still his view. Nor has he said what he'd do to Wittman or team president Ernie Grunfeld if the Wizards don't make the postseason.

And the Wizards still need a small forward, which is why they're increasingly mentioned as a possible trade partner with Memphis for Rudy Gay. Washington has the soon-to-be expiring contracts of Okafor and Ariza (who will almost certainly pick up his 2013-14 option for $7.7 million) and Crawford, who's still on his rookie deal, as possible trade chips. But the Wizards' plan was to surround Wall with as many quality shooters as possible, and Gay, while an obvious upgrade for Washington, has been a good-but-not-great shooter in his career.

For now, Washington's major improvement on the floor will come from having Wall back.

"I think we have a good team," he said. "We have enough talented players. We just didn't have everybody healthy. It's just something you have to deal with. A lot of teams deal with that throughout the year. Look at Minnesota. They're going through a tough time with people being injured. It's no excuses. Everybody's a pro for a reason ... but I love the way my team is going. We've got the right pieces. We've just got to get some chemistry down together and learn how to win games."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(This week's record in parenthesis; last week's rankings in brackets)

1) Oklahoma City (3-1) [1]: Second-year guard DeAndre Liggins getting a real look in the Thunder's rotation, including a Sunday start for the injured Thabo Sefolosha.

Thunder vs. Trail Blazers

2) L.A. Clippers (1-1) [3]: Grant Hill makes his season debut Saturday after missing the Clips' first 36 games with a bone bruise in his right knee. Mark my words: he will help them win a playoff series before the season ends.

3) San Antonio (2-2) [4]: Uh oh. Again. Manu Ginobili left Sunday's win over Minnesota with an injury, this time a pulled hamstring.

4) Memphis (3-1) [7]: Pretty sure Jerryd Bayless would like this one back. (I smell a Shaqtin' a Fool segment a comin'!)

5) Miami (1-2) [2]: Did anyone understand what Chris Bosh was talking about last week? Isn't that the same "system" that won the championship seven months ago?

6) Indiana (3-1) [10]: Paul George is looking an awful lot like an All-Star lately.

7) Chicago (2-2) [8]: What's up with the Bulls at home lately? Since Christmas, they've gotten smoked at United Center by the Rockets, let the Bobcats break their 18-game losing streak there, lost to reeling Milwaukee and got beat by 16 Saturday by the lowly Suns.

8) New York (1-3) [6]: Bad record this week, but good news: Amar'e Stoudemire cleared to increase his minutes to 25 to 30 a game; Iman Shumpert cleared to play after missing the Knicks' first 36 games following an ACL injury against Miami in the playoffs last April.

9) Brooklyn (3-0) [9]: Current six-game win streak is the Nets' longest in six years.

10) Golden State (1-2) [5]: Maybe it was the effects of the Mile High, and maybe it was just one game, but the Warriors didn't look like the improved, we-care-about-defense-this-season GSW Sunday night in Denver.

11) Atlanta (1-3) [11]: Hawks struggling to find the continuity at both ends they had for the first six weeks of the season.

12) Houston (1-3) [13]: Last three games: James Harden: 28 of 56 from the floor, 50 percent. Rest of the Rockets: 74 of 181, 40.8 percent.

13) Denver (3-0) [NR]: Nuggets get Wilson Chandler (hip) back Sunday after missing two months, just in time to help Denver extend its win streak to five games. But you wonder if there will be enough playing time for everyone.

14) Portland (2-2) [15]: It will be hard for the Blazers to hold up this season getting such small production from their bench, but their starting five (see LaMarcus Aldridge interview below) is really getting the job done, especially at home, where Portland had won nine straight before Sunday's loss to Oklahoma City.

15) Boston (3-0) [NR]: Avery Bradley for MVP? Celtics have turned it around (5-1) since he got back in the lineup, after missing the first 30 games of the season following offseason shoulder surgery.

Dropped out: L.A. Lakers (12), Utah (14)

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Brooklyn (3-0): Yes, those are the Nets just two games behind the Knicks all of a sudden in the Atlantic, after a sixth straight win Sunday, this one over Central Division-leading Indiana. And those were delusional "MVP" chants for Deron Williams at Barclays Center.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

L.A. Lakers (1-3): Forget the coaching issues and the age issues and the injury issues: There is something seriously wrong in that team's locker room. And I don't know that it can be fixed this season, or this summer. L.A. may have some real tough calls to make in the offseason.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

How much is Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum's Draft status hurt by his broken foot?

