NBA High-5: David Stern is up to old tricks, trying to squeeze taxpayers for ... -

The five most interesting stories, rumors and notes in the NBA:

1. Watched from up north: Say this for Sacramento's race to keep the Kings from bolting: It's surely driving web traffic to the city's daily newspaper, with a surge of interest from readers in Seattle.

With Seattle leaders having announced plans to build a NBA-ready arena, the Seattle Times' website has made a daily habit of featuring front-page links to anything from the Sacramento Bee on that city's arena situation.

This morning, the Times offered this link: "Sacramento Bee: Kings to make big contribution to arena deal."

That led readers to a blog post summarizing a story in the Bee that summed up comments made the NBA commissioner David Stern in an interview with TNT (phew!). In the interview, Stern said the Kings would make a substantial financial contribution to Sacramento's $387 million arena deal.

The problem is the vagueness of Stern's answer. City leaders have said they want the Maloof family, which owns the Kings, to chip in $85 million for the arena, and want AEG, which is in line to run the arena, to add $50 million. Stern, however, told TNT that he considers any money coming from AEG to be a part of the team contribution. If the city wants $135 million in financial help, will AEG pay all of it?

One of the major issues for Sacramento is that the Maloofs insist they will not sell the team. The Bee's Dale Kasler reports that billionaire Ron Burkle could be a savior for Sacramento by buying the team if the NBA approves the city's arena deal. Burkle might have the money to keep the team in Sacramento, something some question about the Maloofs, who have fallen on hard times.

In Seattle, officials are watching all this closely. The arena deal is contingent on the city first securing both a NBA and NHL team, a heck of a hurdle. If the Kings stay in Sacramento, Seattle might be out of luck.

Stern, in his interview with TNT's David Aldridge, indicated that he had a front-runner and back-up buyer for the league-owned Hornets, while at the same time, the state of Louisiana was working on a more favorable arena lease for a buyer.

In essence, Stern is doing in Sacramento and New Orleans what he always does -- trying to squeeze as much out of taxpayers as possible. Bruce Maiman, in a commentary in the Bee, summed up Stern's tactic -- that he is playing cities' eagerness to have a team against one another, with Seattle and Anaheim's willingness to finance arena upgrades  providing leverage. Writes Maiman:

It has happily manufactured a cage match over one franchise between three cities frantically flaunting whatever carrots they can muster.
And Seattle? Asked about the city by Aldridge, Stern answered:
"I've been briefed on it. I don't want to say too much because it isn't like, 'If you build it, they will come.' Because I wouldn't recommend to the NBA owners that they consider expansion. So you have to have an available team. And that involves, sort of, what's going on in individual cities, and I'd rather not be engaged in that."
2. A matter of taste: This morning, I received an e-mailed press release from the PR rep of a condom manufacturer. The rubber-maker (wasn't that Walter Matthau's character in "Bad News Bears"?) claimed it would be giving its product to Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin to help him in the event he is unable ward off the advances of female fans.

The release used Lin's name in a pun, but I'm sure as hell not repeating it -- or using the company's name.

The attempt to cash in on Lin's sudden fame is hardly limited to the condom maker. The New York Post reports that Lin's agent has received over 1,000 endorsement proposals. Lin, according to the Post's unnamed source, has turned down several lucrative offers and is looking for brands that fit "his squeaky-clean image."

3. Nets gain or loss: Speaking of Lin, one of the NBA's great point guards lit him up big-time Monday as the Nets' Deron Williams scored 38 points in a victory against the Knicks.

It's easy to forget about Williams, who is having a great season (24.3 points, 10.2 assists), but whose injury-riddled team is nowhere near playoff contention. But with the All-Star Game and trade deadline coming up, we'll surely hear a lot more about him.

Already, Peter May, in a column for ESPN, writes that a Nets insider believes there is no chance Williams will remain with the Nets after this season, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If true, the Nets would need to strongly consider trading Williams before the March 15 deadline lest they get nothing for a player they gave up quite a bit (Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-round picks) to get.

May proposes the Celtics offer Rajon Rondo (and others) for Williams, but that Dallas, which stripped away a lot of salary by not re-signing Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler from its championship team, has its eye on getting Williams via free agency, with the lure of playing in his hometown.

Williams admits he has struggled to deal with the losing (the Nets are 10-24), Hoopshype's Marc Narducci reports. But Narducci adds that Williams, to his credit, has handled his contract situation in an up-front manner and not let things turn into the circus that other free agents' contract years became.

All this comes as the Magic will play in New Jersey today, bringing in Dwight Howard. It's no secret that the Nets have visions of Williams and Howard playing together for them when they move to Brooklyn next season.

"It'll be interesting to see how the fans are going to react," Williams said. "It should be pretty crazy. … I kind of look forward to the game."

4. Calling out the tough guys: I doubt anyone would dispute that Charles Oakley was a tough player during his 19-year NBA career. Oakley, though, won't say the same about several players he competed against.

Oakley, in an interview with Jim Rome (via USA Today), rips on Kevin Garnett and Charles Barkley for not being as tough as their reputations indicate.

He calls Garnett "one of the weakest guys to ever play the game," and says Garnett is a "complementary player" who needed to join Paul Pierce's team to win a title.

Oakley says that while Barkley was "for his size a good player,"  Barkley also was a "coward." Oakley adds of Barkley's TNT work: "They're like some clowns on that show."

For some reason, Oakley also gets on Thunder center Kendrick Perkins for being dunked on (we presume he's referring to the one poster job from the Clippers' Blake Griffin). Oakley said he was only dunked on three times during his career, which is a heck of a claim considering he retired when he was 40.

5. And now, the story of the rest: There was a lot of discussion about Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's decision to rest Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in last night's game at the Rose Garden, resulting in a 40-point victory for the Trail Blazers.

The Spurs, remember, had an 11-game win streak but were already missing injured Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter. With Parker and Duncan out, the Blazers ended up with a glorified scrimmage, although fans at the arena seemed happy enough to get a win.

Have to wonder, though, if some fans didn't feel cheated in not being able to see a future Hall-of-Famer and arguably the league's hottest point guard.

Popovich's responsibility, though, isn't to Portland ticket holders, but rather, to his team's championship chances. The San Antonio Express-News' Tim Griffin writes that with San Antonio having played the night before and Parker's minutes starting to add up, the move was a smart one for the Spurs' playoff chances.

"When it's time for them to rest based on the schedule and the time they've been playing, that's what's got to happen if you want to put some money in the bank for later," Popovich said.

In the Blazers' locker room, Gerald Wallace offered up a smart quote about the situation, saying the Spurs' strong play earned them the chance to rest their stars.

"They put themselves in a situation to be able to do that," Wallace said. "When you win 11 games in a row ... you're able to rest your guys. Especially in a short season, it's important."

Note: The NBA High-5 will return next week. Look for my reports from the NBA All-Game on this blog.

-- Mike Tokito

23 Feb, 2012

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