Posted Apr 2, 2013 11:09 AM
Two cities, each with rich history in the NBA, want a team.
Only one team is available. It may be the only one available for quite some time.
And thus, one of the most expensive games of eeny, meeny, miny, moe ever will begin Wednesday in a swank midtown Manhattan hotel, as the City of Seattle and the City of Sacramento have at it.
Fifteen rounds, for a 27-47 team.
The final act will feature all of the key players, from Chris Hansen, the driving force behind Seattle's attempts to bring the NBA back to the Emerald City, to Kevin Johnson, the former All-NBA guard and current Mayor of Sacramento, who has put together an unlikely coalition of out-of-town billionaires and local businesses who want to keep the Kings.
Both sides will make presentations to the league's Relocation and Finance committees on Wednesday. Normally separate, the two committees, each with jurisdiction in the case of a potential move, will combine into one uber-committee for this unique situation. There will be no binding vote made this week. NBA Commissioner David Stern wants to give the committees' members more time to study the complex issues involved before the league's Board of Governors casts the deciding vote at its April 18 meeting.
The Relocation and Finance committees are expected to have a recommendation -- stay, or go -- for the full Board to consider on the 18th.
That day, the Board will have two votes: first, whether to approve the sale of the Kings from the Maloof family to Hansen's group, which finalized a deal -- pending league approval -- to buy the team in January, with the intent to move it to Seattle in time for next season. Approval of the sale requires a three-fourths mjajority, so eight "no" votes would cancel the sale.
If the sale to the Hansen group is approved, the Board will then take the all-important second vote: whether to approve the move of the Kings from Sacramento to Seattle. Approval of the move requires only a simple majority.
"It's really going to come down to an issue that the NBA really doesn't want to decide," said an observer with deep knowledge of the league's business practices. "Do they approve the team moving to a market that I think everyone agrees is a better market demographically? Or do you follow the historic rallying cry of staying in a city and community that supports its team? Those are contradictory. One of them is going to lose."
There is no way to avoid a decision that will have major ramifications for the league.
"It will be a tough call," one high-ranking team executive said Saturday. "The economics look pretty close."
Asked what was a worse precedent -- leaving a city that had supported its team over several years, or walking away from a bid that significantly raised the value of a team -- the executive would, all things being equal or close to equal, stay with the incumbent city. "Especially," the executive said, "with strong political support."
That would be one tentative "yes" vote for Sacramento.
But a high-ranking executive from another team has Seattle in the lead. This exec cites rumblings among some teams about whether the Sacramento group can write a big enough check on time and without complications to make it more viable than Hansen's group, which has Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his estimated $16 billion at his back.
So, who knows?
At any rate, the actual vote is not Wednesday. And the devil remains in the details, which will be known only to the two committees, and with which they'll wrestle over the next three weeks.
If owners select Seattle over Sacramento, how can any politician feel confident he or she could get the support of a local, county or state legislature to approve using public subsidies for future arenas, as Johnson has done in the face of years of opposition to using tax dollars for arenas in California? (There is no NFL team in Los Angeles, and hasn't been for 18 years.)
How could any city feel safe, even ones whose fans supported their team through thick and thin, as Sacramento's have? (The irony, of course, is that was exactly the case Seattle fans made when Clay Bennett took the Sonics to Oklahoma City. It was the whole raison d'etre for the indie film "SonicsGate," which detailed the team's departure.)
Sacramento's late charge
In the space of two months, Johnson has brought together an impressive group of heavy hitters. That list was augmented last week with businessman and Warriors part-owner Vivek Ranadive, the founder of TIBCO (a leading producer of computer and analytic software) and Paul Jacobs, the CEO of digital wireless giant Qualcomm, coming aboard. They joined 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire grocery store magnate Ron Burkle, who had already committed to bidding on the Kings and building a new arena on the current Downtown Plaza site.
Ranadive is expected to bolster the Mastrov group's initial bid for the Kings, which was publicly described as not up to snuff by Stern last month. Sacramento's supporters have argued that they have only to get close to the $525 million valuation for the Kings that Hansen's group created by agreeing to pay $341 million to the Maloofs for 65 percent of the team, because keeping the team in town would not force Hansen to repay a $77 million loan to the city that would come due if it were to move.
Ranadive must sell his minority stake in the Warriors before he can put money toward buying the Kings. That process would certainly not be competed by the 18th. But a source with knowledge of the process said it's likely the league would give Ranadive time to sell his Golden State interest if his group gets a chance to buy the Kings from the Maloofs.
"I haven't heard that there's anybody in Golden State that's upset about this," the source said. "There must be some understanding. For him to come out the way he did, I'm assuming there would be something in place, like he knows who would buy him out."
Last week, the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to approve using $255 million in city funds toward building a $448 million sports and entertainment complex. More than $200 million of the city's contribution would come from selling bonds that would be covered from future revenues from existing parking lots, which would be sold to private companies. The city's contribution is the same as the one it agreed to last year, when the NBA, entertainment giant AEG, the city and the Maloofs tentatively agreed to build a $391 million arena in the Railyards section of Sacramento.
But if owners elect to keep the Kings in Sacramento, how can they ever expect Seattle to put a group together again as impressive as the one headed by Hansen and Ballmer, who've done everything the league has asked them to do -- and done it quietly?
Seattle group remains solid
There is no indication that there is anything wrong with the Hansen group's bid, process or financing. A no vote would have nothing to do with the quality of the package Hansen assembled. It would be only because owners want to keep the Kings in Sacramento. A no vote would reject the binding agreement the Maloofs have with Hansen, too, something unprecedented in league annals. It's hard to see how such an action wouldn't face a legal challenge.
The Maloofs have made it crystal clear that they want to do business with Hansen. And while Stern made it clear during the Oakland press availability that the league would decide whether or not the Kings move, the league has almost always deferred to existing ownership when it comes to selling its team.
(Is there a scenario where the league would approve the sale to Hansen, yet require Hansen to keep the team in Sacramento? I suppose anything is possible. But that would seem unlikely, given that Hansen has made it clear he wants to buy the Kings only if he can move them to Seattle.)
