FreeDarko week was fun. Thanks to all that participated. Now we've just got to get through two more weeks of mail-it-in basketball before we get to the good stuff.
On tap for this week: the beginning of the end in Sacramento, the expanding concussion debate, and flashbacks to 2000. Let's get to it.
1. "The City of Sacramento Deserves Better."
Quickly and inexplicably, the arena deal in Sacramento is dead. The Kings, who but six weeks ago seemed certain to remain in Sacramento for the next twenty five seasons, seem almost destined to leave the Central Valley.
At this point in the debate, it's really hard to figure out what's actually going on, and why the Maloofs are so hell-bent on destroying an arena deal. The City, represented by mayor Kevin Johnson, and Maloofs, who own the team, met this weekend in New York with David Stern and representatives from the NBA. The meeting must not have been very productive, as both sides emerged stating the deal was dead, and that the other side was solely to blame. The city contended that the Maloofs had never negotiated in good faith, and that their issue with the arena was based mostly on their lack of finances. In turn, the Maloofs accused the City of being inattentive when it came to fact-checking, and argued that Sacramento's economy could not support the funding of an arena. An economist hired by the Kings just recently argued that previously unconsidered factors would leave the Maloofs roughly $15 million short. Now, that seems like small potatoes for an NBA owner, so the fact that they're attempting to kill the deal seems to speak to the Maloof's finances. The Maloofs are taking a strange stance: balking at pre-development costs that they feel, as tenants, that they shouldn't have to cover, while at the same time, balking that they, as tenants, don't have a more influential role in the construction and funding of the arena. In any case, both sides say they're done with each other. George Maloof, who seems to be the ringleader of this operation, says he can't trust Kevin Johnson, and that he's done negotiating with him.
Well, Kevin Johnson's done, too. The City won't negotiate with the Maloofs, so a downtown arena seems to be out of the question now. As Tom Ziller points out, this puts the Maloofs exactly where they were two years ago: wanting a new building, but unwilling to fork over the cash to make it happen. And seemingly, the fans are done with the Maloofs as well. Many fans have canceled their season tickets for next season, despite the fact that they team with certainly be playing at Power Balance Pavillion in 2012-2013. Reportedly, a loud chant of "Sell the team" rose from the crowd at the Blazers-Kings game in Sacto, where the Maloofs are doing their best Joe Lacob impression and making an ill-advised appearance in front of their restive customers. And the Maloofs are buddying up with the Cowbell nation by having sheriff's deputies stationed around their luxury box. This seems like a relationship that will last. As Tom Ziller said in an excellent essay on SacTown Royalty, "nowhere is the only place left to go for the Maloofs." He's right.
Of course I will pay close attention to this story. As a Northern Californian, I have always liked the Kings. As an NBA fan residing in Seattle, and with an arena seemingly on the way, I am guiltily interested in these proceedings. But I'm not looking forward to watching Kings basketball next season. I've watched last seasons of teams whose owners have alienated their fan bases before. Seattle was a bitter place in 2007-2008 as Clay Bennett all but took the seats that fans sat in while watching their Sonics play one more tortured season in Key Arena. The same went for Charlotte in 2001-2002, who refused to fund a new arena unless owner-turned-pariah George Shinn sold the team to someone else in town. I have too many fond memories of Arco arena and the Sacramento Kings to watch that tragedy play out. It would be far too sad.
Let's hope that the Maloofs realize that selling the team to an interested local buyer is the right thing to do for the city of Sacramento. As Kevin Johnson aptly states: "the city of Sacramento deserves better."
2. On toughness.
It's time to talk about concussions in the NBA. In general, it's time to talk about working through sickness and injury.
There's been a few nasty ones the past few weeks. Kyrie Irving missed a number of games after suffering a mild concussion in early February. LeBron seemed to suffer one at the end of March, but didn't get tested, and didn't miss any games. Two weeks ago Micheal Pietrus suffered a particularly nasty one which required a stretcher and an extended stay in the hospital. Kevin Love took an elbow from JaVale McGee early last week, and hasn't played since.
New rules in the CBA require additional tests before a player can return to the court. That's pretty good. However, it seems that players still have a lot of control whether they take the tests or not. After suffering what looked to be a concussion, LeBron chose to stay in the game. After the game, in response to a question asking if he'd ever suffered a concussion, he responded that he was "too tough for that." In a great TrueHoop post, Tom Haberstroh questions the Heat's players and staff's praise of LeBron's "gladiator-like" decision to stay in the game. I echo his concern. LeBron, of course, was lambasted for his bravado and lack of concern for his own body. LeBron is lambasted for most things that he does these days.
While it is troubling that these head injuries occur, we shouldn't think that the glorification of perseverance through injury and sickness is unique only to professional sports. I argue this is something all of us face everyday. In most of our jobs, we are discouraged from taking time off work in order to rest and recuperate. Most of us are pressured to "play through the pain" in some form or fashion, and rarely does it end well. LeBron may have shown troubling disregard for his health, but he was falling in line with the way we, as Americans, conceptualize being a good employee. You're never too sick or hurt to go to work.
I'm glad the NBA cares about concussions. It shows that workplaces can take a specific injury that can jeapordize one's future seriously, and offer quality care and support before making an employee go back to work. This is something all of us would appreciate in our jobs.
3. Return to the (Big) Fundamentals.
I watched a pretty decent Lakers/Mavs game today. Kobe's been out with a busted shin, and been doing his best coach's impression on the bench (it's a pretty damn good impression too). Lakers have gone 4-1 since he's been out. Lakers won today's game 102-98.
It occurred to me that the Lakers, at this point, should honestly look more like the 2000 championship team rather than the 2009 or 2010 championship team. That 2000 team was anchored by Shaquille O'Neal, supported by young Kobe, and complimented by well constructed cast of role players. Bynum is dominant in the post, and capable of putting up big numbers if he gets his touches. His 23 and 16 today lead the Lakers, and he's been averaging 22 points and 16.6 rebounds per game (he got 30 a few games ago) are Big Aristotle-esque. Pau looks great as well, putting up about 23 and 11 since Kobe's been out. Mike Brown's offense gives Pau a number of different looks in the high post and on the perimeter. His two threes (one of which was assisted by a non-call from the ref) would not have been a part of a Phil Jackson game plan.
Can you imagine if Kobe decided to feed his big men and act like a typical shooting guard? Just because Kobe can lead the league in scoring doesn't necessarily mean that he should. Bynum and Gasol are younger, bigger, and more suited towards carrying the offensive burdens of the team. Sessions has performed admirably as the Lakers starting point guard, and works well with Kobe in the backcourt. Kobe's scoring can make up for the Lakers bench (the worst bench, statistically, in the league) at his age. It'd be an interesting team. I think it'd be a better team. I have no stats to prove that, though.
Anyways, enjoy these Kobe-less games. He's gonna want his shots when he gets back.