The Pistons are just a game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and if they continue their surge, four Central Division teams will be in line to make the postseason. The Central was supposed to boast the class of the East in the Bulls and the Cavs, but as they languish in the middle of the playoff pack, here’s the latest from around the division:
- The Bulls will match any offer sheet that Jimmy Butler would sign this summer, as executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson said in appearance Thursday on ESPN Chicago radio’s Waddle and Silvy program, notes Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com (Twitter link). That’s no surprise, since the Bulls reportedly plan to make Butler a maximum-salary offer of their own that they hope will forestall the restricted free agent from negotiating with any other team. Paxson also confirmed that the Bulls are interested in Ray Allen and have been in contact with his agent, Jim Tanner, notes Bear Heiser of Fox Sports West (on Twitter).
- Commissioner Adam Silver made it clear to Seattle mayor Ed Murray that the NBA envisions the Bucks staying put, dispelling Murray’s notion that the Bucks were a candidate to move if the team failed to make progress on a new arena in Milwaukee, as Murray tells Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times. The Bucks have until fall 2017 to have an arena in place, and if they don’t, the NBA has the option to take control of the team from its new owners. Seattle investor Chris Hansen is facing a November 2017 deadline to secure an NBA team for the city, lest a promise of civic funding expire.
- Kyrie Irving finished fourth in fan voting for the two Eastern Conference starting backcourt spots in the All-Star Game, so he missed out on his best chance to trigger the Derrick Rose rule and up the salaries on the five-year extension that kicks in for him next season. That rule allows players who sign rookie scale extensions to make a starting salary worth approximately 30%, instead of just 25%, of the salary cap. Irving agreed to take only 27.5% if he were to qualify, which can now happen only in the unlikely event he wins MVP this season.
The Hawks are the only Eastern Conference team with fewer than 10 losses, and tonight they’ll host the Grizzlies, one of three Western Conference clubs with that distinction. Atlanta’s unexpected surge to the top of the East comes against the backdrop of the sale of the team, and with several new would-be owners surfacing, there’s yet more news on the state of the franchise amid the latest from around the Southeast Division:
- NBA spokesman Mike Bass made it clear today that the Hawks will stay put even as the club is up for sale, as Bass told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). “The Atlanta Hawks are not moving to another market,” Bass said. A pair of investors reportedly want to buy the team and move it to Seattle.
- The Heat have expressed interest in re-signing Andre Dawkins to a 10-day contract “down the road,” agent John Spencer told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, who writes in his daily notes column. The Heat waived Dawkins on Tuesday.
- Glen Rice Jr. had trouble accepting criticism from coaches, but other Wizards players didn’t think he was a poor teammate, according to J. Michael of CSNWashington.com. Michael wrote this past weekend that Rice’s attitude was an issue that contributed to the team’s decision to cut ties.
- Wizards camp invitee Xavier Silas has signed with Greece’s Nea Kifisia, the team announced (translation via Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia). Silas averaged 10.3 points in 19.3 minutes per game for Washington during the preseason before the team waived him prior to opening night.
Investor Chris Hansen and financier Thomas Tull are planning to make separate bids to buy the Hawks and move them to Seattle, according to Grantland’s Bill Simmons (Twitter link). Still, the existing owners of the Hawks, who’ve reportedly agreed to sell 100% of the team, want the club to stay in Atlanta, Simmons notes. Anyone who buys the team probably won’t have a chance to relocate it, given the NBA’s desire to stay in the Atlanta market, as Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote amid last week’s reports. Other reports about the sale of the club have consistently indicated that it’s highly unlikely the team changes location.
Hansen teamed with Steve Ballmer to close a deal with the Maloof family to purchase the Kings in 2013, but the NBA rejected the bid and instead awarded the Kings to Vivek Ranadive and his investment team, who pledged to keep the franchise in Sacramento. Ballmer, who since then purchased the Clippers for a record $2 billion, was the primary financial backer of the Hansen-fronted bid, and the pair reportedly offered $650MM to buy the Bucks earlier this year, $100MM more than the team eventually sold for. Still, Hansen has forged ahead with plans to attract NBA and NHL teams to the Emerald City.
Tull is the founder and CEO of Legendary Entertainment, a film production company. He’s owns a minority share of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Another “name to watch” in regard to the Hawks sale is Jesse Itzler, according to Simmons (on Twitter). Itzler is a former rap artist who made his fortune with a private plane rental business.