The Hansen group has put together its offer methodically over two years. Hansen spent $50 million to buy the land adjacent to Safeco Field, where MLB's Seattle Mariners play, where he wants to build a $490 million arena that would open in two years.
Seattle's City Council voted 7-2 last year to approve spending $200 million in public funds toward the arena. The money will come from admissions taxes on the arena and rental payments; if the cost exceeds $490 million, Hansen is responsible for paying the rest, as well as making up any shortfalls if the city can't raise the $200 million from taxes and rents.
(A source says the Seattle group will announce as early as today a commitment for an additional $20 million that will be spent this summer for upgrades to Key Arena, the Sonics' old home and where the team would play while the new arena is built.)
And it is Hansen's group that has the binding agreement with the Maloofs. Hansen's group also has given a non-refundable $30 million to the Maloofs as part of the agreement.
Hansen not only put together a coalition of civic, business and political leaders, but his bid for the Kings wildly inflated the team's value -- and will wildly inflate the value of other teams down the road. Will owners turn their backs on someone responsible for putting substantially more coin in their pockets, both immediately (in the form of a relocation fee that would be split among teams) and down the road, when they sell their teams?
How, then, to decide?
The NFL's solution
I was reminded this week of the Cleveland-Baltimore dilemma.
In November, 1995, the late Art Modell, who owned the Cleveland Browns for 34 years, announced he would move the team from Cleveland (where it had received incredible support throughout those 34 years, many of which were less than successful) to Baltimore.
Modell had been unable to reach a deal with city officials in Cleveland on a new stadium to replace aging Municipal Stadium; Baltimore promised public money for a new palace.
Like Sacramento, Cleveland officials were caught unaware of the owner's machinations. A referendum that would have allowed $175 million in tax dollars to be used to renovate Municipal Stadium was passed by voters the day after Modell announced the team was leaving.
What to do? Like Sacramento, Cleveland had, in its view, done nothing to deserve having its beloved team ripped away. The city believed it had been taken advantage of by an owner who had no interest in staying in town, no matter what it did, but wouldn't sell the team to anyone who'd keep it in town. And Baltimore -- which, like Seattle, had had its own beloved team taken away from it, when the Colts moved in the dead of a snowy night in 1983 to Indianapolis -- didn't much care how it got another team, as long as it got one.
After months of negotiations between the NFL and both cities, a compromise was reached in February, 1996.
Cleveland allowed the Browns to move to Baltimore in time for the 1996 regular season. In exchange, the NFL made a public commitment that it would bring another team to Cleveland later than the 1999 NFL season. As part of the deal, Cleveland kept the Browns' name, colors and history. The deal, though, left intentionally vague the question of whether that team would be an existing team or an expansion team. In addition, the NFL would provide the city of Cleveland between $28 million to $48 million in loans to help it build a new football stadium.
Modell agreed to pay $11.55 million to the city of Cleveland in reparations, and $29 million to the NFL in relocation fees, that were split among the league's other owners. In addition, Modell agreed to forgo the expansion fee share that other owners would get from Cleveland if the new team was an expansion team rather than an existing one.
For its part, Cleveland agreed not to pursue an NFL team on its own, leaving the placement of the new team up to the league. For an existing team to be allowed to move to Cleveland, it would have to meet very specific criteria. It would have to be failing at the gate. It would have to lack local business support. It would have to be unprofitable. And it could not be in breach of its existing lease.
In the end, the NFL decided to grant Cleveland an expansion team, which began play as the Browns in 1999. It joined longtime rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati -- and the newly christened Baltimore Ravens, which were, of course, the old Browns -- in the AFC Central Division (now the AFC North).
Could such a Solomonic (or, perhaps, Tagliabuan) solution be possible for the Kings? Could the NBA agree to allow the Kings to move to Seattle on the condition that a new or existing team be placed back in Sacramento within three years? Or, vice versa -- could the league vote to keep the Kings in Sacramento and promise Seattle a new or existing team be placed there within three years?
There are major differences, the biggest being the inherent difference in revenue between the two leagues. The NFL remains a money-printing operation, impervious to almost all market forces because of its colossus of a television contract. The current one, signed in late 2011, commits $27 billion from NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN and satellite giant DirecTV to the NFL through 2022.
Because of that money, and the cache that some feel comes with being home to an NFL franchise, there are numerous municipalities that will pay whatever it takes to get a team.
That is not the case in the NBA. Nor is there an obvious city that would make sense for expansion, as there was when the NFL made Houston -- which lost the Oilers to Tennessee in 1997 -- its 32nd team, in 2002. Even if there were, the Commish and Deputy Commish Adam Silver made it clear at All-Star weekend that expansion was not going to be a panacea for the Sacramento-Seattle dilemma.
"I don't think the NBA wants a 31st team right now," a person with longstanding familiarity of the league noted over the weekend. "That's the problem. I suppose you could add another team. It confuses the schedule, but it's not that big a deal. But I don't sense there's any appetite for another team right now."
The NBA gave Charlotte an expansion team in 2004, after the Hornets relocated in New Orleans in 2002. But there are big differences in that case and with Sacramento/Seattle. Charlotte had made it clear it would never build a new arena with public funds for then-Hornets owner George Shinn. Sacramento reached a tentative deal with the Maloofs last year on a new building, but the Maloofs walked away from the deal.
The league felt a sense of responsibility to make Charlotte whole again, and while it didn't promise the city a new team, the implication was clear: build a new arena, and we'll put a team there. After voters rejected a referendum that would have dedicated $342 million in bonds for a new building in 2001, the city approved a package the following year that used funds from its hotel-motel taxes, rental car taxes and money raised from the sale of city-owned property to fund the $260 million building that is now known as Time Warner Cable Arena.
I've learned never to say never. But expansion doesn't look like a viable alternative. Which leaves us back where we started: one team, two cities.
How can the NBA turn its back on one of its most loyal cities?
How can the NBA turn its back on one of the best potential ownership groups ever put together?
