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David Aldridge

With Steph Curry as the centerpiece, the Warriors are returning to respectability.

Warriors hoping playoff run just the start of new era of stability


Posted May 13, 2013 10:49 AM - Updated May 13, 2013 4:38 PM

Riley Curry, approaching 10 consecutive months on Earth, decided this would be a good weekend to begin standing on her own two feet. She took about three steps, mother Ayesha noted Sunday, before falling.

Presumably, this is just normal toddler trial and error, and not an indication of another Curry with ankle problems.

Everywhere in the Bay Area, there are tentative steps being taken: by Stephen Curry, having turned his ankle again Friday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference semis against San Antonio, by his daughter and by his franchise.

A pushover for much of the last two decades, the Warriors have spent this season rising -- on the words of their Scripture-quoting, non-cursing coach, on the 3-pointers of their Splash Brothers backcourt and on the will of a home crowd that has sold out Oracle Arena all season and was there for years and years before, when there was little reason to be.

Sunday's comeback overtime win over the Spurs put the Warriors two wins short of their first conference finals since 1976. It's been a season of firsts -- first playoff berth since 2007, first All-Star representative since 1997, first Western Conference Player of the Month award since 1990. But the idea is to make this a season where things start to last.

Lots of previously bad teams have been where the Warriors are now. The Hornets looked like they were going to be a force for years in 2008, after knocking off the Mavericks in the first round and pushing the Spurs to Game 7 in the semifinals. They had Chris Paul at the point, David West at forward, Tyson Chandler at center and coach Byron Scott on the bench.

They've made the playoffs only twice since.

The Wizards looked like an up-and-coming power in the East in 2006, after making the semis. They had one of the league's most exciting players in Gilbert Arenas, and professional role players behind him.

We all know how that turned out.

The Warriors even had a blip of life in the "We Believe" playoffs of 2007, when, as the No. 8 seed, they beat No. 1-seeded Dallas in that memorable upset behind Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, smoke and mirrors, cats and dogs living together and mass hysteria.

But can the Warriors sustain what has come together this season?

"It's still in its early phases," center Andrew Bogut said Saturday. "Just because we're having a great year this year, we still have to back it up next year. But I like what I see so far."

With Curry looking like an incandescent player in this postseason -- when he's been healthy -- the Warriors have the requisite superstar ... and a superstar that's under one of the most team-friendly extensions (a four-year, $44 million deal that starts next season) for a prime-time player in recent years. In Bogut, who finally got back on the court midway through this season after spending almost a year rehabbing his left ankle, Golden State has a center who is as effective defensively as any of the league's elites.

The Warriors insisted on Draft night 2012 that they had rolled three sevens, getting small forward Harrison Barnes (No. 7 overall), center Festus Ezeli (with a second first-rounder -- No. 30 -- acquired in the deal that brought Bogut from Milwaukee and sent Monta Ellis to the Bucks) and forward Draymond Green early in the second round. Each is playing major postseason minutes for Golden State.

They have their All-Star in forward David Lee, the franchise's first since Latrell Sprewell 16 seasons ago. The sport's sabermatricians don't think a lot of Lee's defense, but his presence -- he came to Golden State the night of LeBron James' decision, in a sign-and-trade deal with the Knicks -- brought the Warriors much-needed credibility around the league, showing they could get a good young player to come to the Bay.

And in Mark Jackson, who came fresh from jawing with Jeff Van Gundy for ESPN and ABC two years ago, they have a coach who is decidedly old-school. He's going with his gut with matchups, calling out the Nuggets publicly for what he considered dirty play against Curry in the first round, and trusting his players on the floor. That has instilled confidence in a team that's playing four rookies in the playoffs against one of the most veteran-laden teams left.

But Jackson was just one of many unconventional hires made by owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, themselves unexpected winners of the auction three years ago to buy the team from unpopular, distant former owner Chris Cohan. Lacob and Guber beat out Oracle CEO Larry Ellison -- whose company has the naming rights to the team's arena and whom most thought would get the team he's sought for years -- with a bid of $450 million in 2010.

"It was clear we needed to change -- on the business side, on the basketball side, on the political side," Lacob said Sunday. "It was pretty pervasive. Now, it isn't to say -- I'm sure people were doing the best job that they could. But there's a reason you only make the playoffs once in 19 years, I guess, is the bottom line."

The Warriors brought in Bob Myers from the uber-NBA player agency SFX as the GM-in-waiting (Myers replaced Larry Riley, now the team's director of scouting, in 2011). They hired highly regarded executive Rick Welts (the creator of All-Star weekend, among other highlights on his resume) to run the business side. And they added glamour by bringing in The Logo, Jerry West, as a consultant and consilgliere to ownership as it worked toward agreement with the city on a downtown San Francisco arena that is set to open in 2017.

Riley, a longtime friend of former coach Don Nelson, got a lot of the big things right during his tenure as GM, laying the foundation that has led to the Warriors' rebirth.

In 2009, with the seventh pick in the Draft, the Warriors needed a point guard. Fortunately, a lot of them were available. Figuring the Wolves would take Ricky Rubio with one of their two picks ahead of Golden State, the guard the Warriors wanted was Curry, the slight shooter from Davidson. But they didn't know they'd get him until Minnesota took Jonny Flynn with the sixth pick.

