Posted by: Kingsguru21 | April 23, 2011

More Maloof talk

It’s funny. I’ve been reading and letting my thoughts percolate about the matter after reading Sam Amick’s article at SI this afternoon (side note: Love that SAmick is now at SI–good job SI!), and Tom Ziller’s piece at Sactown Royalty this morning. (Both are must reads on the off chance you’ve not done so.)

It amuses me. I’ve said for years that the Maloof’s don’t understand Sacramento. I received some criticism (although not lots) for not giving them their due. Now, it’s a popular statement to say such. I’m not saying I was first (even though I was) so people can know I was first. It’s just funny how sometimes an unpopular point of view becomes very popular as moods swing. Especially when a polarizing and especially traumatic event like a team leaving a city happens.

That’s exactly what happened to the Maloof’s in a nutshell. I can’t say anything that Amick or TZ haven’t already said. What I can state is my opinion. Here goes…..

Going back to Here We Stay Night I at Arco on February 28th, I thought there was an odd statement made by Joe Maloof thanking “our” fans. Their fans? Who, in their right mind (and yes I’m talking about anyone that applies), are really fans of owners? Ignoring the potential of Ron Burkle in this situation, or even a situation like Clay Bennett where fans are thrilled he brought a NBA team to Oklahoma City, the reality here is that fans care about ownership’s ability to put a quality product on the court.

You see many fans criticize the Maloof’s for not spending money (especially as the bitterness of a potential move to Anaheim seems like a more alluring destination for current Kings players and potential Free Agent’s) as sacrificing Sacramento for Anaheim. I don’t know if that’s true because, quite honestly, I don’t think it makes much difference. When you’re rebuilding, free agency is not usually a tool that helps you.

Look at OKC for instance. You know how many important rotation players they’ve signed in Free Agency? Nenad Kristic. Every other important player came via the draft or a trade. When Free Agency has come around, players have signed extensions and not even gotten to the point of entering the FA market.

My point? You don’t need Free Agency to build a team unless you’re a market like Miami that needs the automatic boost from a “SuperTeam” effect. Again, Free Agency is rather overrated for teams that are not “glamour” spots for the biggest stars at the NBA level.

What is undeniable is you need talent, and more than ever small market’s have opportunities to win championships. It’s just that, in the NBA anyway, it’s the most difficult league in North America to win a title. People forget the obvious about basketball. It’s worth remembering that it’s a 5 on 5 game, and 1 player makes an incredible difference. If players believe big market’s are better for their pocketbook’s, well, what can the NBA do about that? Nothing is what.

So, for those reasons, I don’t think Anaheim had much to do with the Maloof’s decision to spend money. If anything, I think the excitement that Free Agency could be more of a tool for building an effective team than Sacramento is where that factored in.

Getting back to the Maloof’s. As NBA owners, I think they are rather good. Undertaking a rebuilding project while their personal finances have gone awry was a rather impressive feat. Unfortunately, one of the costs also came with the Maloof family badly wanting to move the team to Anaheim.

Where the Maloof’s fall short of anything near adequate is understanding the local market, and tapping it from a business perspective. Only out of touch owners keep ticket prices at way too high levels (as they did through the 09-10 season) because they let John Thomas, the former President of the Business Operations, argue that lowering prices would hurt the “brand”. If that doesn’t make you roll your eyes, I don’t know what does. Sacramento is not Southern California. You can’t pull off the “keep the tickets too high for a bad team” nonsense that this team did for too long. This created so much disconnect that fans essentially assumed the actual team was worse than it actually has been over the last 2 seasons. Yes, 49 wins is nothing to write home about no question. But, given the challenges in both seasons, it’s a start that illustrates progress isn’t a linear line that keeps increasing with wins every season. That was an assumption fans made for wanting a team that wasn’t ready as they were hoping.

Since the Maloof’s are frat boy badly dressed fans (dressing like a frat boy in your 50’s is not a good look–and I’m a guy who wears T-Shirts and basketball shorts everywhere) who happen to have majority ownership of the Kings franchise, that’s a bit of a problem.