McCollum, the nation's leading scorer at more than 25 ppg, and a potential lottery pick, broke his left foot a week ago Saturday in a non-conference game against VCU, suffering a non-contact injury. His surgery was performed by foot specialist Dr. Mark Myerson in Baltimore last week.

His recovery time is expected to be around eight to 10 weeks, which could give him a chance to play for the Mountain Hawks in the Patriot League Conference Tournament in March. But if there are any setbacks, there's a chance that McCollum wouldn't play the rest of this season, leaving NBA teams with a quandary before the June Draft.

Casual fans may have only begun noticing McCollum last spring, when he led Lehigh to an upset of Duke in the first round of last year's NCAAs, but he's been on pro scouts' radar for a couple of years. At 6-foot-3, the two-time Patriot League Player of the Year can get into the paint, hit an NBA 3-pointer and he's greatly improved as a passer.

McCollum declared for the Draft after last season, but pulled his name out before the declaration deadline. With McCollum, a preseason All-American, back on the roster, Lehigh was expected to battle Bucknell for the Patriot League championship. Both schools are in the top 60 in RPI this season, though Bucknell is higher -- currently 40th in Ken Pomeroy's college basketball rankings, compared with Lehigh's 56.

NBA scouts often have to make Draft judgments on players who've missed time with injuries. But players from bigger programs, or who have starred in AAU programs before college, often get the benefit of the doubt. Kyrie Irving only played in 11 games in his one season at Duke because of a sprained toe, but he had starred on his AAU team in New Jersey before going to Duke and had started on the U.S. under-18 team at the FIBA World Championships in 2010 that won gold.

Jared Sullinger's back may have caused him to slide in the first round of last year's Draft, but he had been one of the top-ranked players in high school before going to Ohio State. He was a two-time All-American there, leading the Buckeyes to the Final Four last season. So the Celtics, picking 21st in the first round, had a large sample size to watch before taking Sullinger.

But a player from a small school like McCollum, who was barely recruited coming out of high school, and who isn't playing Top 25 schools regularly, has a smaller margin of error.

My interest in this is also parochial: I have watched McCollum dominate my beloved American University Eagles in the Patriot League for four years, ever since he was named both the Patriot League MVP and Rookie of the Year, both well deserved. And thus it was no surprise to me when Lehigh beat Duke last season (check my Twitter posts!); I'd seen what C.J. could do up close, and I knew Duke had nobody that could keep him in front of them.

Now, though, all he can do is wait.

Before his injury, most NBA types had McCollum going somewhere between the mid- to late lottery and the middle of the first round. Now, the uncertainty about when he'll be able to get back on the court could work against him. But opinions on how much he'll be hurt in the Draft differ.

"It doesn't help," one NBA general manager said. "I don't know how quick he can come back, but you don't have many quality games on him to go on. How long can you ride the Duke game? He had an early game against Pitt [McCollum scored 17 points for Lehigh in a 78-53 loss to the Panthers in November] ... but I know everybody was targeting the North Texas game, and VCU was a good team to watch because of the way they play.

"I think it has to hurt some. If you're picking 15th, and the kid doesn't have the body of work of some of the other candidates, it has to hurt. A lot depends on how soon he can come back and work out. It's a long way before the Draft."

But another GM, asked Sunday how much McCollum would be hurt, texted simply: "None."

An Eastern Conference personnel man said Sunday it was too soon to say what impact McCollum's injury would have on his Draft status, pointing out -- correctly -- that there are more than six months before the Draft.

"He's had many strong games to serve as his body of work and we will be watching them over and over," the personnel man said via text.

One Western Conference executive said McCollum will "definitely" drop down in Draft. "Those who are interested will investigate the injury before he is drafted," the executive said. "I would not think that he falls out of the first round, but he might if a few other players step up."

But an Eastern Conference executive disagreed.

"I bet you he ends up in the same range," the executive texted. "Every team knows who he is based on last year. We all went and saw him. Remember even Kyrie [Irving] missed damn near an entire season and still went No. 1. People knew his game after only 5 games in college. They know CJ's game. And it's not an injury that would affect his long-term career."