Riley was convinced after watching Curry play for Davidson against Purdue in Indianapolis just before Christmas in 2008. Harassed and hounded all night, Curry had one of his worst shooting games, making just 5 of 26 shots, finishing with just 13 points.

And Riley was thrilled.

"Purdue fouls you all night," Riley said. "They're going to beat you up. That was, to me, the test I wanted to see -- whether he could handle it. They just beat him to death, and [Davidson] lost the game. But he stood up all night and did an outstanding job."

Riley then got Lee in July of 2010 from New York for Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and a future second-rounder. The Warriors knew they had no shot at James, and targeted either Lee or Utah's Carlos Boozer. It didn't matter which one they got, but they had to get one of them. After James spurned the Knicks, New York pulled the trigger on the sign-and-trade deal with Lee, giving him $80 million over six years and then sending him West.

The Warriors had lost Arenas, then a budding star, to Washington in 2003 via free agency. They lost Davis to the Clippers in 2008. They needed to make a splash. And Lee was their best player for a couple of years, averaging 20.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg last season.

Adding Klay Thompson with the 11th overall pick in 2011, by contrast, was a no-brainer. He was a great shooter; the Warriors knew there was no way they could keep playing the (allegedly) 6-foot-3 Curry and 6-foot-1 Ellis in the backcourt together, and wanted to put Curry on the ball permanently. (This is one reason Riley didn't see much future in Golden State for a free-agent point guard and fan favorite in 2010, Jeremy Lin, who was waived and found some success elsewhere. Or so I'm told.)

This was around the time Golden State was looking for a coach to finally replace Nelson, who'd become the NBA's all-time winningest coach during two stints in Golden State. But it was time for a change.

Jackson made it clear through his years working in television that he believed he deserved the same opportunity to get a good first coaching job that others, like Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers, had gotten out of the television booth. He turned down some offers, got left at the altar for others. But when the Golden State job opened up, he wanted it.

"I looked at the talent," Jackson said. "I looked at the fan base. I looked at the passion of the ownership, of Joe and Peter. I looked at the management. And they took a chance on me. I would not have taken any job. But I just thought this was a home run job, because of the potential. And quite honestly, I prayed on it. And this was the place."

Jackson also wanted input into personnel decisions -- not control, but a say that would be respected. Lacob and Guber agreed.

"I was influenced a little bit by Boston," said Lacob, who'd been a minority owner of the Celtics. "I saw what Doc did, his background. I saw you could come out of the broadcast booth if you had the NBA playing career, and be very successful. And I saw that the most important thing that Doc Rivers provided was leadership, and the guys were willing to follow him ... if you can't lead people, whether you're the CEO or the basketball coach, the Xs and Os and all the other stuff is important. But if you can't lead them, they're not going to follow you, anyway."

Jackson won only 23 games in his first, lockout-shortened season. And an extramarital relationship Jackson had had in 2006 became public last year when the woman and an associate attempted to extort money from Jackson -- who had passed on the extortion threats to the FBI after making an initial payment. But there was never any inkling that Lacob or Guber were going wobbly on Jackson.

"For them to take a chance on me really put a stamp on what I thought about them," Jackson said. "They wanted to go outside the box. And it showed that it wasn't going to be the norm. And I'm extremely grateful. Because they very well could have, not just in giving me the job ... we won 23 games last year. I went through stuff that happened seven years ago. And they didn't quit on me. They knew who I was, and who I am. And I'm a guy that believes [in], the Bible says 'I'll bless you who blesses you and curse who curses you.' And these guys blessed me by trusting who I was. I'm thankful."

Jackson's faith is as central to his being as breathing. A pastor at a local California church, he has embraced the faith-based core of his team, including Curry, Lee and Jarrett Jack. After the Warriors beat Denver in six games, Jackson said that God had a hand on his team.

"What I mean is there are people who would say God doesn't care about basketball," Jackson said last week. "Well, read the Bible. He cares about everything that has to do with me. He says, 'I'm a rewarder of those that diligently seek.' And this is a basketball team that diligently seeks Him, win, lose or draw. And you can't tell me that the God I serve doesn't care about blessing us. And I don't mean in winning. But he certainly has a vested interest in knowing that He can trust this basketball team, that no matter whether we beat the Denver Nuggets in round one, or whether we lose to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the second round, it's still all God."

Some interpreted his postgame words after the Denver series as Jackson believing God favored the Warriors over the Nuggets.

"I'm not saying it for the people," Jackson said. "I'm saying it for the God I serve, and He knows He can trust me. And there's a reason why we're in the situation we're in."

Jackson made defense his non-negotiable bedrock for the team. The Warriors had been a defensive joke under Nelson, unable to make rudimentary stops when they had to. Jackson made it his mission (it's no secret he thought Thompson a vastly superior defender than Ellis and had no problem seeing Ellis go), and bringing Bogut in was central to that.

When Bogut was healthy in Milwaukee, he was one of the league's best on-ball post defenders. Of course, he hadn't been healthy much since suffering that gruesome right elbow dislocation and broken hand near the end of the 2010 regular season. For the last two years, he's basically been a one-armed player. Sometimes, his arm goes numb in the middle of a game.

But he can still protect the paint. Tim Duncan has had his moments in four games against the Warriors, but he hasn't done much one-on-one against Bogut. With Ezeli and Bogut taking most of the center minutes this season (veteran Andris Biedrins was a spot player), Golden State improved from 26th in the league last season in defensive rating to 13th this season.