The problem remains, of course, that the above two sentences apply equally to Seattle and Sacramento. And one of them is nonetheless going to have to soon live with the rejection.
They are 15 Joe LeForses.
LeFors, the older among you may recall, was the unseen lawman -- visible only from afar, in his white hat -- whose posse tracked the outlaws in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Throughout that movie, Butch and Sundance kept wondering, "Who are those guys?"
The same question is being asked of the Clippers.
Are they the team that ripped through December unbeaten, winning 17 straight games in becoming just the third team in league history to go through a month without a loss? Or are they the group that can't seem to beat good teams lately on the road, dropping heartbreakers in Dallas and San Antonio and getting waxed Saturday in Houston?
The Clips are a near-lock to secure the franchise's first division title, with a seven-game lead over Golden State. But their postseason outlook is cloudy. They're seventh in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions. But when they can't play Lob City with opponents -- with Chris Paul eviscerating foes with alley-oops to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan -- they can look rather ordinary.
Since they started 32-9, the Clippers are just 17-16. Against the West's top five other teams -- San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Denver, Memphis and Golden State -- the Clippers' record is an uninspiring 6-11. They are just 2-8 against the West's playoff teams after starting 10-4 against those teams.
Who are those guys?
"All of us, right now, we're just thinking about now, right now," Paul said last week. "Thinking about the present, and the process, not the past. We've just got to keep getting better, and learn from other teams, also. You can't act like you know it all. My late [Wake Forest] coach, Skip Prosser, used to say. 'You analyze success, you don't criticize it.'"
There is so much at stake for the Clippers. Paul is an unrestricted free agent at season's end, and while all indications are that he's going to make L.A. his permanent home, no one from Clipper Darrell to Billy Crystal to Jimmy Goldstein (see below) is going to be comfortable until Paul signs a deal. This is a team built to win now, with Paul running the show.
Everything is in limbo until then -- including the future of Coach Vinny Del Negro, in the last year of his deal. Del Negro gets high marks, according to a source, for dealing with the team's injuries all season. But the Clips' fortunes in the playoffs could well determine his fate.
For the first half of the season, the Clippers sported the league's deepest bench, with Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford scoring, Eric Bledsoe harassing opponents into turnovers and Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom doing a little of everything. But injuries have affected that group's effectiveness the second half of the season.
When Paul missed eight games with a knee injury, Bledsoe had to start, and he wore down. Then Bledsoe got hurt, and Grant Hill had to play some point forward.
Bledsoe (calf) is back, but there's not much time to get back up to speed.
"I think we're still tight," Barnes said. "We're just not flowing like we were before, because there's been injuries to the starting lineup, which is putting bench players in the starting lineup. And there's been injuries to the bench, which has put other people in. So I think now with Bledsoe healthy, he'll be starting to get more minutes."
The Clippers' defense has started to suffer. Even though L.A. is still fourth in points allowed and eighth in defensive efficiency, the Clips' points allowed has grown each of the last three months, from 89.2 in December to 97.4 in March.
"One word sums up the best defensive teams in the league, and that's trust," Paul said. "I learned early that it's not one guy on a team that's a great defender; it's always teams that play the best defense together."
The Clippers also need to find Griffin more regularly in the halfcourt. Against the Mavericks last week, Griffin didn't get touches for far too many long stretches. He still has not developed a consistent perimeter game, and the Clippers have to help him get better shots.
"I think we, as a team, have to put him in position where he can attack," Odom said. "Take three, four dribbles and go into Beast Mode. And it's up to us to adjust and put him in that position to be successful."
The idea was for Chauncey Billups to provide some spacing on the perimeter. But while the 40-year-old Hill looks like he's healthy enough for an extended playoff run, the 36-year-old Billups cannot get healthy. He aggravated a groin strain last week against the Hornets, and his status for the rest of the regular season is in doubt. Billups has played in only 20 games, missing most of the first two months recovering from an achilles' rupture suffered last season.
"Our biggest thing right now is health," Paul said. "We have to make sure we have all our weapons."
The Clippers envisioned a Paul-Billups backcourt, with Billups taking some of the ballhandling burden off of CP3. Billups' career-long ability to get to the foul line would make their defense better. And his smarts and experience would help in the playoffs, where the former Finals MVP would be at his best.
Yet Billups helps in many other ways.
"One of the biggest things I've learned from Chaunce is to lead without being as vocal," Paul said. "I think Chaunce is just one of those guys who leads by example. Just plays. It's something I'm trying to do, maybe not talk as much. Sometimes, you've got to tone it down. I'm trying to find a balance of both."
The Clippers have won the Battle of Los Angeles this season as the Lakers are slouching toward missing the playoffs. But that's small solace. The idea is to transform the franchise. The heaviest lifting is done, but postseason success has to follow. Beating Memphis on the road in Game 7 of the first round last spring was a major step. But the sting of being swept by the Spurs in the conference semis is still there.
"It was embarrassing losing 4-0 to San Antonio," Paul said. "I think we all still have that in the back of our minds. We try to use it as motiviation ... they were obviously more experienced, and different things like that. And we didn't play as well as we have. It was just a good team. It wasn't so much what we did or didn't do; they just beat us."
Paul is as complete a player and competitor as there is. He rails at missed calls by officials; a student of all the rules, especially the arcane ones, he will lobby officials to take free throws away from opponents when one of their teammates has a foot inside the circle. And while his good-guy persona is legit and he's got Q-rating commercial appeal, he is one of the world's worst losers -- which is, of course, why he's so good. And why the next couple of months matter so much to the Clippers' future.
"I tell people all the time, it's probably one of my biggest strengths, and one of my biggest weaknesses," Paul said. "I'm just not satisfied with losing."
(This week's record in parenthesis; March 18 rankings in brackets)
1) Miami (3-1) : How good is Miami's offense this season? Per NBA.com/Stats, entering play Sunday, the Heat boasted five of the NBA's top eight players in the league (who've played more than 60 games) in offensive rating: LeBron James and Mario Chalmers (tied for first), Shane Battier (fifth), Dwyane Wade (tied for sixth) and Chris Bosh (eighth).