A league source told Grantland’s Zach Lowe last week that the Hawks would likely go for between $750MM and $1 billion, though it appears the price is more likely to end up on the low end of that scale. Others who reportedly have interest in buying the team include former players Dominique Wilkins, Dikembe Mutombo and Chris Webber, former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and attorney Doug Davis
The Bucks made waves at the trade deadline in 2013 when they shipped Tobias Harris out in the swap that brought in J.J. Redick on an expiring contract, but that sort of move is “not who we are today,” GM John Hammond tells Grantland’s Zach Lowe. The team’s new owners have instead focused on building around the club’s youth, particularly Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, though co-owner Marc Lasry insists to Lowe that the team doesn’t just want to see young players get minutes and that the goal is to make the playoffs this year. Still, it would appear that the days of sending recent first-round picks away in trades for short-term help are over in Milwaukee. Lowe has more on the Bucks in his piece, as we’ll highlight amid the latest from the Central Division:
- Lasry is confident that the Bucks will secure financing for a new arena and said to Lowe that he and fellow co-owner Wesley Edens won’t think about moving the team to a West Coast city.
- The Bucks are high on Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall, and coach Jason Kidd is especially enamored with Ilyasova, Lowe writes. The Grantland scribe nonetheless believes that Ilyasova and Henson still seem like intruguing trade candidates.
- The Bucks would like to retain Brandon Knight at a “reasonable” price, according to Lowe, who pegs that range at $10-12MM a year. Still, the Bucks aren’t completely sold on the idea of Knight as a point guard, as Lowe explains.
- Stan Van Gundy has faith that his team can play better, but he acknowledges that it’ll be tough for the Pistons to meet their loftiest of goals this season, and he pointed to a four-day break in the schedule later this month as a point of reckoning, MLive’s David Mayo observes. Van Gundy may use the off days only to make rotation changes, but it wouldn’t be surprising for him to pull off a deal, as Mayo explores.
- The Pacers treaded water while many of their players were out early this season, but they’re still missing Paul George and George Hill, and their absences combined with the departure of Lance Stephenson continue to haunt the team, writes Mark Montieth of Pacers.com. Offseason signee C.J. Miles, who’s begun to rediscover his outside shot, is a bright spot, Montieth notes.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said Atlanta is in no jeopardy of losing the team to another city, even with the controlling interest up for sale, as he told Mike Conti this morning in an appearance on Sports Radio 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, and as Conti passes along via Twitter. Still, there are many variables concerning the Hawks saga, and we’ll detail the latest here, with any additional updates on top.
- Luol Deng issued a statement on the Hawks’ “African” comments regarding him, which Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel relayed in their entirety. In the release, Deng writes, “I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just ‘a little’. For my entire life, my identity has been a source of pride and strength. Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can think of no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage. Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.”
- Deng continued on, writing, “Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete. Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual, rather than be reduced to a stereotype. I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting.“
- The NBA still isn’t planning to respond to Atlanta’s punishment of Ferry with sanctions of its own, a league spokesperson reiterated today, according to Vivlamore (Twitter link).
- Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr., who in June called for GM Danny Ferry‘s dismissal, will meet today in New York with executives from the league office, tweets Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Ferry supported the idea of signing Deng and was willing to give him a $40MM deal this summer, a source tells TNT’s David Aldridge. Deng signed instead with the Heat on a two-year deal worth slightly more than $19.866MM.
- Luol Deng has told people he’s close to that the racially charged description of him that Ferry recited confuses him, and that he doesn’t want to comment until he has a better handle on the situation, Aldridge reports in the same piece. Ron Shade, one of the agents for Deng, told Michael Lee of The Washington Post that it’s “a little disheartening” to hear of Ferry’s remarks but downplayed their effect on Deng’s frame of mind heading into the season.
- It’s believed that Ed Peskowitz, who owns a non-controlling stake in the Hawks, will sell his share of the team, as Aldridge writes in his article. Peskowitz is a longtime business associate of outgoing controlling owner Bruce Levenson.
- Levenson and Gearon haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but in light of Gearon’s call for Ferry’s dismissal, it’s tough to see how Ferry can stay in his job, argues Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
- Fellow Journal-Constitution scribe Mark Bradley echoes that sentiment and notes that Gearon, who used to be the team’s controlling owner, is believed to hold more shares of the Hawks than anyone else, even though he, like Levenson, does not own a majority stake.
- A chastened atmosphere in the wake of the Donald Sterling episode puts all racially charged comments in the line of fire, whether or not the remarks were meant to be made public, as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News writes. A scout told Deveney that many commonly use language they might not otherwise as they compile scouting reports in an effort to make their points quickly and memorably.
The revelation that Hawks owner Bruce Levenson has decided to sell the team because of a racially charged email that he sent is sending ripples throughout the league. We rounded up Sunday evening’s dispatches related to Levenson in this post, and we’ll track the latest developments throughout today right here, with additional updates at the top:
- NBPA acting director Ron Klempner issued a statement on the Hawks situation to reporters, including USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt (on Twitter). The statement reads: “We’ve had continuing discussions with the league office about the incidents of disturbing statements attributed to representatives of the Atlanta Hawks’ franchise. We recognize that there is an ongoing investigation regarding the circumstances, and we will continue to monitor these events and take any action we deem appropriate.”