After a tough-love relationship with coach Scott Skiles in Milwaukee -- whom he liked, most of the time -- Bogut was ready for Jackson's smoother approach.

"I did a lot of research," Bogut said. "I obviously found out mediocrity was kind of acceptable here. The fans still supported 20-win teams, which was just that much more crazy to think -- hey, if we have a product that's half-decent, imagine how good it's going to get?"

The team's rebuild wasn't limited to the coach. For years, many around the league viewed Golden State as one of the league's most underdeveloped franchises. The Bay Area was a destination for many, who love the combo platter that San Francisco and Oakland provide -- a little sophistication here, a little grittiness there. If ownership could ever get things right at Golden State, people thought, you could have a big-time franchise. But Cohan's reign of error -- he was booed fiercely almost every time he made a public utterance at Oracle -- poisoned the waters. The new owners were thorough housecleaners.

"It's harsh, but they fired everybody," Bogut said. "Basically, everybody. Sales people. And sometimes you have to do that. It's worked well. It's the sign of a new culture ... there was problems in the organization. People weren't working as hard as they should be, throughout. And I think it trickled down from top to bottom, from what I heard. Not to knock the people that were here, but that's just things that you hear. They tried to change that and hold everybody accountable."

Myers came with a reputation as a tough but very fair, very smart agent. The former UCLA player knows all the minutiae of the salary cap and built relationships across the NBA spectrum while developing his player-evaluation skills.

"I realized that we had to all grow as an organization together," Lacob said. "What I didn't want to do was bring in the same-old, same-old from around the NBA. Not that there aren't a lot of good people. But I really wanted a fresh, new, vibrant culture. And I'm a believer in youth in management. I believe that young people, if they're given the opportunity, and as long as they have some level of experience, if given the chance and guided well, they can really do great things."

Lacob had invested in more than 70 companies before buying the Warriors. The one thing he thought he knew something about was a business culture -- "why certain companies make it, and others don't," he said.

"And I think a lot of that was transferrable to the situation, as it turned out," Lacob said. "I didn't know that would be as transferrable. But we had to dig deep, change a lot of attitudes. I guess the most unexpected things for me, was, I had to become a public face of the franchise, which is not something you want to do. But I had no choice."

So Lacob and Guber sold the improving team infrastructure. West sold their vision for the new arena to local lawmakers, who were much more moved by Lacob's plan to spend most of the estimated $1 billion on the building and surrounding area out of his own pocket.

None of all that would matter much, though, if Curry didn't explode this season. That was a stretch after being unable to stay healthy for large chunks of the 2011-12 season with a series of ankle sprains that threatened to limit his effectiveness. Yet he played in 78 games, broke the NBA record for regular season 3-pointers with 272, and became the first player in league history to make 250 or more threes and have 500 or more assists in one season.

Instead of taking a chance in free agency, Curry opted for the extension last fall. Except for players like Kyrie Irving that are still on their rookie deals, there isn't a better bargain in the league than the $11 million per year the Warriors will be paying Curry through 2017 -- when their new, revenue-generating building should be ready.

"I didn't know he was going to be this good," Riley said. "What I did know was, I saw a young man with a lot of skill. One, of course, was shooting the ball. But the other one was the ability to make a pass, and handle. He can make a long pass, he can make a short pass, and he can handle in traffic."

Indeed, it is the diming that puts Curry in a potential category all his own. Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Allan Houston could shoot deep; Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Fat Lever could pass. Rarely can one player do both. Steve Nash comes to mind, but the combo isn't normal. And yet Curry throws his one-handed left-handed passes to the opposite corner as seemingly naturally as he rises up for the corner three.

That word, again, was "seemingly."

As with all greats, the harder Curry works at it, the easier it looks.

"I do a lot of dribble drills and workouts throughout the course of the summer where you work on controlling the basketball, you work on making the pass off the dribble," Curry said. "There's split-second decisions in the NBA, especially for a guy like me with small hands, not as tall, being able to see over guys. You have to be able to make those decisions just quick and figure out how to get the ball where it needs to be, in any way possible. Just worked at it. I think being able to handle the ball well helps in that situation, so you don't have to worry about where the ball is. You can read the defense, keep your eyes up and make that pass."

Curry waved Denver goodbye on his own, completely controlling second halves game after game. He averaged 24.3 ppg and 9.3 apg against the Nuggets, shooting 43 percent from 3-point range.

"I've been hot before, but you want to do it on big stages, and you want to turn it into wins," Curry said. "To have slow starts in some of those games, to be able to turn it on in the second half, it was special. It was a fun series. Going through your first playoff series, you just want to play well, contribute, and for me, just try to be the best leader I can going through the whole process. I think we accomplished that mission."

If you're talking about winning championships, of course, the Warriors have accomplished nothing. The team they're playing has accomplished quite a bit over the last 17 seasons. Yet the Spurs are miserable, starving for a return to The Finals after six years. They know what it is to sustain excellence, season after season, and they know that that still isn't enough.

The Warriors could be, maybe should be, up 3-1 over the Spurs. But Golden State is just at the beginning where San Antonio has been, and the Warriors still show their inexperience at times. But whether or not they beat San Antonio, the Warriors are gambling their unconventional house can raise a successful franchise.