No injuries are good, but McCollum's came at an especially bad time.

In December, more than 50 NBA scouts and personnel types were in Denton, Texas, to see McCollum and Lehigh play North Texas, which also has an NBA prospect in forward Tony Mitchell. But McCollum missed that game after spraining an ankle earlier in the week at practice. Now, McCollum will miss almost all of the Patriot League season, and Lehigh, one of the top two teams in the conference along with Bucknell [which also has an NBA-caliber player in center Mike Muscala], may not have him by the conference tournament.

While Lehigh is highly regarded in polls and in RPI, it's unlikely the Mountain Hawks would get an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament; the Patriot League is a one-bid conference.

"The one good thing is that I think he played in 109 straight games before the first injury," another Western Conference executive said. "So he has a history of playing. People will look at that and say this is not a guy who's been hurt his whole career. With modern technology being the way it is, people will look at the MRI. I think the impact will be less than10 percent of what they thought of him (before). When you have a small school guy, you always wonder. Damian Lillard [who played at Weber State] is the perfect example. If he was playing in the ACC last year, he may have been the first, second or third pick."

One Eastern Conference GM, though, saw a potential positive to McCollum's injury.

"Now he'll slip down, and a good team will draft him," the GM said. "And they'll get a good player."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

I say these words as a prayer, as regret, as praise, I say: CP3, CP3. From Rory Bondman:

... Many of your opinions are opinions I share myself, however there are just a couple of things we disagree on... My main point is in your MVP rankings. LeBron first, I have no issue with. KD second, again, seems a fair decision. Chris Paul, however, is fifth. Melo's been great this year and has been putting up ridiculous scoring numbers whilst playing great D. Duncan has been (probably) the best player on (possibly) the best team in the West. He continually has games that make you wonder if he'll ever need to retire. Now for the 'but'.

BUT CP is the best player on the hottest team in the league. Whether the Clips will still be ahead of the Spurs or Knicks in wins by the season's end is a different question. Paul has done everything his team has needed him to do up to this point. Yes, his numbers are down, but they are still fantastic numbers and on a team with so many players requiring the ball. All they need is the table laid for them and no one is even close to Paul in running a game.

With Crawford out the last two games, Paul has proven what everyone should never have forgotten; he can score if needed. 'If needed' is the most important part of that sentence. Every single thing the Clippers need for the PG spot, Paul does. He starts their breaks, throws their lobs, scores when they need points, finds the open man, slows the game when he needs to, gets everyone involved and has, with a little help from whoever is catching the ball near the rim, made the Clippers championship contenders. What he does for his team goes beyond what Melo and Duncan do for theirs. In fact I would make the argument he is more valuable to the Clips than even James or Durant are to their teams. His numbers don't match with them and I do not expect you to place him above them in your rankings but a measly fifth?! I believe Paul to be unquestionably third, minimum.

You declare, I change, Rory. See below. Please try to use your awesome powers for good in the future.

And finally, he realized that while the show still had "Sanford" in the title, "Sanford Arms" was not "Sanford and Son." From Joshua Cole:

Clippers vs. Nuggets

... I have been confused by your weekly rankings of the Lakers, especially compared with my hometown Denver Nuggets. In everything else that you have justified, such as last year's All-NBA team, you base it on actual performance rather than potential performance. The Lakers have shown that their actual and consistent performance this year ranks in the bottom third of the Western Conference. Their potential performance at the end of the season may be top-eight in the league, but until they play like a top-eight Western Conference team, I don't know why you keep them so high in your rankings, especially this week after all of their big men went down with injuries. I also don't understand why you still keep the Lakers in your rankings each week based on their potential while my hometown Denver Nuggets -- who epitomize playing to another team's level and are the most inconsistent and frustrating team in the league -- aren't ranked. Granted, they have lost to lowly teams Philadelphia, Minnesota (twice), Utah, Phoenix and Orlando, but the Lakers haven't done much better, and the Nuggets have shown that they do perform well against the league's best. Last week they ended the Clippers 17-game winning streak in a dominant game (yes, only a week earlier they got embarrassed on the road on national television, but that is a matter of consistency not about potential) and defeated the aforementioned Lakers in Los Angeles. On the season, the Nuggets have also beat the Spurs, the Grizzlies (twice) and Golden State, and they lost to the Heat by a combined eight points.