The next telling moment that unfortunately I think that turned the tide against the Maloof family was when they told KJ to “stay our of their business”. Uhm, what?

There was a ton of criticism against Kevin Johnson very early in the process for how he handled his role in all of this through the media. (You know who you are. I could link things, but what is the point? This isn’t about pointing fingers at fans.) The irony is that KJ is probably now seen as the guiding light in giving Sacramento a very real fighting chance at keeping the Kings. That says a lot right there. Again, and I say this noting this more as ironic if nothing else, that the perception of KJ and the Maloof’s has almost flipped 180 degree’s. KJ is generally well regarded, and the Maloof’s not.

Kevin Johnson’s stature amongst Kings fans was not always wonderful to say the least. That’s one of the interesting bi-products coming out from the last few weeks.

Bringing this back to the Maloof’s once again, we see how little they’ve tried recently to create an identity in Sacramento. This hurts the Maloof Family a great deal if they try to derail an arena deal with ICON (they very well may in their own lazy non-confrontational way) and KJ. Again, they’ve used all of the public trust they had, and whatever trust the public had in them went out the window when KJ rummaged up funds and a possible TV contract as the mayor.

Just that Kevin Johnson was able to do that without their support is unsettling, and, the NBA owners, to their credit, have not been fooled by the shadow games the Maloof’s are playing with regards to how Sacramento lacks viability as a market. The reality that the owners are pushing at is that their is a difference between the viability of a market and the viability for a market for specific owners. If Kevin Johnson succeeds in convincing the NBA committee for relocation (Clay Bennett and the NBA lawyer Harvey Benjamin mostly), that only confirms what the owners were already thinking.

Now, again, none of this is talking about how the owners feel about a new arena. As Amick states in his piece today, without a plan and financing for a new arena by March of 2012, the Kings are gone. Where doesn’t make a difference as much as not having a new arena is not acceptable at this point. A new arena is mandatory if the Kings are to stay in Sacramento.

Then there was this AP report. First Joe Maloof said this:

“I don’t know that Kevin Johnson’s meeting in New York swayed the NBA one way or another, but I think that the NBA next week is going to go into Sacramento to verify a lot of the promises Kevin Johnson made to the board,” Maloof said. “There were various sponsorship promises and a promise to show the board, once and for all, how a new arena not only will be planned, but financed.”

Sounds like sour grapes? Yeah, it does sound very much like that.

Once the meetings were finished, Johnson even rode with Bennett to the airport and said the league’s relocation committee chairman—who moved the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City three years ago—was impressed with Sacramento’s latest presentation.

“They just said to us we delivered on what we were supposed to do,” Johnson said, adding that he hasn’t heard from the NBA or the Maloofs on a final decision. “It’s not a done deal yet. I’ve heard a lot of rumors. But I don’t think we’re at a point by any means that we can declare victory.”

Again, this is why I’m cautiously optimistic. I don’t think the NBA is so keen of Sacramento as they are just so wary of Anaheim by comparison Sacramento looks like a Garden of Eden.

The Maloofs maintain they have no issue with the efforts by Johnson or Sacramento. They also don’t believe their relationship in Sacramento is strained to the point they couldn’t return.

“I think the Sacramento fans appreciate the Maloof efforts over the past several years,” Maloof said. “We’ve spent several million dollars and hundreds of man hours in trying to find a solution for a new arena in Sacramento. It’s not like we were there one, two, three, or even four years.

“We’ve tried and tried again, in conjunction with city leaders and politicians and city leaders. I think the fans will definitely welcome us back because we’ve been fair. The question I always ask fans is, ‘What would you do?’ We’ve been honest.”

The Maloof’s maintain they have no problem with Kevin Johnson or Sacramento? Except when they interfere with your business eh Joe?

We’ve tried and tried again, in conjunction with city leaders and politicians and city leaders. I think the fans will definitely welcome us back because we’ve been fair. The question I always ask fans is, ‘What would you do?’ We’ve been honest.