"The thing about it is it puts us in position to sustain what we have now," Jackson said. "The future looks awfully bright."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(This week's record in parenthesis; April 29 rankings in brackets)

1) Miami (2-1) [1]: Dwyane Wade still gimpy, but Heat have ground out two impressive wins over the game Bulls.

2) Memphis (2-1) [5]: Quincy Pondexter earning himself quite a bit of coin down the road with his strong playoff performances.

3) San Antonio (2-2) [2]: Need either Danny Green or Gary Neal to make a few more perimeter shots if they're going to hold off Golden State.

4) Oklahoma City (1-2) [3]: There are people in Dallas and L.A. who don't think much of Derek Fisher these days, but he is an incredible clutch performer, even at 38 and counting. (Factoid I did not know until Sunday night: Fisher was born August 9, 1974 -- the exact day that Richard Nixon officially resigned as President.)

5) Indiana (2-1) [10]: Yes, small ball is all the rage in the NBA. But guys like the Pacers' Roy Hibbert, and Tim Duncan, and Andrew Bogut, and Tyson Chandler still seem to matter this time of year.

6) Golden State (2-2) [4]: If the Warriors manage a way to win Game 5 in San Antonio Tuesday (on TNT!), I wouldn't want to be paint at Oracle Arena for Game 6. You will peel.

7) New York (1-1) [6]: A slump is when you miss a few shots here and there in a game. Jason Kidd, scoreless in three games against the Pacers, and 0-of-5 from the floor, is passed out completely.

8) Chicago (1-2) [8]: (Insert I am outraged! at Derrick Rose rip here).

9) L.A. Clippers [7]: Season Complete. But Vinny Del Negro's future has yet to be decided.

10) Denver [9]: Season Complete. Nuggets, who collected mucho hardware this week with George Karl winning Coach of the Year and Masai Ujiri winning Executive of the Year honors, shouldn't overreact to their first-round loss to Golden State.

11) Brooklyn [11]: Season Complete. If Billy King truly thinks the Triangle is an offense that would be best for the Nets next season, Brian Shaw would be an obvious and logical choice.

12) Atlanta [12]: Season complete. Yahoo! Sports reported that the Hawks were pushing hard for Stan Van Gundy to replace Larry Drew -- who hasn't actually been fired yet. But I keep hearing that Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, whom Hawks president Danny Ferry knows quite well from his executive stint in San Antonio, is still very much in the mix.

13) Boston [13]: Season complete.

14) Houston [14]: Season Complete. Assistant general manager Sam Hinkie hired by 76ers as new team president/GM as housecleaning begins in earnest in Philly.

15) L.A. Lakers [15]: Season Complete.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Memphis (2-0): Grizz two wins from the franchise's first appearance in the Western Conference finals after terrific performances from Marc Gasol and the usual stifling defense keep the Grizzlies unbeaten at home (5-0) in the playoffs with a win over Thunder Saturday.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Team Sergio (splash): Perhaps Sergio Garcia should re-evaluate opening his mouth and criticizing Tiger Woods before putting three balls in the drink on the 71st and 72nd holes of The Players Championship.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

Can the Kings' saga please end?

Talking about this for one more second gives me a headache behind my eye.

I'm going to hurl hearing any more manufactured outrage from Sacramento or Seattle about the other city, about how the prospective owners in one town are righteous, steed-riding heroes desperately trying to save their city's honor, while the prospective owners in the other city are awful, awful men, who are knocking the planet off its axis with their horrible, horrible behavior.

Oh, give it a rest.

There are tens of thousands of good and honest fans in both cities, who love basketball, and I am not talking to you right now. It is not your fault the Sonics left Seattle or that the Kings could leave Sacramento. Nor am I talking about passionate but professional bloggers on both sides like Tom Ziller and the Sactown Royalty crew in Sacramento. I am talking to your Twitter Idiot Uncles and your media curmudgeons who heap invective on everyone who doesn't follow their version of what's happened here to the letter.

Here's the truth:

Seattle businessmen are trying to steal the Kings from Sacramento, away from fans that have supported that franchise year after (mostly crummy) year since 1985. They have no qualms about breaking the hearts of those fans, just as fans in Seattle's were broken when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. They know that the Kings mean more to Sacramento than they could possibly mean to Seattle. They know that that city has done everything humanly possible the last two years to show it deserves to keep the team. And they know there's now a perfectly acceptable group who wants to buy the Kings from the Maloof family and keep the Kings in Sacramento, and they want them in Seattle, anyway. And thousands of fans in Seattle support their efforts.

And:

Sacramento businessmen stole the Kings from Kansas City in 1985. Some in Sacramento now try to justify it, saying the Kings weren't drawing back then and no one cared. Really? So why did those same owners tried to buy and move the very popular Pacers to Sacramento the year before, according to this Deadspin.com story last January? This account makes it seem more like the Kings were taken from Kansas City under pretenses that, if not false, were stretched well past truth.

Then-Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill also tried to build a sports complex next to Arco Arena in the late 1980s and early '90s (he started, but ran out of money) so he could try to steal an NFL or MLB team -- presumably, so that Sacramento fans would buy tickets to see them.

My best friend grew up in Baltimore. He was, understandably, heartbroken and incensed when owner Bob Irsay took the Colts out of Baltimore in 1983 in the middle of the night and moved them to Indianapolis. I heard no such outrage from him when Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore and they were renamed the Ravens. Nor did I expect to hear it. My best friend is a fan. And he loves Baltimore. He has Ravens season tickets and he went to their first Super Bowl win. I get it. And I love him like a brother. But on this issue, it doesn't make him any less a hypocrite.