2) Oklahoma City (2-1) : Per the Thunder's Stats Department, Serge Ibaka posted his seventh career game with eight or more blocks Saturday in OKC's win over Milwaukee.
3) San Antonio (2-1) : Given the Spurs' understandable paranoia regarding injuries entering the playoffs, expect to see Manu Ginobili (hamstring) on the bench for a few games.
4) Denver (1-2) : This is how hard the West is: the Nuggets won 15 straight games before their streak ended against New Orleans, and have won 18 straight games at home, and still only barely have control of a top-four spot in the conference.
5) Memphis (2-2) : Looks like the Grizzlies escaped a major scare with Marc Gasol missing only two games because of an abdominal tear. Could have been much worse.
6) L.A. Clippers (1-3) : Clips need to overtake Denver in West playoff chase in order to avoid rematch with the Grizzlies in the first round. If L.A., currently fourth in the West, can get to third, a date with sixth-place Golden State would be in the offing.
7) Indiana (3-0) : A tough, tough loss for the Pacers, with Danny Granger (knee) officially done for the season. Needed him against the likes of Miami in the playoffs.
8) New York (4-0) : J.R. Smith saved the Knicks' bacon with great play last week, keeping New York going while it waits for Tyson Chandler (neck) to return. Eight straight wins going into its showdown in Miami on Tuesday night.
9) Chicago (2-1) : More injuries force Nazr Mohammed, Jimmy Butler into starting lineup.
10) Golden State (2-1) : Getting their second wind? Won seven of last 10 after skid earlier in March.
11) Boston (2-2) : Trying to hold on until KG (ankle) can come back, and he won't likely be back until just before the playoffs.
12) Atlanta (2-2) : Hawks lose Zaza Pachulia (achilles' surgery) for the remainder of the season.
13) Brooklyn (1-2) : Lost contact with the Knicks just when it looked like the Nets might be able to steal the Atlantic. Now the Nets have to scramble just to hold onto fourth place and home court in the first round against Atlanta or Chicago.
14) Houston (1-2) : Looking more and more like the Rockets are locked into a first-round matchup with OKC. Houston was 1-2 against the Thunder in the regular season, losing its two games by 22 and 30 points.
15) Utah (4-0) [NR]: Major props to the Jazz, who have gotten through a brutal stretch of games and still have control of the last playoff spot in the West. Utah has five of its last eight regular-season games at home.
Dropped out: L.A. Lakers
Indiana (3-0): Smacked the Mavericks around in Dallas Thursday during a 3-0 start to their western road swing entering the finale Monday night in L.A. against the Clippers. Pacers have won seven of last eight and not by a little, crushing by an average of 16.4 points per game in their victories.
Phoenix (0-3): Not playing a healthy Goran Dragic in two games last week smells of the gerund form of an armored fighting device used in wartime that runs on rubberized tracks and can fire either high-caliber bullets or shells. What is that called? I can't remember. Anyone?
Is John Wall a max player?
The Wizards' guard thinks so and his play over the last couple of weeks has made the question more difficult to answer. The intangibles of being the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft and the face of the Wizards have been joined by tangible on-court results.
Since Wall's return Jan. 12 from a stress injury to his left kneecap that cost him the first 33 games of the season, the Wizards have swept their season series with Denver (giving the Nuggets one of only three home losses this season at the Pepsi Center), and beaten the Bulls, Clippers, Knicks, Nets, Rockets, Lakers and Grizzlies.
After Sunday's win over Toronto, Washington is 22-18 with Wall, almost a half-season's body of work, which projects to a record just above .500 over 82 games. That would have put the Wizards in the hunt for the seventh playoff spot in the East.
But is he a max player?
Only three point guards in the league have max deals -- Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. It's a lock that Chris Paul will join them this summer. And that's all.
Even Wall acknowledges those four are better than he is.
"You've got Chris Paul, Russell," he said Sunday night. "Derrick right now. I'd say Kyrie [Irving]'s up there, doing pretty good. I like [Portland's] Damian Lillard. I'd say he's up there in that category. He's playing out of his mind, to play like he's a rookie. I feel like those years in college really helped him. I feel like they'd be the top."
He agrees, when Rajon Rondo's name is mentioned, that Rondo is better. He goes along with Denver's Ty Lawson, and volunteers Golden State's Stephen Curry. And that's the list. Eight better.
But Wall believes he should be paid like the first four, each of whom is making at least $13.6 million (Westbrook's salary) this season. As a player between his first and sixth year in the league, Wall is eligible to receive up to 25 percent of the Wizards' total salary cap in an extension (though the actual amount is slightly lower than 25 percent; the NBA and union agreed to that in the negotiations during the lockout).
Under the new CBA, and using this season's cap of $58.044 million, Wall could get as much as a five-year, $78.59 million extension this summer that would begin in the 2014-15 season, an average of $15.7 million per season. That could happen only if Washington named Wall its "designated player."
Teams are allowed to give one player on their roster, including veterans, the designated player contract; all other players are limited to four-year extensions. (These are extensions, and not free-agent contracts; teams can give their own players five-year deals once they become free agents.)
So if the Wizards want to make Wall their designated player, they wouldn't be able to offer the same deal to rookie Bradley Beal, their first-round pick last year, or their upcoming lottery pick in this year's Draft.
Like Rose (and the Clippers' Blake Griffin), Wall could get an even higher extension off his rookie deal if he were to meet what is known as "fifth-year 30 percent max criteria," a set of specific goals that the union demanded be put in for young players who outperform their rookie deals. Those include being named league MVP (as Rose was in 2011), being voted in as an All-Star Game starter twice or being named to the All-NBA first, second or third teams twice. That would allow Wall to receive up to 30 percent of the Wizards' cap instead of 25 percent.
The Wizards have no intention of low-balling Wall. They know what the floor is. They just don't want to scrape the ceiling.
"Well, I feel like I get what I deserve," Wall says. "I know what I play like. I think they understand what I've been through the first two years, having what I had. Not to talk bad on any of my teammates or any of the guys I've had. I just feel like some of them weren't very professional about their job. They didn't care about winning, to be honest."