Fair points, Joshua, and even before this past week I was contemplating dropping the Lakers out of the top 15. But part of the wholly unscientific formula I use to determine the top half of the league is potential: when this team is healthy, is it one of the top 15 teams in the league? I think the Lakers certainly would be viewed that way, so, perhaps, I've used that a bit too much in judging the Lakers in the past couple of weeks. Anyway, they're out this week.

Wouldn't miss Steve Buckhantz's first "Dagger" of the season. From Rob Jara:

This comes in late, but I hope you watched the Thunder-Wizards game instead of Notre Dame vs. Alabama. It was electrifying, right down the wire, to say the least. And Bradley Beal!

I stayed at home and watched both, Rob. Turned the "national championship" game off early, though. What a dud. It's hard to know why the college football folks think it's a good idea to wait six weeks between their top two teams' last games and the title game, but that's their call. As for Beal, I think I've been pretty right about him and his developing game. The Wiz have a nice piece there.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and Oscar nominations for everyone that had anything to do with the movie "Lincoln," apparently, to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (19 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 6.7 apg, .500 FG, .563 FT): You just wonder -- OK, I wonder -- if James isn't just a bit weary after a year-plus of playing without almost no break, especially when he's continuing to carry such a huge load for the Heat.

2) Kevin Durant (32.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.5 apg, .573 FG, .867 FT): KD already has six technical fouls this season, half of the 12 Ts he'd amassed in his first five professional seasons.

3) Chris Paul (14.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 16 apg, .500 FG, 1,000 FT): Only three free throws in last two games, but has dropped 32 dimes in those same two games.

4) Carmelo Anthony (28.7 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.3 apg, .349 FG, .750 FT): Discloses Sunday that he's been fasting the last couple of weeks for spiritual improvement.

5) Tim Duncan (11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.3 bpg, .367 FG, .833 FT): Shooting has fallen off in recent games but he is still delivering at the defensive end, as evidenced by his seven blocks Sunday against the Timberwolves.

BY THE NUMBERS

Mavericks vs. Kings

1 -- Overtime games won this season by the Mavericks, after losing their first seven extra-time sessions, and 10 overall dating to last season, following Thursday's 117-112 victory in Sacramento.

16 -- Number of coaches that Jamal Crawford says he has played for in his 13-year NBA career -- a new one every season. He made the statement in this GQ interview with our own Lang Whitaker. I found that hard to believe, so I looked it up. Turns out, Crawford was close, but not quite right. Tim Floyd was Crawford's coach his rookie season (2000-01) in Chicago, but was fired 25 games into his second season (2001-02). Bill Berry coached two games on an interim basis before the Bulls hired Bill Cartwright to finish the season. Cartwright then coached Chicago in Crawford's third season (2002-03), but was fired 14 games into Crawford's fourth season (2003-04). Pete Myers coached two games before the Bulls hired Scott Skiles as the permanent replacement. Crawford was traded to the Knicks in the summer of 2004, where he played for Lenny Wilkens and interim coach Herb Williams in year five (2004-05). Next came Larry Brown for year six (2005-06). But Crawford did play two straight seasons, the seventh and eighth of his career (2006-07 and 2007-08) for NBA TV's own Isiah Thomas in New York before being traded early in the 2008-09 season to Golden State -- where Crawford played one season for Don Nelson. Then came a trade to Atlanta in the summer of 2009, leading to Crawford's 10th season in the league, and first under Mike Woodson. Crawford's second season in Atlanta, and 11th in the NBA (2010-11) brought, again, another coach -- Larry Drew. Crawford left Atlanta and signed as a free agent with the Trail Blazers after the lockout in 2011, playing his 12th NBA season for Nate McMillan and interim coach Kaleb Canales.

And, this season, Crawford is in Los Angeles with the Clippers, playing for Vinny Del Negro in his 13th season. That's 13 years and 15 coaches, with only one coach lasting more than one season. That is incredible.

2,000 -- Victories in franchise history for the Phoenix Suns, who achieved the milestone in Saturday's road win over Chicago in their 45th season. The franchise's overall regular season record, including this season's 39 games so far, is 2,000-1,599 (.556).