None of you in either city is Caesar's wife on this one. Nor am I, living in a city that stole the Expos from Montreal, the Redskins from Boston and the Bullets (now Wizards) from Baltimore. I feel bad that there were fans in Montreal who loved the Expos, but I still take my kids to games all the time and never squawk about the injustice that was done to those other cities.

Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer and all the other members of the Seattle group are businessmen. Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov and the Jacobs Brothers -- Jeff, Paul and Hal -- and all the rest of the Sacramento group are businessmen. None of them would be putting up any coin if they didn't think buying the Kings, first and foremost, was a good deal. They wouldn't have committed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years to buy land and to build a new arena if they didn't think, at some point, they'd make back their investment, and then some. Are they civic-minded? Do they want to help out Seattle and Sacramento? Of course; There's no doubt they love their respective towns. But they want to make a buck, too, in the process.

And so we're down to a final week of meetings, starting today with a conference call of the relocation and finance committees, put together after Hansen's group significantly upped the ante late last week with a new valuation of the Kings of $625 million (meaning the Hansen group would pay the Maloofs $406.25 million for 65 percent of the team).

At the same time, the Maloofs and the Hansen group informed the NBA they had reached agreement on a "secondary" deal, which they wanted to enact in case the NBA's Board of Governors votes to reject the relocation of the Kings in a final vote Wednesday.

In that secondary deal, the Maloofs would sell 20 percent of the Kings to the Hansen group for $120 million, based on a franchise valuation of $600 million. The Kings would remain in Sacramento for next season and the Maloofs would continue to own them. It's a "solution" no one would like and would not address what everyone agrees is the best solution -- getting the Maloofs their money and getting them out of the NBA.

Most pertinent is the disclosure that the Hansen group is also willing to agree to an unprecedented $115 million relocation fee if NBA owners allow it to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle for next season.

"They just keep throwing more and more money at it," said one high-ranking team official Sunday who is supporting Sacramento's bid to keep the team. "At some point you're going to sway some owners. The question is, has Sacramento done everything it can to prove it is a viable NBA city? I think it has."

But this executive also believes that the massive relocation fee -- more than triple what Clay Bennett and his group paid to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City -- could change the calculus of Wednesday's vote.

"Basically, they're offering every owner $4 million," the executive said. "There's going to be a lot of owners who are impacted by that."

The move is blatant financial hardball, an attempt to reshape the narrative that had taken hold since the relocation committee voted 7-0 April 29 to reject the Kings' relocation and recommend to the full Board that the team stay put. It seemed inevitable that the full Board would vote both to reject the sale to Hansen and the relocation.

"The whole time, it's been presented not as a bidding war, but has Sacramento served the NBA market, and will it continue to," said a high-ranking team executive of another team who supports the move of the Kings to Seattle.

If that continues to be the narrative Wednesday in Dallas -- is Sacramento a good NBA steward? -- the Kings will stay in Sacramento.

"That's always been our thesis: if we can check our boxes, we'll be in good shape, and that's been proven out," said a source close to the Sacramento group over the weekend.

Stern made it clear for Sacramento at a March news conference in Golden State that the first bid the group Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had put together to buy the team and keep it in town wouldn't pass muster with owners. Soon after, Ranadive, a minority owner of the Warriors who had his own significant fortune and compelling life story, became the public face of the group as additional investors were sought and added.

The league has set markers at every turn for the Ranadive group, working with it to try to smooth out potential problems. And after the April 29 vote, Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver all but made it clear in an interview with PBS's Charlie Rose that the league's preference was to keep the Kings in Sacramento, provided the Ranadive group and Johnson could deliver on the proposed $447 million arena they plan to build at the Downtown Plaza mall site.

"You can't reduce this to the amount of a sticker price," said a second source close to the Sacramento group.

It seems equally clear that a bidding war is the last move for the Hansen group, though there has been some buzz in Seattle that seeking relief in the courts if the vote doesn't go the city's way Wednesday could be fruitful.

A memo I have obtained details a potential framework for legal action, citing the Sherman Act's prohibition against group boycotts. In this instance, the (unauthored) memo argues, the league would be vulnerable to a lawsuit by the Hansen group based on the Haywood case won by Spencer Haywood against the league in 1971. That case allowed Haywood to sign a contract to play in the NBA despite not having graduated from college, the existing rule at the time for eligibility. Haywood successfully argued that financial hardship necessitated him coming into the league immediately.

The memo's author argues that Hansen could successfully sue the NBA because if owners vote to reject the sale of the team to him, they would be engaging in a similar group boycott that the Supreme Court ruled was illegal in the Haywood case.

But all that may, literally, be an academic exercise. A source directly involved with Hansen's pursuit of the team reiterated Friday that Hansen is not looking at potential litigation as a means for getting the Kings.

"It's not part of anything that our group is contemplating," the source said.

That is probably a good thing, for Hansen would likely have a difficult time winning an antitrust case against the NBA.

Despite reaching a binding agreement with the Maloofs -- initially $341 million for a 65 percent share of the team -- Hansen's deal with the Maloofs was always, and still is, subject to approval by the NBA.