There is no swag in Wall's voice when he says this. He could be describing what he had for lunch.
Washington has indeed spent the last three years ridding its locker room of fools, overpaid underachievers and head cases. But the work isn't done. The Wizards need to get at least one more impact player to make a real jump next season while also making sure Wall is locked up long-term.
The market is rather clear. Most top-shelf point guards are making somewhere between $11 million and $17 million per season. (Brooklyn's Williams, who signed a five-year, $98.7 million contract last July, averages $19.75 per season, the highest per-year average for point guards.)
Rondo is in the midst of a five-year extension worth $55 million he signed in 2009. Curry signed a four-year extension last fall for $44 million. Lawson got a four-year, $48 million extension that kicks in next season. Westbrook's max extension averages $15.5 million per year. Rose was able to get a bigger extension -- five years and just under $95 million -- with his MVP award.
"I feel like those are some guys up there," he says. "Those are guys that, I'm not chasing just to go get. I want to prove myself, just like they proved themselves. And hopefully get my team to the playoffs like they're doing."
Wall is one of the league's most polarizing players. Those who like him tend to love him; those who don't like him tend to hate him. And do it publicly, even when it's wildly inappropriate . And when the Wizards started 5-28 without him, it was hard to see any player of value on the roster.
But Wall has been sensational at times since coming back. It took him a few weeks to get his legs under him, returning to the way he felt during the summer. It was then that he worked out in California with trainer Rob McClanaghan, whose client list includes Rose, Westbrook, Kevin Love and Al Horford.
Wall's first two years in the league were uneven, with only two things certain: 1) his speed with the ball was nearly unparalleled in the league, and 2) few players shot the ball worse outside of the paint. Hence the polarization: to Wall's supporters, he was the next version of Rondo; to his detractors, he was an out-of-control kid with no concept of how to run a team.
Wall knew his jumper was broken. He shot just 42 percent overall and an astoundingly bad 7 percent -- three of 42 -- on 3-pointers last season. He had a true shooting percentage of 50.2 percent, quite pedestrian for a starting guard.
So Wall went to work last summer.
"Every morning, at 7 a.m., in the gym," he said. "Just me coming off full speed, using a lot of speed. That's me. When you look at guys like Russell and Derrick, how athletic we are when we use our jump shots, you can't go into a slow set shot. I was getting probably a thousand shots a day in the morning. Sometimes, I'd come back in the afternoon. Just coming off of screens, like I would in a game."
Balance was everything. In his first two seasons, Wall had a habit of kicking out his leg when he shot. That had to stop; the kick had him leaning one way or the other instead of going straight up. And he struggled to find a consistent release point.
"Whenever I felt like I put speed into it or jumped into it, I felt like I held onto the ball too long," he said. "A lot of shots were short. And then whenever I jumped and then held onto it, it was just too long. It was tough to get into that rhythm. Probably the first two weeks I worked with him, it was frustrating. You can't finish drills without making shots. And I was just trying to get the hang of it. [McClanaghan] was like, 'Just stick with it. I know what you can do, and I know what I can do to help you, just like I helped those guys.'"
(McClanaghan texted Sunday night: "He worked extremely hard to improve in all areas. He put in the necessary time to improve. We did a lot of grueling workouts and he responded tremendously. I give him all the credit.")
Wall's frustration level when the knee injury occurred late in the summer -- left untreated, Wall could have suffered a broken kneecap, just as Griffin did in 2009, costing him his rookie season -- was thus high. And watching the Wizards become a league-wide laughingstock grated on him.
But there is no doubting Wall's impact on the Wizards since his return.
Entering the Wizards' game Sunday, Wall was fifth in the league among regularly appearing players in assist percentage, .at 409, according to NBA.com/Stats. He trails only Rondo, Paul, the Hornets' Greivis Vasquez and Detroit's Jose Calderon.
His jumper is significantly improved, especially from the right elbow. Wall doesn't take many threes, but he's considerably better this season, especially on the corner three, where he's 6 of 11. Wall's offensive rating has improved from 98.5 last season to 103.4. His true shooting percentage is up to 52.6 percent.
Wall scored a career-high 47 points in a win last week against Memphis and guard Mike Conley. He had 14 and 12 in Denver against Lawson in January, leading Washington to a road win -- the last time the Nuggets lost at home. He had 27 and 10 in a win over Milwaukee and Brandon Jennings. And Wall's best overall performance may have come against the Lakers on March 22, when he had 24 points, 16 assists, six rebounds and a turnover in 44 minutes, dissecting Steve Nash and the Lakers in a comeback victory.
"I liked the 47-point game, but 24 and 16 is a lot better to me," Wall said. "I was able to show that I can score and also pick a defense apart, without having a lot of turnovers. I found my teammates. I knew it was tough for them, coming off of screens. When you play a guy like Dwight Howard, he likes to play off, so you have to be able to make that [perimeter] shot to make him adjust."
Wall and Beal have a natural rhythm with one another. Beal's exactly what the Wizards hoped he'd be when they took him third overall last June -- a knockdown shooter with 3-point range who helps spread the floor, exactly what Wall needed. When small forwards like Martell Webster or Trevor Ariza are making perimeter shots, the Wizards are one of the best teams in the league at the hockey assist.
The numbers are clear. Without Wall, Beal shot 36.7, 32.3 percent on threes and averaged 13.1 ppg. With Wall, Beal shoots 49.3 percent, 47.5 percent on threes and averages 15.3 ppg. That includes the 24 points Beal scored Sunday against the Raptors, hitting 8 of 14, 6 of 9 on threes, including three straight in the second half -- two on Wall assists and one that started with a Wall hockey assist -- that blew open a tight game.
Wall finished with 18 points, six rebounds and 10 assists -- with one turnover.
"I thought he did a great job controlling and dictating what we needed to do from an offensive standpoint," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Who had the hot hand? What calls needed to be made? I thought this was one of his better all-around games, to be honest with you."
