The NBA notebook…
SACRAMENTO, Calif. ó Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and other political and business leaders emerged from meetings with NBA officials Thursday optimistic about their efforts to keep the Kings in town.
A week after Johnson made a desperate pitch to the NBA Board of Governors in New York that persuaded the league to dispatch a fact-finding team to Sacramento, the mayor believes he made another splash when they arrived. He presented $9.2 million in commitments for new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from regional businesses and other backers to prevent the team from moving to Anaheim.
Johnson said his pitch to Clay Bennett, the Oklahoma City Thunder owner and the NBAís relocation committee chairman, and league attorney Harvey Benjamin made a strong impression. He originally promised $7 million to league owners and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
ěIf you go back a week ago from today, we thought it was virtually over,î said Johnson, a former NBA All-Star. ěAnd not only did we prevent the team from leaving, we got a chance to show them who we are. And when we said $7 million, and the commissioner said, ëWell, prove it,í he sent a team out and we over delivered. I mean, this is Sacramento. This is what makes us great.î
The meetings began two days of talks with the two NBA representatives.
LEAGUE NEEDS NEW DEAL
NEW YORK ó With time running out and business beginning to suffer, the NBA is eager to intensify talks with its union.
And Commissioner David Stern says the NFLís problems show why.
Stern believes footballís labor situation, which he called a ěmess,î was worsened by a lack of urgency to get a deal done well before its collective bargaining agreement expired, something he wants to avoid as his league tries to negotiate a new deal with its players.
ěIt seemed that at the end of the bargaining between the NFL and the players, one got the sense that in the last day or two they had closed the gap,î Stern said Thursday. ěI donít know if thatís accurate or not, but thatís what I read. And you wonder as an outsider whether it would have been a good thing to close that gap a few days earlier.î
a couple of weeks earlier so that you had the opportunity and the plan to do that.î
The NBA plans to soon send the union a revised proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement, hoping it will trigger meaningful negotiations ahead of the June 30 expiration date.
But Stern made it clear in his meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors that he will lock the players out if a deal canít be reached to give owners the financial relief they seek, even if it comes at the expense of his reputation.
ěThe league is my client, not my vehicle to a legacy,î Stern said.
Stern said someone on the playersí side challenged him on that before the 1998 work stoppage, telling Stern he wouldnít dare shut down the league that heíd spent more than two decades growing.
ěYouíre going to learn the hard way. Thatís not the way we operate this league. We operate in the best interest of the league,î Stern said of his response at the time.
LOVE MOST IMPROVED
MINNEAPOLIS ó Kevin Love has the NBAís Most Improved Player award. Now the challenge is to help his Minnesota Timberwolves become next seasonís most improved team.
Thereís nowhere to go but up for the Wolves, whose 17-65 record was the worst in the league. That didnít keep Love from making the All-Star team and adding to his trophy collection with the MIP award on Thursday.
ěKevin deserves an enormous amount of credit, not only for what he accomplished on the court but for the kind of dedication and the fortitude he exhibited a year ago today all the way through last summer,î said David Kahn, the teamís basketball boss.
Love was a runaway winner, getting 66 of a possible 116 first-place votes and 400 points from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the NBA. LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers was second with 157 points.
Love averaged 20.2 points and led the league with 15.2 rebounds per game this season, posting a double-double in 53 consecutive games for the longest such streak since Elvin Hayes in 1973-74. Mostly a sixth man the season before, Love established career highs in almost every statistical category.
Kahn recalled his exit interview with Love after last season, when Love clutched a pile of papers that mapped out a daily plan for his workouts in a busy summer that included a prominent role in the U.S. national teamís gold medal-winning run at the world championships.
The 22-year-old Love said heíll put himself through the same exhausting routine this offseason.
ěI plan on having basically the exact same schedule, because in my eyes I still believe that not only myself, but a lot of guys on our team and our team in general, can make leaps and bounds from where we were the last couple years,î Love said. ěI think weíre just looking forward to getting older, becoming a better team.î
WIZ NEED TO REBUILD
WASHINGTON ó Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld is the first to admit that rebuilding is a ěpainful processî thatís going to take a while.
At least he can draw inspiration from the other team that plays at the Verizon Center.
Grunfeldís mandate from owner Ted Leonsis is to emulate the rise of the NHLís Washington Capitals, who have just won their fourth straight division title and are filling the arena for their first-round playoff series.
ěIím going to the game Saturday, and I watched the game (on TV) last night,î Grunfeld said. ěThatís where we want to get to someday.î
The Wizards went 23-59, the third straight season theyíve finished at least 30 games below .500, but at least this offseason has a different feel. Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison ó the so-called Big 3 that never won so much as a playoff series together in Washington ó are firmly in the rearview mirror. This season was all about youth and clearing cap space, with No. 1 overall pick John Wall proving that he indeed has franchise player potential.
The results were predictable: Some really bad losses and a few bright spots, especially near the end of the season.
ěWe knew it was going to be a painful process,î Grunfeld said Thursday at his annual state-of-the-team news conference. ěBut any time you go with youth, youíre going to be a little inconsistent. Youíre going to be up and down. But I think going down the road for the future, this is really going to help us.î
The Capitals had to endure three straight last-place seasons, including two after they landed No. 1 overall pick Alex Ovechkin, before returning to the playoffs. Grunfeld indicated that Wizards fans are going to need similar patience.
ěWeíre still going to be developing,î he said. ěAny time you have young players, you have to continue to develop. Itís not a one-year process. Itís an ongoing process, and we know itís going to take us some time to get the whole package together. … We want to win. The wining and losing part of this year weíre not happy about because weíre all very competitive people. We take a lot of pride in what we do, and we want to win games, but at the same time we understand that itís a process. We want to make improvement next year. We want to play better next year. We want to win more games next year.
ěOur goal is we want to get back to the playoffs as soon as possible at some point, but at the same time we donít want to make any drastic moves, and we understand that we have to have patience with young players.î
The Wizards have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft and should plenty of salary cap space with only seven players under contract for next season ó Wall, Jordan Crawford, Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker. Teams that have such financial flexibility are usually ready to make a big splash in the free agent market, but Grunfeld downplayed any such expectations. For one thing, he said, itís impossible to get a gauge on this yearís free agency until thereís a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the playersí union.
ěWe just have to see whoís available as far as free agency is concerned, and we have to see how much cap room we actually have,î Grunfeld said. ěThe worst thing you can probably do is spend a lot of your cap room on a free agent that might not fit in real well just because you want to get a free agent on the roster. It has to be the right player. Ted has laid out the plan very clearly. Just because you have the cap room doesnít mean you have to go out and spend it right away.î
Grunfeld added that heís ěvery happyî with coach Flip Saunders, saying that Saunders has proven to be a professional by adjusting from a veteran-laded team that was built to a contend for a title to a youth-filled squad that piled up the losses.
There will be one change for next season. The Wizards announced they will unveil their new uniforms on May 10.
The color scheme will be red, white and blue ó just like the Capitals.
The Associated Press