Sacramento was allowed to put together a potential backup offer in case Seattle's deal was not approved, and would not be viewed as "interfering" with Hansen's deal by doing so. Nor is there any provision guaranteeing the highest bid for a team is the winning one. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison bid more for the Warriors in 2010 than Joe Lacob and Peter Guber (see above), though he reportedly made the bid well after Lacob and Guber had agreed with former owner Chris Cohan to buy the team for $450 million.

NBA TV's "in-house counsel," University of New Hampshire Law professor Michael McCann, says that Hansen might be able to pursue a lawsuit if he were looking to force the league to expand to Seattle, on the grounds that the NBA and its teams have joined as a cartel that is limiting the number of franchises in an uncompetitive way. But, "the league would say no court has ever compelled expansion under antitrust law," McCann said Saturday via Twitter.

(There remains next to no support among owners for expansion, at least until a new national television deal is completed in a few years. No one knows what the financial landscape will be until they know how much money is coming in from the league's TV partners -- including Turner Sports, which runs this website and pays my salary.)

The city of Seattle could potentially file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, McCann wrote, making a similar argument that there are too few teams in the league and that owners are limiting competition for those teams, while also focusing on the economic impact of not having a team on local jobs and businesses. But this, too, would have a low chance of success.

"The court would weigh [the] pro-and anti-competitive impact of NBA relocation and sale process; this is mostly deferential to [the] league," McCann wrote. "Unlike Hansen, though, Seattle is not in contract with Maloofs or NBA, so [the] city hasn't contractually waived away any claims."

And even though the Maloofs had an antitrust lawyer present when they announced their objections to last year's proposed arena plan deal in Sacramento that they walked away from, their chances of winning an antitrust suit against the league are almost impossible. Like every owner, they signed a "waiver of recourse" clause when they bought the Kings, meaning they would not sue other NBA owners while they own the team.

(For what it's worth, the memo arguing the Hansen group should sue the league on antitrust grounds says that while owners may not be able to sue one another, there is precedent in antitrust law that parties cannot force others to prospectively waive their rights to enforce the laws, even by contract.)

That's way too much lawyerin' if I'm not talking about a lockout.

None of that is likely to be part of this, anyway. The sad truth remains that it's a near certainty one city will be left without a team for a very long time when the final vote comes. But it's going to be a calculated, eyes-open vote, not one based on emotion or anger.

"It's business," the pro-Sacramento executive said. "More power to Hansen and Ballmer. I think it's become an ego thing. They want to win. From a league perspective, they're pushing up the value of the franchises. You can't be angry with them. They're doing the best they can to win."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

On Jason Collins, Vol. I. From Darrel Gains:

I believe that a person should be entitled to do whatever makes them happy. Whether it is morally right or wrong that's not for me to judge. I would just say that for someone to feel the need to tell their business to the world it must have been eating him alive or he must have been in need of attention. Lets face it before this announcement nobody even knew who this guy was. I feel that the media attention that this has been getting is way too much! I also feel that society glamourizes homosexual-ness to the point that now its the new "thing." You got kids today seeing this person or that person living an alternative lifestyle and thinking that's the way they should live. I'm just saying the media blows these gay-rights things out of proportion and unfortunately it influences or youth. I coach a youth basketball team now I gotta try to explain what GAY means. I just think a person should live like they wanna live regardless of what people think, but just keep it to themselves. If you're gonna be homosexual, do that, but just don't go around telling the whole world and influencing young minds and not letting them make that decision on their own!

I'm sorry, Darrel: I couldn't get past "homosexual-ness." I'm also sorry that talking about gay people makes you feel icky.

On Jason Collins, Vol. II. From Mike FitzPatrick:

While I am a Christian, believing that homosexuality is a sin (and like any other sin, it changes a person from the intention God has for his/her life into something else) and knowing people of both sexes to come out of the lifestyle by the power of Jesus Christ, (I) find that you have written a very thoughtful and incisive article.

I especially agree with your hope that all people can be truthful about all things because in the end truth will win out. Homosexuality has been embraced by societies in the past, the inevitable consequences happened and the truth won out, it will again. I just hope the consequences don't have to get too bad for us to turn back. Unfortunately our education system is woeful and selective so we really don't know what's happened in the past.

As for Mr. Collins, I wouldn't think of booing him or ridiculing him because of his admission. This admission is a relief but it's not freedom. He won't find that until he comes under the Lordship of Jesus. I pray for him to find the truth as I do for all the folks in entertainment industry as you have a huge impact on society for good or for ill.

Thank you, Mike. As I said, I do not want people of faith to run away from who they are and what they believe, any more than I would want Collins to. In the end, though, we all have to figure out a way to co-exist in each others' worlds, instead of putting up barriers.

On Jason Collins, Vol. III. From Betty Parris:

I enjoyed reading your article in regards to Jason Collins revealing that he's gay. I hope that he's happy with his decision to come out of the "closet". However, I have to agree with Chris Broussard view that as a Christian homosexuality isn't what God teachings are consistent with. First of all in the beginning of time, God created Adam & Eve and not Adam & Steve. As a Christian I am not here to judge anyone & how you choose to live your life is entirely up to you. God is the judge of us all (my own Christian beliefs). I have a relative who is a gay male & he as a Christian believes that homosexuality is wrong in the eyes of God and he fights an internal struggle each day. He doesn't even believe in gay marriages. I hope that Chris Broussard doesn't get too many negative feedbacks because of his views. Chris is entitled to his own personal views just as us all. No one should feel pressured to conform to the views of others if their own views differ with the color of the day. Take care.