Most importantly, veterans like Webster, Ariza and Emeka Okafor have stabilized the locker room. That has made Wall more comfortable thinking about a long-term commitment to Washington.
"These guys like playing with me," Wall said. "They trust me as a point guard, and I trust those guys. They do a great job. They make my job a lot easier, because they want me to take jump shots. They want me to be confident in myself. They want me to find those guys. They like to get me the ball and let me push the show and find those [shots].
"When they believe in me. It makes it a lot easier. I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself, or my jump shot, but I feel my teammates didn't have confidence [in him] my first couple of years. They didn't want me to shoot. And you could kind of see it watching film, or see it on their face. It's just kind of great. It kind of makes it easier when you have a great coaching staff. I like the changes that they made and the people they've added, who want us to succeed, and the players they have here. It makes it a lot easier with what you want to do with your decision. I never want to be a follower. I want to be a leader. And I want to change this organization as much as possible."
So ... is he a max player?
Rose was league MVP by his third season. Westbrook was an All-Star and made second-team All-NBA by his third season. Paul was Rookie of the Year in 2006. Williams' Jazz team was in the Western Conference finals his second season, the same year he was second in the league in assists. Wall has done none of those things yet.
But the Wizards made Wall the face of their franchise. They've sold season tickets on the assumption that Wall will be a major part of their rebuilding effort, and lead them back to the playoffs. And Wall, together with Beal, have shown Washington there may be hope in the future.
Taking all that, plus inflation and a likely bigger salary cap next season into account, making Wall the team's designated player seems obvious. And giving him a five-year, $68.75 million extension, averaging just under $14 million per year and kicking in starting with the 2014-15 season, sounds like something both sides should be able to live with.
NOTE: No slight intended, but both Wall and I forgot to include the Spurs' Tony Parker in the point guard discussion. I'll speak for Wall here and say that Parker is better than Wall is. Parker is in the midst of a four-year, $50 million extension he signed in 2010 and which runs through the 2014-15 season. His average of $12.5 million per year puts him ahead of Rondo, Lawson and Curry, but behind Williams, Rose and Westbrook and, presumably, Paul when CP3 signs this summer. (Irving and Lillard are on their rookie deals.)
It was my understanding that there would be no math in this week's column. From Andrew Packwood:
As of this week's power rankings, the West is .578
against the East (or wins 1.36 against the East for every game the East wins against the West). I'm not going to ask about teams moving conference. However, I find that The Finals location being based on the team with the best straight record a bit strange given the number of game. Say a current West team plays against better teams in it's own conference. As I write this, Miami is 49-14 while San Antonio and OKC are 50-16 and 48-17, respectively. Would it not be prudent to multiply win-loss records by overall conference strength to get a truer sense of who has had a better regular season? However, 30 games are played against the opposing conference, so we should only multiply the difference (22 games or around a quarter of the value):
Miami: 49-14 (3.5)
San Antonio: (2.344 + 0.781*1.36)(3.4) (original value was 3.12)
OKC: (2.14 + 0.706*1.36)(3.1) (original value was 2.82)
Maybe the system is a little crude, but it seems to make a much fairer representation of how close the teams' records across conferences are as opposed to their actual value.
You may be on to a way to better rank all the teams, Andrew. But as far as determining who has home-court advantage in The Finals or playoffs, it's going to be difficult not to go by best record -- especially if that team is from the Western Conference, which we both believe is the much tougher of the two.
The Ripples of Faried continue to flow. From Arnaud Wijbinga:
First of all let me just say that I am not gay. But I have some friends who are and my girlfriend's sister is as well, so I can see what their struggles are. I believe what the "Manimal" is doing is a great thing. Playing a team sport, I know in the alpha-male locker room it's best not to talk about gay people. Usually one insecure guy shouts then: "Don't drop your soap now!" I feel that the biggest issue is a lack of education that people have around the subject. So Kenneth Faried being an amazing athlete and an advocate for the gay community is a great step towards acceptance.
I watched "Open Court" (amazing show by the way) the other day. Kenny Smith was talking about his Sacramento days, being coached by Bill Russell. Kenny was complaining about European players coming to the NBA and not fitting in because of lack of skill, stealing jobs, etc. Then he said that Bill Russell interrupted him by saying: As a black man, you can never be against inclusion. Do you believe that the NBA, being dominated by black men, can become the league that would pioneer the acceptance of the gay community?
I had never thought of that question in those terms, Arnaud, and it's a provocative hypothesis. But while I get your premise, I would not ever presume that there is a monolithic point of view among any group of African-American people on any subject, whether it's the war in Afghanistan or gay marriage. Generally -- generally -- I find people involved in sports tend to be more accepting of different cultures and lifestyles, so perhaps sports as a whole can lead in this area, much as Jackie Robinson's life was a powerful catalyst to the Civil Rights movement.
This is not what they mean in Arizona by the "Show Your Papers" law. From Eric Knoll:
I think I speak for most of the regular readers of The Tip, but can we see what your NCAA bracket looked like?
No, Eric. No, you can't.
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(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (30.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.7 apg, .623 FG, .654 FT): Missed his first game of the season Sunday against the Spurs (hamstring).
2) Kevin Durant (28.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.7 apg, .563 FG, .966 FT): Not an endorsement. But I like that new KD/Dwyane Wade "Nightmare" sports drink commercial.
3) Chris Paul (20.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 8.3 apg, .617 FG, .826 FT): CP3 dealing with another knee issue after getting hit on the side by Brooklyn's Keith Bogans last week. Hasn't missed any time.
4) Carmelo Anthony (26.8 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.3 apg, .392 FG, .897 FT): Averaging 28.2 per game since coming back from a knee drain last month.
5) Tony Parker (18 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 9 apg, .422 FG, .875 FT): Add a sprained finger, suffered last week, to Parker's block of injuries. But there is nothing more important to San Antonio's title chances than TP9 being on the court.