Again, there are fans outside of Sacramento who take this at face value and don’t understand how much of a two-faced backstabbing type of comment this is. First off, the Maloof family have not tried “again & again” to get a new arena in Sacramento. What the Maloof’s have done is complained that Arco is not suitable for NBA basketball, have said they will try to make a new arena work but eventually it will need to be replaced, and run away from several proposals when Heather Fargo will still mayor. They sidetracked Q&R in 2006 because they didn’t get to own Sacramento’s facility in every capacity.

Then, they asked the NBA for help, the NBA came up with a far-fetched convergence plan that had little chance of working with all the politicans involved, and that’s the Maloof’s involvement.

The one thing they’ve not been is honest. The one thing is that fans do not see the arena issue from the Maloof point-of-view. If fans saw it that way, there would be a new arena by now. For several years in fact.

Again, and this explains how much of a disconnect there is between the Maloof’s and Sacramento. They just simply don’t understand the town, and never did. Everything they’ve ever done, outside of cater to Sacramento’s Studio 54-esque period of decadence from 99-04 (which is rather amusing in of itself), has done nothing to really establish themselves as owners who are part of the market. What Joe and Gavin Maloof have represented are stooges for big money interests whose profits and viability as franchise owners are based upon having a public subsidized arena. The worst part is the Family financed 2 towers for the Palms casino in the same time period. They simply have never understood that how they handle their outside businesses would affect the Kings. It never dawned on them.

Again, I know that has nothing really to do with the arena being built because no owner, whether they are building a casino or not, will pay for a majority of an arena unless they are in a big big market like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. That’s the reality of the current NBA business.

But, having said all that, the Maloof’s wonder why fans are not fond of them. The Maloof family is probably wondering that now. It’s not hard to figure out why, but, again, they are so self-absorbed to the point they don’t get how fans are not enamored of them. They are simply so enamored of themselves they can’t seen beyond their own selves in all of this. Therein lies the real problem.

The only reason fans ever really liked the Maloof’s was because the Kings were winning lots of games in the early part of the last decade and the propaganda machine often propped up the Maloof family as financiers of such. That was part of the story, but not the real story. The family was purported to pay luxury tax despite only having done so once in the entire franchise history. (There were years when the Kings had a high payroll, but due to how luxury tax was instituted for the NBA from 1999 to 2005, the team didn’t pay tax. Since 2005 when the luxury tax threshold has been clear, the Maloof’s have not paid luxury tax.)

The fact that more than a few people have turned on the Maloof’s is not surprising. A new arena not being built is not just the Maloof’s fault. But, and again it’s one area where the Family’s self-delusions are badly hurting them, they do not see how their actions are equally as complicit as the city of Sacramento or any other political entity has been guilty of dropping the ball during this process.

Before I finish this thing off, I want to highlight a well known commenter and community member at StR, AnotherStupidSN, for a comment that is completely 100% right on the money:

Face the facts Joe: We’re in this mess because you’ve failed, consistently and thoroughly. I think Mayor Johnson has highlighted that fact dramatically over the past couple of weeks. Yes, there are other people who contributed to those failures, including the incompetent former city leadership that was voted out of office to make way for someone who has been committed from day one, since well before we had any real inkling that a relocation may be imminent, to helping you to have a mutually beneficial relationship with the city of Sacramento and the region for decades to come. But you’ve wanted no part of that, instead choosing to commit fully and secretively to a full bore effort to get yours, no matter what.

To whatever degree your team has failed as a business is fully your failure, not the fans’ failure, and not the city’s failure. It’s clear now that you had an opportunity to rally the Sacramento business community around you and you completely and utterly blew it. You had an opportunity to rally the fans around you, and you completely blew that too, and you’re doing a wonderful job of continuing to screw it up with the fans at every single opportunity. And guess what, buddy? You’re about to be told that you’ve failed spectacularly once again, by your peers that must be struggling to maintain any kind of respect for you and your intentions.

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re not lying in the quote above, you’re just absolutely fucking wrong, once again. You haven’t tried, you haven’t been fair, you haven’t been honest, and the fans will absolutely not welcome you back, and almost none of them will ever really forgive you. We’ll be over-the-fucking-moon to welcome our team back, but we’ll thank you to get your damn dirty hands off of it, please. Do the right thing for once, Joe, and sell the team. Break the chain of failure. Go back where you came from.