- Meanwhile, Zillgitt hears (link) that the comments read by Ferry on the Deng background report were the extent of his comments on the player’s race.
- The NBA does not plan to give Ferry additional punishment on top of what the Hawks are already doling out, Vivlamore reports (on Twitter).
- Ferry made contact with Ron Shade, one of Deng’s agents, to apologize, and he’s reached out to Deng, too, Wojnarowski tweets.
- Ferry met with Hawks coaches and players Sunday and apologized as he told them what he said about Deng, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. A source disclosed Ferry’s statement about Deng to Wojnarowski. “He’s still a young guy overall,” Ferry said of Deng, according to Wojnarowski’s source. “He’s a good guy overall. But he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”
- The NBA and officials from the Hawks helped convince Levenson to sell the team, Wojnarowski writes, which seems to conflict with Windhorst’s report that Levenson chose to sell the team on his own volition.
- The Hawks are set to discipline Ferry, but it’s unclear if the NBA will also levy a punishment against the GM, Vivlamore reports. A person involved tells Vivlamore that they had “never heard a comment as offensive” as the one directed at Deng. The person who wrote the report that Ferry read was not with the Hawks organization, as Koonin says to Vivlamore.
- The NBA isn’t interested in having the Hawks move to Seattle or elsewhere, Mannix hears (Twitter link). The team’s lease at the arena in Atlanta, which runs through 2017/18 as Windhorst pointed out in his story, would also help forestall a move, Mannix says.
- Luol Deng is the player who was the subject of the background report that contained an offensive and racist remark that Hawks GM Danny Ferry read, sources tell Marc Stein of ESPN.com (Twitter link). That report sparked the investigation that uncovered Levenson’s email.
- Ferry faces discipline, but he will remain GM of the team, as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com hears.
- Prospective buyers are already inundating Hawks CEO Steve Koonin with calls, as he tells Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I had over seven phone calls directly today from multi-billionaires,” Koonin said. “It blew my mind some of the people who wrote me today.” The league, rather than Levenson, will take the lead in conducting the sale, as Windhorst writes in his piece. It’s unclear how much of a role Koonin, who owns a share of the Hawks and who has been placed in charge of the team in Levenson’s stead, will play in finding a new controlling owner.
- Levenson made the choice to sell on his own, believing that his racially charged email would become public and that it would hurt business if he continued as owner, Windhorst writes. But an executive for another team tells Chris Mannix of SI.com that he believes Levenson is using the affair as an excuse to cash in on skyrocketing franchise values.
- Players and people around the league generally liked Levenson prior to Sunday’s revelation, according to Windhorst. However, Koonin told CNN’s Martin Savidge that he was “morified and angry” about the email, and that when he met with Hawks players Sunday night, “It was like walking into a funeral,” as CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin and Holly Yan pass along. “These are young men who wear our city’s name and our logo on their chest,” Koonin said. “They play for a team, and they are supposed to be supported by their ownership. And ownership failed in supporting them.”
The Clippers have pulled off a trade, reached a new deal with coach/executive Doc Rivers, and waived two players, and they reportedly met with Ekpe Udoh as they eye fellow free agent Chris Douglas-Roberts. That’s all within the space of the last three days. There’s a long holiday weekend ahead for some, but the Clippers certainly aren’t easing into it. Here’s the latest on the team:
- Few knock the coaching credentials of Rivers, but his roster-building skills as an executive are another matter. Plenty of executives around the league question Rivers’ acquisition of Jared Dudley last year and his surrender of a first-round pick in the deal to rid the Clippers of Dudley this week, as Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher writes. “If [former Timberwolves GM] David Kahn made those deals, they’d have been burning crosses on his lawn,” one NBA executive told Bucher.
- Shelly Sterling didn’t know who Steve Ballmer was when he called her this spring to express interest in buying the Clippers, as she tells Linda Deutsch of The Associated Press. Still, she negotiated him up from an initial offer of $1.9 billion to the $2 billion price he wound up paying and obtained a promise from Ballmer that he would never move the team to Seattle, as Deutsch details.
- Rival teams called the Bucks to talk about trading for Miroslav Raduljica last season, according to Shams Charania of RealGM. That seems to suggest there will be NBA suitors for the center whose three-day tenure with the Clippers just ended, though that’s just my speculation.