Dropped out: Kobe Bryant
3 -- Wins needed by Minnesota coach Rick Adelman to reach 1,000 for his career. Adelman would become the eighth coach in league history to reach 1,000 wins, joining Larry Brown (1,098 wins), George Karl (1,124 wins and counting), Phil Jackson (1,155), Pat Riley (1,210), Jerry Sloan (1,221), Lenny Wilkens (1,332) and the all-time leader, Don Nelson (1,335).
4 -- Place on the league's all-time scoring list for Kobe Bryant, after he passed Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) on Saturday. Next for Bryant, who now has 31,434 career points, is ... Michael Jordan, with 32,292 career points. The only players ahead of MJ are only Karl Malone (36,928) and the all-time leader, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387). Kobe is indeed reaching heady, heady territory in his brilliant career.
5 -- Players in league history to reach the "180 Club" in a single season. The number refers to a player who shoots at least 90 percent from the free throw line, 50 percent from the floor overall and 40 percent from 3-point range. With eight games to go this season, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant is on pace to become the sixth, currently shooting 90.8 percent from the foul line, 50.5 percent on overall field goals and 41 percent behind the 3-point line. He would join Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Price on the list.
1) The Heat's 27-game win streak not only was a testament to their dominance this season, but a tribute to how great the Lakers' 33-gamer and NBA record was in the first place. I never thought any team would even get close to it, and for a team to not lose for almost two months is something in which Miami's organization should take great pride, both now and in the future.
1A) And they should be even prouder of their effort Sunday in San Antonio.
2) I happen to love when teams bust the PC bubble and start slapping each other around. Just like I loved the Heat walking off the court after the win streak ended in Chicago -- not because they were poor sports, but because they were genuinely ticked off that their chance at immortality was over. That wasn't the time for "see you at Atlantis."
4) Yeah, I'm plugging Tuesday's doubleheader -- Knicks at Heat and Mavericks at Lakers -- on TNT. Huge games for all four teams.
5) We don't know yet if Michigan's Trey Burke and Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams will declare for the Draft. But they did nothing to harm their prospects if they do with scintillating performances in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament over the weekend.
1) Sure it was pure coincidence that LeBron and D-Wade sat out Sunday's game with the Spurs. Absolutely. Protocols were followed! The Heat players were in the building! That makes it all OK. People in San Antonio -- who will only see the Heat once this season unless they meet again in The Finals -- will surely understand paying their hard-earned cash not to see the reigning MVP.
2) Best wishes to one of the best guys from one of the best NBA families, the Pistons' longtime head athletic trainer Mike Abdenour. The team had said earlier in the week that Mike would be on indefinite medical leave, then said Friday that he had a stent inserted after suffering an episode that required hospitalization. Mike and his brother,Tom, the former Warriors' head athletic trainer, are as good as they come.
3) Kevin Ware, we're all pulling for you.
4) To act like this is a sudden development shows a lack of historical knowledge. Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley, Austin Carr, Len Bias, Thurl Bailey, Sherman Douglas, Johnny Dawkins, Grant Hill, Danny Ferry, David Robinson, Dennis Scott, Ty Lawson and Kevin Durant are just a few of the major ballers over the decades who hailed from the DMV. Ain't nothing changed.
5) Doug Gottlieb told a lousy joke. It's not a fireable offense. It wasn't racist. This really isn't something to get outraged about, even though some folks get outraged for a living these days.
The Beard could scare small children.
Like many of his Mavericks teammates, Dirk Nowitzki took a vow in January not to shave until Dallas got back to the .500 mark, after falling as many as 10 games underwater. It seems like a pedestrian goal for a player as accomplished as The Diggler, a former league MVP, NBA champion and Finals MVP. But that's where Dallas is in the NBA firmament right now, having decided to break up the 2011 championship team before it ever got a chance to defend its title, then missing out last summer on top free agents like Deron Williams.
But the Mavs have -- at least for now -- assuaged their 34-year-old superstar that they have a plan to put a couple of difference-making players around him this summer. That way he doesn't waste the remaining years of his brilliant career, you know, needing to find motivation in shaving. In the meantime, the greatest international player ever to star in the NBA continues to work his magic -- he scored eight of his season-high 35 points in the final minute Saturday, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left, to give Dallas an amazing come-from-behind 100-98 win over Chicago. That brought the Mavs back within a game and a half of eighth-place Utah -- and, again, a game under .500, with a huge game against the Lakers in L.A. Tuesday night on TNT looming as a season-definer.
Me: How surprised are you that you're still in this thing?
Dirk Nowitzki: Yeah, it's been a crazy year, I think, for everybody. The West is just so tight always, teams losing games you think they should win. We've lost close games all year, especially at home ... and we're right there. We've got to find a way to win those close games. We've been doing a little better the last, whatever, two weeks or so, but overall, when it comes down to execution the last two minutes, I don't think we were great all year, and that cost us a lot of close games. Hopefully over these last (10) games we can win some of these and really make it interesting.
Me: But you're usually what you are at this point of the season, aren't you?
DN: Well, I'm hoping that we have eight, nine new guys, obviously, going into the season. And I missed almost two months. So we never really had a chance to play a full season together. And once I came back, I really wasn't 100 percent right. And then the guys tried to get used to playing with me, so we were struggling. But our record since the All-Star break is playoff worthy. I think we're sixth or seventh record-wise after the All-Star break, we've been playing better. We've been pulling out some of those close games, like I mentioned. I think we're trending up. We've just got to finish even stronger and even better now these last couple of games and really make a push.
Me: What offensive adjustments has Rick made this year?
DN: I think honestly, he's been hard on (Darren) Collison and (O.J.) Mayo all year. He's challenged them to be better decision-makers on pick and rolls, on the fastbreak. I think both of them have made tremendous strides from earlier in the season. I think with Coach (Jim) O'Brien implementing his offense, we're playing a lot more movement. We're one of the fastest-paced teams in the league. I think we were number one for a while; I'm not sure if we still are. But we really like to push it now with our guards. If we don't have the break, we like to move it. Five guys touching it, swing it, pick and roll. If it's nothing on the first side, move it, get another pick and roll. It's a fun way to play. Everybody's sharing it, less pounding, less iso. We all know that at the end of the game, when the game slows down, there will be some pick and rolls and some isos. But in the course of the game we're trying to keep the pace up and it's been working for us.