As I said in the column, Betty, Chris is a friend, though we disagree on this topic. But he lives his life honestly and believes what he believes about Christianity. No one who knows Chris at all was at all surprised by what he said. And he should be able to express those beliefs without having to fear recriminations.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and immediate and serious help for ex-Lions receiver Titus Young (seriously, he needs help) to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week's averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (22.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 7.7 apg, .457 FG, .786 FT): Had no idea James had such poor upper body strength after being smashed to the ground by the obviously much stronger Nazr Mohammad.

2) Kevin Durant (30.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 7 apg, .500 FG, .762 FT): Doing the right thing, a la LeBron, when he's double- and triple-teamed in the fourth quarter: passing the ball to the open man, and trusting they'll make the shot. Other than Derek Fisher, few have so far against the Grizzlies.

3) Carmelo Anthony (26.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 2 apg, .452 FG, .800 FT): Gutting his way through shoulder injury but is still getting to the foul line.

4) Chris Paul: Season complete.

5) Tim Duncan (21 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .410 FG, .800 FT): Posted his 142nd career playoff double-double Sunday, per ESPN Stats. That ties him with Shaq for third all-time in postseason double-doubles, behind Magic Johnson's 157 and Wilt Chamberlain's 143.

BY THE NUMBERS

12 -- Weeks that Lakers forward Pau Gasol will need before being allowed to resume basketball activities, following procedures done on both knees last week. Dr. Steve Yoon of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic performed the so-called "FAST Technique," which sent ultrasound waves into Gasol's knees to free up injured tissue without Gasol needing to undergo surgery. Yoon will give Gasol stem cell injections this week that are designed to regenerate tissue in his knees.

15 -- Pounds that Bulls forward Luol Deng lost after having a severe reaction to a spinal tap the team had him undergo to test for possible meningitis. Unfortunately, the tap caused Deng to suffer severe headaches and disorientation after spinal fluid was released into his system. He has missed the first three games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with Miami and doesn't look like he'll be cleared to play any time soon.

33 -- Age of the Suns' new general manager, former Celtics assistant GM Ryan McDonough. Another in the unending line of young executives being hired by NBA teams, McDonough is respected around the league for a strong work ethic and outside-the-box thinking, both of which the Suns desperately need as they rebuild. He will have cap flexibility, low contracts and a lot of Draft picks to start with.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Y'all can hate or make fun of Charles Ramsey. When the moment of truth came, he did the right thing. He is a hero the way Gary Cooper was a hero in "High Noon" -- an everyman thrust into a situation not of his making, who does the best he can, and finds his best is plenty good.

1A) And I don't need to hear anything from Ariel Castro. Please have a seat over there, sir. We won't be getting to you for quite a while.

2) My friend Gary Washburn was caught in the media storm when it came out that he was the only one of 121 media members not to vote for LeBron James for MVP. Gary voted for Carmelo Anthony. And in an era of Twitter Courage and Beer Muscles, that led to a lot of people ripping Gary for his choice. He doesn't need me to defend him; he is a solid, veteran scribe for the Boston Globe who has been one of the best beat guys in the league for a while. But Gary's explanation -- calm, detailed, principled, thorough -- was so impressive, he deserves props. (And this was funny.)

3) Again, this is not a criticism of Dion Waiters. But I thought and said that Harrison Barnes would have been a great and natural fit with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland with the fourth overall pick last June, and I've seen nothing in these playoffs to dissuade me from that belief. Kid can ball.

4) Tiger. Number 78. And, number one.

5) Happy Mother's Day to my incredible wife, my stepmom, my sister, and to my wonderful mother, Muriel Aldridge. I miss you and love you so much, mom.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Why can't Steph Curry have ankles of steel?

2) Jack Ramsay told the Miami Herald he's probably done with broadcasting for good as he begins treatment this week for an undisclosed illness. There is nothing good in that previous sentence. I have learned so much working with and listening to Dr. Jack over the years that to think he won't come bounding in an arena anymore with the ESPN Radio crew is terribly sad.

3) How many crayons had to die just so that D-Wade could feel good about himself?

4) That was not prime time basketball Saturday night in Indianapolis. Sorry; just because both teams are good defensively doesn't mean offenses just wither away and die. That was just bad hoops.

5) The Blazers parted ways with Jay Jensen, their longtime trainer, on Friday. This is not a criticism of that decision, only an acknowledgment that Jay had to take a lot of undeserved arrows the last few years as Greg Oden and Brandon Roy struggled through career-altering injuries. It was a surprise to absolutely no one in basketball that Roy had bad knees coming out of college; the Blazers took the risk. And Oden has been as star-crossed as any player I can recall in decades. And no one has been more open about his approach to treating those injuries and rehabs, or more self-critical, than Jensen was. It was not his fault Oden and Roy couldn't get healthy, or that they got injured in the first place.

Q & A: MANU GINOBILI

The phrase that Gregg Popovich likes to use with his team is "appropriate fear." As in, you should have appropriate fear of any team you play on a given night, and if you don't come mentally and physically ready to play, you can lose. You can be embarrassed. He says this all the time, and he said it to his team after it dispatched the overmatched Lakers in the first round.