James Ham at Cowbell Kingdom noted will the Maloof’s be welcomed back in Sacramento? Probably not is the answer. What response there will be because fans want the team and not ownership back. Will the Maloof’s make that mistake of not understanding the difference? Nothing of their past or even recent history says they will understand where and how they’ve failed as owners. Welcoming the Kings back? Sure, that’s probably likely if the team has any kind of hot start to begin the regular season. But being nice to the Maloof’s? I doubt it.

The one thing I disagree with James on is that spending money in Free Agency, or at least on non Kings Free Agents anyway, will result in a vastly improved product. I heavily doubt that and don’t think that impact player in Free Agency to make the Kings a playoff team is even on the Free Agent market. I may be alone in that, but I think cap room should be utilized wisely regardless of ownership boondoggling. (Which, in fairness to fans, there is a lot of Maloof boondoggles to choose from. I can’t blame them for feeling confused on the matter.)

The Maloof’s have burned so many bridges that I doubt many simply don’t just see them as being completely anathema to anything Sacramento related. That includes the Kings. I don’t care how many times the Maloof’s say something publicly; that’s the reality they wish to see. It’s not the reality that has actually happened with others in observation of the same events who have nothing but the desire to continue watching the Kings in Sacramento. Nobody, in Sac anyway, believes the Maloof family when they say they’ve done “all they can” to make Sacramento work.

The Maloof’s have treated fans who were in their corner so badly (in small and large ways) that now many, if not all, of those people have turned on the Family. If that doesn’t tell you how poorly the Maloof’s treat people when they aren’t selling them a product, I don’t know what will.

That’s a searing indictment of anything I can say. I could easily tell you that I saw this coming, but the truth is I never liked them. I always thought they were bandwagon in front party boys with an ulterior agenda of expectation. And, they are. But, again, I think it’s a far more critical point to highlight those who are not happy with the Maloof’s who were in their corner as far back as 3 weeks ago. That tells a more complete story of how much actual disconnect there is in this deal.

Here’s the worst part for me as a fan. Many people, a lot of whom I respect for that matter, think that spending money in Free Agency will be a great example of showing commitment to the city after the boondoggle since the Anaheim rumors first leaked out in serious fashion from the All-Star break in February. Risk is the earnest money of conviction. With the Maloof’s risking completely and totally everything to be in Anaheim, they’ve rolled a snake eyes with regards to any relationship with Sacramento.

Which is why I’m so worried about Free Agency being such a huge stake for so many people as a statement of commitment from the Maloof’s family. It’s not that I think spending money is a bad thing; I just don’t see the value in upcoming Free Agency. Now 2012? Sure, there are Free Agents like a Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams potentially coming to that market.

Again, I don’t think spending money is all it’s cracked up to be. That’s especially true if the spending of cap room is expected to coincide with commitment to Sacramento after the Maloof’s have spent the buildup of a decade burning a city they were once so “committed” to.

Again, and it’s one of those “be careful where you wish for” deals, I’m not convinced that any outcome with the Maloof’s will come to a happy ending in Sacramento. The sooner they sell the team, in Sacramento or anywhere else, will make matters a lot for easier for everyone. Including the Maloof’s.

When you sell a NBA team there is a lot of money, a lot of money the Maloof family no longer has. There comes a time where you have to remember how you were able to buy a NBA team: You had the outside asset’s to purchase majority control of a franchise. If your outside asset’s change, perhaps your ownership should change too.

Of course, thought processes probably hurt too much for the Maloof family to undertake. Maybe we can just hope that the NBA forces them out of ownership as they are in complete disarray to anything NBA or Kings related. After all, the NBA has been instrumental in blocking the move to Anaheim (and again, the blocking of the move says more about Anaheim than Sacramento) and that has done wonders to the Maloof’s confidence. They can say whatever they wish about continuing to own the Kings, but they are desperate to remain in the public spotlight. The Maloof family is desperate to prove that they can run a NBA team appropriately with the right revenue streams in a market of their choosing.