Me: It seems like that's the trend league wide. You see Boston and Miami playing a similar way.
DN: Yeah, I agree. I think the league goes more in the four or five guys out, even, one guy in. I mean, we played Boston the other night, they played Jeff Green at the five. It's all about, with the rules now, taking a guy off the dribble, get to the foul line. The three ball is a huge weapon in our game nowadays. All the good teams have numerous 3-point shooters, and you can never leave one of them. When I first got in the league, all the iso stuff, it's pretty much gone. It's moving it. It's a more fun way of play, with everybody touching it, everybody moving. It's more of a passing game, not a lot of play calls, really. You get a stop, you run up, you play off of each other. It's a fun way to play.
Me: Is Rick calling fewer plays?
DN: I think so. Sometimes, J-Kidd [Jason Kidd] was so phenomenal, he'd kind of lead the game by himself. This year, I think we're trying to find a good mix. We're just playing off the flow or calling some plays when it's not really working that well. I think Rick is trying to find a good mix of both.
Me: How hard is this on you, scrambling for the eighth spot? This is not your standard.
DN: It's another challenge for me. We had some years in those playoffs when we weren't top four (in the West), from four to eight. That already felt like that wasn't a great year for us. So we obviously are used to high standards around here, the franchise and the city is disappointed in that way a little bit, with us (normally) winning 50 games every year and being right up there and having home court usually in the first round. It's been tough since we won the championship. Last year we were obviously a seventh, eighth seed, and this year we're still on the outside looking in. So it's been a tough year back to back. It's been written a bunch about the business decisions we've made, and we're moving forward. But we know that this is a big summer for us. We don't thrive on playing for the eighth seed. We thrive higher. Hopefully we can make some stuff happen this summer and be a great team again.
Me: Are you still confident the front office can build a contender again?
DN: I think sometimes you just need to gamble a little bit. You need to take chances. You may have to take a contract that people may say is not a good contract. But the great thing is if you have cap space, you can do that. I think with cap space you can still turn a franchise around pretty quick. So, yeah, we're just gonna go for it this summer and see what's out there in free agency. If not, maybe sign and trade, or trades. We just have to wait and see. So what we have to do now is just let it all hang out in the last three weeks or so, see if we make the push to the playoffs, and if not, we'll see what we've got going through the Draft, and then July will be a big month for us.
Me: Are you a recruiter now?
DN: I'm obviously gonna be here most of the summer. If they need me to go somewhere or call somebody, I'll obviously be more than happy to. This is my home. Once you've won it all, you want that feeling again. You don't want to be out of the playoffs looking in. We'd love to have that feeling again. The city was so excited. The franchise was. We'd love to at least play for that again. It's a big summer for us, and anything I can do, I'll be here.
Me: What did you make of Miami's streak?
DN: They look really good, obviously. LeBron is just on another level than anybody else. It seems like whatever he wants to, he can do. Get a few rebounds. Oh, I can get 12 assists real quick. And if we need a big basket, I'll just get it myself. And the rest is just, defensively, they're always good. All the rest are showing, and getting back, and also offensively, all the weapons they have, Rashard Lewis is shooting it great, (Ray) Allen coming off of the bench. They look really, really good.
Me: The Heat have changed their offense this season as well. How difficult is that when you're so used to playing in one system for a long time?
DN: You need everybody buying into the system. I think early on, maybe they went through some struggles. But once they got everybody on the same page, like I said, it's a fun way to play. It doesn't happen overnight, where you say now we're just going to be a running team, or we're going to be a pass and cut team. It takes effort. It takes a training camp. It takes everybody buying into the system. It took them a while, but they look really sharp now. They have a great mix of pushing it, pick and roll it, cut it, spread it. And they look really good doing it.
Me: Are you more verbal this season?
DN: I try to be. But first, I missed two months. I tried to help as much as I could from outside, but I wasn't traveling at the beginning. It was kind of hard. But since I've been back, we've got a couple older guys who've been talking more. It's Vince (Carter), who's been around. Elton (Brand) has been around. And obviously me. Mike James has come on late, and he's been good for us. We've got some veterans. You know, I like to say we used to be an old team with some young guys. Now we're a young team with some old guys. And us old guys, we do it together, we do it collectively. If I see something I address it, and so do the other guys. I think we've found a decent mix here the last couple of weeks of leadership and playing well, and hopefully we can keep it up.
Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11), Thursday, 4:52 p.m. The new Twitter member and legendary coach sent out his first Tweet to help publicize his upcoming new book, the conceit being that he had trouble typing because ... he was wearing his 11 rings! Get it? Of course, the Twitter Gullible initially thought he'd either lost his marbles or butt-typed. Ah, those TGs.
"I put it in God's hands. He has done so much for me and given me so much. The NBA has given me so much obviously, making me a household name, and I have accomplished a lot in the NBA. And if the road ends here, then it does and I am not bitter about it."
-- Allen Iverson, to ComcastSportsNet Philadelphia, on whether he'll ever play again. Iverson returned to Philly on Saturday at the team's request as it celebrated "Allen Iverson Bobblehead Night" and aired a video tribute to Iverson's career with the 76ers.
"I've had a great time this season. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a season as much as this one. Because the Clippers have turned out to be one of the most exciting teams I've ever watched, and that combined with the demise of the Lakers has been really exciting for me."
-- NBA Superfan Jimmy Goldstein, a Clippers lover and unabashed Lakers hater, in an interview with GQ Magazine on his fashion style (here, here and here) and how he views the dressing habits of NBA players.
"My mind is in a better place about it. It's been tough for everybody involved, including myself. It hasn't been the year we wanted it to be. A lot of it has been due to injuries. I have myself to blame, but injuries happen. This is my fifth year in the league and I hope to play 10-plus years after this."
-- Kevin Love, to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, on the possibility that he could miss the rest of the season following his January surgery to repair two broken bones in his right hand.
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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