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Not saying the Eastern Conference is good all of a sudden, but if Indiana, Brooklyn and Boston really are rounding into shape now after terrible patches of play, it makes for a much more interesting postseason potentially than if Miami, New York and a Derrick Rose-returned Chicago were slugging things out alone.

Heat vs. Kings

2) Mario Chalmers was pretty hot Saturday night. It should go without saying that a successful Chalmers from the perimeter makes the Heat almost impossible to defend.

3) Give credit where it's due: Andre Drummond has had a lot more impact so far for the Pistons than I thought he would. And that makes Detroit's future a lot more promising.

4) Loved watching the Olympic medal round at the O2 Arena in London this summer, and happy that British fans who wanted more NBA will get their chance on Thursday when the Knicks and Pistons make the trek over the pond for a regular-season game.

5) Sometimes, when I think I have arrived at the essential truth of a subject -- we never get it totally right as journalists, but we can get close sometimes -- I feel a sense of vindication at the work I have done to write what I have written. And then I read something like this from London Times journalist David Walsh, who spent 13 years only seeking the truth about what Lance Armstrong did, and how, and when, and why, and it shames me, because I have used the word "vindication" so hollowly, and incorrectly. Today, David Walsh knows vindication, and it raises him just as it diminishes me, as it should.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) New owners can do whatever they want with their new teams, but I would do some serious thinking if I were Robert Pera and his new basketball staff in Memphis before I did something drastic with a team as good as the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are asking for the seemingly impossible daily double of improving as a team while reducing payroll. Which begs the question: If you have a younger, cheaper three that is better than Rudy Gay, why on earth would you trade for Gay? It takes a long time to build a contending team, and GM Chris Wallace and his staff did that in a small market. The impending stiffening of the luxury tax penalties will force all teams to make tough choices, but the Grizz don't have to make those choices now; the summer provides all manner of opportunities.

2) I think a lot of teams are going to take a look at Greg Oden next summer, but no one team tops his list, including the Heat. Oden is not even going to start compiling a list of teams until he is 100 percent healthy. If he can't get there, he won't come back. Too many false starts, one source with knowledge of Oden's plans said late last week. There is no timeline. Oden is still in Columbus, where he's taking classes at Ohio State.

3) Best wishes to Rick Adelman and his wife, Mary Kay, whose hospitalization has led to Adelman's leaving the Timberwolves for an indefinite period.

4) Not saying 'Melo was right if he was looking to continue his on-court beef with Kevin Garnett outside the Celtics' locker room or by their bus on Wednesday. But it just seems odd that a guy who was reportedly defending his wife's honor would be penalized for it. A hefty fine would have worked just as well.

5) Those were five-plus incredible quarters of football Saturday afternoon/evening in Denver, and the Ravens earned their double-overtime win. But it'll be a long time before Broncos safety Rahim Moore gets past how he played the last minute of regulation. A long time.

Q AND A: LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE

We were worried about Cousin LaMarcus back East when the season started. It looked like Portland was in full rebuilding mode, having lost out on restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert when the Pacers matched the Blazers' $58 million offer sheet. The Blazers were left with a bunch of young, unproven players --including first-round picks Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard -- surrounding a few young veterans like Aldridge. But after getting off to a slow 6-10 start, which included giving the Wizards their first win of the season, Portland has come on strong, winning 12 of its last 17 to get into the Western Conference playoff race. And Aldridge has been rock-solid as always, averaging 20.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg with 16 double-doubles. And Aldridge looks like a shoo-in for another All-Star selection. I'll tell Aunt Marie and the twins you say hello!

Me: How surprised are you at how things have turned around?

LaMarcus Aldridge: That's been the question this week. Not overly, but I think a little bit. Because I felt we had some pieces that could put us in this position to be above .500, to be in this race. But I knew a lot of things had to go right, and I think those things are going right. Nicolas Batum is playing better, Damian has been, you know, out of this world, Wes is playing great. So I think everything has been going great for us.

Me: You, Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews and J.J. Hickson got a lot of time together at the end of last season. What were your concerns about not only adding a new point guard to that mix, but a rookie one at that?

LA: I thought that he would struggle more. I thought it would take him longer to find his way, his confidence and the things that he was good at. But, I was wrong [laughs]. He came in from day one with that chip on his shoulder, his confidence level, with the pace to his game of a vet. I think he's been big for us at the point, because that's a big spot for us. But I think more than that, I think Nic getting better this year, and upping his game, his assists, his shotmaking, Wes being that guy that can guard anybody, is big for us.