That’s just not how the real world works where everyone else on Planet Earth (as opposed to Planet Maloof) is forced to live. That includes the 28 other NBA owners.

Here’s what I do know. Nothing about this jigsaw puzzle is anything short of a landmine wrapped in a PR disaster wrapped in an enigma wrapped in ineptitude. Be careful what you wish for because you just may get it. The worst part about that saying? All Kings fans want what every fan wants: For their team to win.

If this franchise’s predicament about spending money isn’t proof of the pudding about how navigating waters that were completely nuked by ownership, I don’t know what is.

The Kings may stay in Sacramento, a new arena may even get funded and ultimately built. But, if the Maloof’s spend money to prove they care about this franchises success regardless of location, and it ends up blowing in their faces, the fans will blame the Maloof’s for not spending the money.

If the Maloof’s deserve any blame for anything, it’s that they walked themselves into a catch-22 where there is no winner and only losers. If anything has deserved the boorish Maloof family to be ran out of Sacramento on rails, it’s that very last sentence.

The good news here, and I like to end on good news (believe it or not), is that there is a wild card in Kevin Johnson. People now see him as the mayor of Sacramento, or the former Phoenix Suns PG. What seems to be forgotten, sometimes, is that Kevin Johnson has been around the NBA as a player or mayor since the late 80’s. That’s almost 25 years. In that time, he’s known a lot of owners. That includes the landmark Phoenix owner Jerry Colangelo. If there is one thing that KJ has done, he’s played this game patiently and astutely. Saying that Sacramento couldn’t influence the Maloof’s decision angered more than a few people. It seemed to alienate them, but KJ knew what many have realized since: The Maloof’s never had any intention of negotiating with Sacramento at any point since they’ve started negotiating with Anaheim.

The reason I bring up Colangelo is I’m quite sure KJ is getting advice from Jerry Colangelo on a number of matters including how to entice the Maloof’s out as owners. KJ has been adept at keeping a card in reserve for whatever next question is out there. He hasn’t used all of his tricks, and it’s going to literally take every trick in the universe, the book isn’t big enough, to keep the franchise long term in Sacramento. That includes the mine field that is the Maloof’s relationship with Sacramento after it’s so badly frayed.

Do I think hard core fans will welcome back the team? Sure, I think they will. Will the less hard core fans who aren’t as enticed by the current product and aren’t fans hell or high water? I don’t know. Even many of the die hard fans no longer want anything to do with the Maloof’s after being treated so badly down the stretch of the season.

If Kevin Johnson has a miracle on Day 1, he’s going to need 6 more miracles. Even then, I’m not sure KJ will be able to rest on Day 8. That is how badly the city of Sacramento, the Maloof’s and voters have messed this situation up. Let’s hope the 8th wonder of the world (getting a new arena or Sports Entertainment Center built in Sacramento) is possible. What’s amazing is that Anaheim isn’t celebrating having a NBA team, and that in of itself is amazing for Kevin Johnson. If there has been a winner in all of this, it’s KJ. And, I’m not sure he’d feel that way if the Kings do end up leaving anyway to Anaheim. KJ hasn’t dropped the ball, but here’s hoping the NBA doesn’t. (Or Anaheim and the Maloof’s continue to do so.) Then we have to hope for Day 2-8 of miracles. I’m not even sure which outcome I’m hoping for. Which is precisely how muddled, irritating, frustrating, this whole montrosity of a stuper this whole ordeal has become. The whole relocation saga hasn’t been just about money, but to find who has the most ability to come across as a competent adult.

That last sentence? Another searing indictment (in a long list of them) of the Maloof’s and their business practices in over a decade in Sacramento. The chickens have come to roost, and the Maloof’s are clearly not one of the preferred hatchlings.

We are at the point where plan A has to work for plan B which has to work for B 1 to work which has to work for B 2 and B 3 to work which has to work for C 1 2 3 and 26 to work, and which has to work with Z. And P, Q, F and M.

Kind of sounds like Sacramento politics doesn’t it? Okay, maybe I don’t have good news to end this on.

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