The Spurs did so because they had appropriate fear of Los Angeles, no matter how banged up L.A. was. The Spurs have that same fear of the Warriors, who beat a good Denver team in six games and are younger than San Antonio. So Manu Ginobili was ready for this series, knowing that he'd have to chase Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack around, grateful that he got through the Lakers series without aggravating or pulling anything else.

At 35, he is winding down one of the great careers in recent basketball history, having won three titles with the Spurs, a gold medal for the celebrated Argentina team that became one of the world's best over the last decade, and a Euroleague title for Kinder Bologna in 2001, the team he played for before coming to the NBA. Ginobili is the only player in the history of basketball with all three accomplishments on his resume, which will surely lead him to Springfield when his playing days are over. Until then, the man that Popovich dubbed "El Contusion" years ago for his reckless, injury-provoking, coach's hair-pulling style, continues to do things both maddening and inspiring in the same game -- or, as he proved in the last moments of Game 1 against Golden State, in the same minute.

Me: Before the series began, what did you see when you watched the Warriors on tape?

Manu Ginobili: Well, of course, Steph [Curry] can really get hot in just a couple of minutes, and give you 15. So you can be up 10, 15, and you still have to focus, be ready to compete every second. They can make stops. And then with Klay [Thompson], [Jarrett] Jack and Steph, they can score in bunches. So it's going to be a series where we are going to have to maintain concentration for 48, do what we do offensively, just share the ball from one side to the other. But defensively, pay premium attention to the outside shooters.

Me: Curry is also a great passer.

MG: Yeah, well when you get that hot, then it's easy to get assists. Because you're getting blitzed, they are running you off the [three-point] line, so you have a lot of room to get to the paint. And then, he's skilled. He's talented. So once you're in that zone, everything comes so easy. And basically, in every game, at a certain point he got hot.

Me: I'm sure you welcomed the time off after the Lakers' series, but you were on such a roll against the Lakers. Did you think at all that it would be good to keep playing and keep that rhythm?

MG: Well, probably [starting this series] two days earlier, I would have liked it. I think we needed five [days off], because we had Boris [Diaw] down, and Tiago [Splitter] got hurt in Game 3. So we needed to get them back. So it helped in that regard. But we are not the type of team that's going to get really cold. I think we prefer rest than playing so many games in a short period of time. I can't really complain about winning 4-0 early.

Me: I know you're concentrating on the Warriors right now, but with Russell Westbrook out for the Thunder, do you give a peek over to the other series, or think you have an easier path to The Finals?

MG: I think we are in a great spot. Of course, the Westbrook injury really diminished, a little bit, Oklahoma City. But to tell the truth, I can't be thinking about Westbrook now. It's a lot of work with these three that we're going to have to face now. We'll see them. Even if Memphis beats them, Memphis is a tough, tough opponent. So we're going to have time to think about them if we beat the Warriors. First, we have to take care of that.

Me: Can you approach Pop during the playoffs, or do you just leave him alone?

MG: Well, you can see that he's more focused than before, and that he pays a lot of attention to details, and tries to keep us concentrated on what is the most important part of the game. Not so much about the Xs and Os, but what makes us good, what took us to the second spot in the west. So yeah, he's trying to pound, pound, pound that rock and make sure he's got his message across.

Me: Why has his message not gotten stale for you all over the years?

MG: Well, we believe: in his game plan, in his honesty, and his ability. I mean, we all know -- the whole league knows -- that he's one of the best coaches ever. And having that possibility of being coached by him for 11 years, it's a great thing and you really appreciate it. So we like him a lot, and we want to follow his indications. And we've been very successful doing so. If you look at our record in 11 years, at least while I've been here, or 12 with Tony, or 17, or 28 with Tim, however long he's been here, you have to follow the game plan. Because it brings results. And what we all want is just to be the last team standing.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

For the kids who were watching... That not the way to react on the basketball court.
-- Bulls center Nazr Mohammad (@NazrMohammad), Saturday, 12:10 a.m., apologizing for losing his cool in Game 3 of the Chicago-Miami series and shoving LeBron James, resulting in Mohammad's ejection.

THEY SAID IT

"I'm not very superstitious but all coaches, I think you guys understand that award. It's not quite as definitive as the SI jinx but it's pretty close."
-- Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, expressing his relief at not winning the NBA's Coach of the Year award (Denver's George Karl got the honors), because of the recent pattern of coaches who get that award getting fired within a year or two of receiving it.

"If you tore your ACL and you have to be the starting point guard and have the expectations that Derrick has, then maybe you can judge, but everybody who hasn't been in that situation before should really shut up because I feel like it's just so unfair to him and to this team."
-- Joakim Noah, expressing himself on the criticism Derrick Rose has received for not trying to play on his surgically repaired ACL, even though he's been practicing with the team for a couple of months.

"I felt horrible. I've played basketball a million times in my life and I've never elbowed anybody. So the first time I do this, it's to the President of the United States? What is the probability of that? Nil, right?"
-- Reynaldo Decerega, programs director for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and basketball trainer, on his celebrated 2010 elbow to President Obama's lip during a pickup game. Decerega told the Boston Globe he had "almost an out-of-body experience" after his elbow knocked the President down. Obama got 12 stiches after getting hit, but sent Decerega a picture of the incident a few days later with a note that read "For Rey, the only guy who ever hit the president and didn't get arrested. Barack."

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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