Me: Nic had to live up to that contract. The expectations had to be big on him.

LA: I think it was. But from what I heard from the organization, they had no pressure on him. They wanted him to be who he was and continue to grow, and as he has grown, they gave him that money. That was them showing that they were invested in him. I talked to Neil [Olshey, Portland's general manager and it was like, we're not putting any pressure on him. We just need him to come every day and just get better.

NBA Rooks: Damian Lillard, Earning Respect

Me: What do you think of the plan that Neil has? How has he sold it to you?

LA: Well, so far, he's doing well. [Laughs]. He brought in Dame, we're above .500. It's not really that down year I thought it would be. He said this year, let's get guys better, let's get Damian acclimated, let's get Nic going, I can get better. And this summer, let's sign somebody big. I thought his plan sounded good, and I think so far, it's paying off.

Me: You're in the prime of your career. Dirk [Nowitzki] is going through rebuilding at the end of his career, and Dallas is struggling. How skeptical were you about doing that here?

LA: I was scared. I'm not gonna lie. Because we did have a rocky start. But everybody's been good about it, working hard, trying to get better, trying to take advantage of everything we have here -- resources, watching film, getting in the gym with Dame and Nic and Wes and myself. I think everybody's doing their part, and I think J.J. Hickson has been big for us this year. I can't leave him out. He's been massive on the boards, a guy every night that I think has been big for us, too.

Me: Can you sustain playing smaller all season?

LA: I think so. I think we can, I think guys have to be versatile and do different things. I think so far that we've shown we can play with the big teams playing small. I think they have to play small with us.

Me: Are you the best power forward in the game now?

LA: That's been going around this week, man. I'm not in it. I definitely want to be, and I feel like as I get older and I continue to get better, I think I will be, or I should be. But that's not, you know, that's not my decision. I do my job.

Me: How did you develop the left hand?

LA: That's been three years in the process. Ever since Bill Bayno [the former Blazers' assistant coach, who is now in Minnesota] was here, we've been working on that left hand. I've always had it, but for me, I have to have confidence in it to do it in a game. I feel like the game is a time when you don't try to do new things. Over the summer, over training camp, I've used it more, and now, I'm just better with it.

Me: Is the future for you here in Portland clearer now than maybe it was last season?

LA: Yeah. I think they've definitely made some big steps in the right direction, bringing in Dame, re-signing Nic, having Wes, having J.J., they've made some steps in the right direction. I think they can go even further this upcoming summer to bring in some more guys --

Me: Somebody large would be helpful, right?

LA: Yeah. You know, I love J.J. He's good for us. But somebody seven foot, 7-foot-1, a lot taller than me, that would be great.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Not for nothing,but we ALL deserve a check or some free cereal 4all the publicity we've given Honey Nut Cheerios! LOL #cantbelieveeverything
-- LaLa Anthony, the wife of Carmelo Anthony (@lala), Thursday, 10:28 p.m., refuting rumors that the words between her husband and Boston's Kevin Garnett that led to Anthony seeking out Garnett after the game by the Celtics' locker room and then near the team bus involved her and the breakfast cereal. More I cannot say in a family hoops column. Google it.

THEY SAID IT

"Phoenix, we haven't won [there] I think since FDR was in office."
-- Bucks interim coach Jim Boylan, to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, on his team's 24-game losing streak in Phoenix. The Bucks last won a game in Phoenix in February, 1987, in the old Veterans Memorial Coliseum, five years before the Suns moved into what is now U.S. Airways Center. (By the way, Ronald Reagan was president then.)

"If it happens it happens. So what. I'm playing today as a Grizzly. It's a business. People are going to talk and stuff will happen. It doesn't make me any less of a player. What people say about me doesn't change how I approach the game or how good I think I am or how good other people think I am."
-- Rudy Gay, to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, on the swirling rumors that the Grizzlies are seeking to unload him and his large contract to avoid paying huge luxury tax penalties in the future.

"Is that my dad? Am I Pop, Jr.?"
-- Steven Jackson, after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from Sunday's victory over Minnesota with two technical fouls -- less than a week after Jack was thrown out of the Spurs' close win over the Lakers last Wednesday.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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