Donald Sterling had been the NBA’s longest-tenured owner, but when Steve Ballmer closed on his purchase of the Clippers today, Sterling’s reign came to an end. We’ll round up the fallout from the ownership change here, with any additional updates on top:
- As expected, a court of appeals has denied Donald Sterling’s final maneuver to prevent the sale of the Clippers, tweets Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
- While Sterling has previously vowed to sue the league for the rest of his life, Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com tweets that the Clippers are in no danger of ever returning to the hands of their disgraced former owner.
- Attorneys for Donald Sterling asked an appellate court for an immediate stay and an order that would halt or unwind the sale, report Nathan Fenno and James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times. Still, other lawyers familiar with petitions like that believe there’s little chance the effort will bear fruit, Fenno and Rainey add.
- Donald Sterling didn’t consent to the sale, so that’s why 10% of the team won’t be spun off into a charitable foundation in which Shelly Sterling would be heavily involved, as Fenno and Rainey write in the same piece.
- Ballmer is purchasing 100% of the team, so that means Shelly Sterling didn’t exercise her option to spin a stake of up to 10% of the franchise into a charitable foundation, tweets Dan Woike of the Orange County Register.
- The NBA has filed a countersuit in federal court against Sterling and the Sterling family trust in response to his antitrust suit against the league and commissioner Adam Silver, reports Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times. The league is seeking compensation for damages and enforcement of an agreement it claims Sterling signed in 2005 indemnifying the league against litigation and monetary loss, as Fenno explains. Shelly Sterling agreed this May to indemnify the NBA for costs and litigation relating to the sale of the team to Ballmer.
- Ballmer said he feels his record $2 billion investment in the Clippers carries much less risk than he took on in his business dealings, making him comfortable with the purchase, as he tells Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com (Twitlonger link).
- Ballmer, who was a part of Seattle’s bid to wrest the Kings from Sacramento last year, also reiterated his long-held stance against moving the Clippers out of Los Angeles, as Shelburne notes in another Twitlonger dispatch.
The relationship between the Suns and Eric Bledsoe continues to sour, and as it does, it’s looking like he’ll end up taking Phoenix’s one-year qualifying offer, worth about $3.7MM, tweets Chris Broussard of ESPN.com. That route would allow him to hit unrestricted free agency by next summer, but it would also represent a severe discount, not only on the maximum salary that Bledsoe has been seeking, but also from the four-year, $48MM offer the Suns have reportedly made. It’d be a surprising move if he ends up taking the QO, but it doesn’t seem as though the Rich Paul client is any closer to another deal. There’s more on Bledsoe amid the latest from around the league:
- Four NBA executives and two agents who spoke with Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic believe that the four-year, $48MM offer the Suns reportedly made to Bledsoe is fair and don’t think that the 24-year-old point guard has merited the maximum salary. “I’m surprised that they would offer him that much,” one of the executives said. “They don’t need to. It is really fair and, in fact, generous. He is talented, but he has never put it together very long, and he hasn’t been healthy. It’s hard to turn your team over to him.”
- The possibility that the Sixers could acquire Anthony Bennett and give up Thaddeus Young as the third team in a Kevin Love trade, one that Brian Windhorst of ESPN raised in a radio interview Monday, would be difficult to comprehend, argues Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com. Philadelphia’s purge of existing talent has been so profound that such a swap would seem like piling on, Lynam posits.
- Coming up short in bids for the Bucks and Kings prompted Steve Ballmer to pounce on the chance to strike a deal to buy the Clippers and abandon his dream of bringing the NBA back to Seattle, as he tells Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times. The former Microsoft CEO said he hopes Seattle ends up with a team eventually, though he reiterated that he has no intention of moving the Clippers.
A judge today denied a request to issue an injunction that would forestall construction of a new arena for the Kings in Sacramento, allowing the city and the team to proceed toward meeting a league-imposed deadline for its completion, reports Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee. A group opposing the project on environmental grounds was the last standing among a wide range of foes who took legal maneuvers to prevent the arena from being built. One such group drew the financial backing of investor Chris Hansen, who fronted a group last year that came close to buying the team and moving it to Seattle.
The NBA negotiated the right to buy the team and sell it to another bidder into the purchase agreement between owner Vivek Ranadive and the Maloof family, the team’s previous owners. That clause would be triggered if the arena weren’t complete by 2017 or if the Kings didn’t show satisfactory progress toward that deadline. Still, commissioner Adam Silver has expressed full confidence that the project will meet its targets. The arena is scheduled to open in 2016.
The primary challenges have been to the city’s $255MM contribution to the $455MM building, and Hansen admitted that he funded a petition drive that sought to put civic funding up to a public referendum. Hansen also said he would seek to withdraw his financial support of the petition campaign, although it’s not clear whether the group returned his reported $100K contribution.