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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stern Courting Seattle?

Below are excerpts from an interview with Commish David Stern. A couple of things stand out to me about this. First, Stern didn't have to even address this, he could've walked away. The fact he addressed it at all makes me think he's using this as a way to extend an olive branch to the Seattle media and fans (maybe city leaders) suggesting there is hope for a return of the NBA to Seattle.

That's not to suggest that Seattle is necessarily on the same page as Stern, however.

It's also an obvious lure for Ballmer and his group, keeping them on notice the league like them and their money. It's not a bad thing.

I truly believe Stern would love to be the person who ends his tenure as Commissioner by returning a franchise to Seattle. It's just too good of a finale for him. He gets to mend broken fences, appeal to the fans, penetrate a top 15 market, which the NBA desperately needs, and relocate a failing franchise to a market with a history of success and money. It's a feel good story if he can facilitate it and it's a smart business move - moving a failing franchise to a big market with money and fans. With the economic downturn in full swing, it's likely he needs this for the league. In a game of politics and positioning, this is a good indicator. Stern isn't going to over-play his courtship of Seattle, he'll use a soft touch as he did here, with compliments about the city and praise for Ballmer. He'll test the water to gage reactions.

Stern's willingness to discuss this on the record suggests it's time to move forward. Getting the Coliseum/Seattle Center upgraded is the obvious first step. I imagine the businesses in lower Queen Anne could use the financial jolt the Sonics provided. I imagine the NBA could, too.

Below are some excerpts from the interview.

At courtside of the Thomas and Mack Center, before Griffin's debut with of the Los Angeles Clippers, I asked Stern if I could talk with him for a couple of minutes. Just two minutes for 41 years. Two minutes to talk to Seattle basketball fans. A little respect after showing the ultimate disrespect.

He paused, looked at a member of his public relations staff and said, "OK, two minutes."

He gave me a minute and 43 seconds. I asked him if he would offer some thanks to Seattle for all it did for the league. "It was a great city for the NBA," Stern said, dropping the stridency of last summer. "It supported us very well and we had great teams and great memories. I don't consider it a success that we left Seattle, but a failure of types. And I hope someday, whether on my watch or a successor's watch, that we again have a team in Seattle."

With a public relations staff member tape recording our brief interview, Stern was asked what he thought Seattle should do next.

"The next step is really the right putative owner, who really wants to have a team and is prepared to do what it takes, working together with the city, the state to get an arena and get the job done," he said. "I think ultimately there will be [another team in Seattle]. I really do."

When he was asked if Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, an NBA maven who is part of a group that has offered to make a sizable financial commitment to bring the league back to the city, could be the kind of owner Stern would like to see in Seattle?

"I don't want to put the whammy on him," Stern said, "but he'd be a hell of an owner."

A year ago, when Bennett left town with the team, the idea of even an NBA intrasquad scrimmage coming to Seattle seemed impossible. But in October, the Portland Trail Blazers will play an exhibition game against the Phoenix Suns at KeyArena.

I asked Stern if this could be considered a hopeful sign for those of us who want the league in our town. "I think it's just an attempt by Portland to do the right thing and show fans a good time," Stern said.

He was asked if he was concerned about a possible boycott of that game.

"I think the fans are entitled to do whatever they want to do," he said, beginning to move away. "It is an independent city. It always has been and I hope it always will be."

NBA's Economic Forecast - Gloomy

In an article by the associated press, NBA Commissioner David Stern acknowledged that the NBA league is in serious financial trouble, with at least half the teams posting net losses last season. Let's not rush to judgement and blame this all on Stern. I dare not give his policy's that much credit. Obviously, many businesses are losing money in the dire economic landscape we are in. But half the teams? Ouch!

The expected reduction in salary cap will help. It reduces expenditures and player salaries, both were escalating at an obscene rate. Now they can be dialed back down to a more market-defined level. The league also expects many teams to offer lower ticket prices to lure more sales. Will it work? That remains to be seen.

As previously reported here, the league has a $175 million dollar 'slush fund' that teams can draw from in times of need. Well, welcome to the times of need. Pressure will be intense on coaches to produce winning teams and to get them to the playoffs. Additional post-season revenues may be the only way teams have a chance to compete fiscally. TV revenues are down and the days of mega-TV contracts appear to be a memory as networks scramble to find new ad revenue sources. Less revenue for networks means less money on the table when tv contracts are up. Trickle down theory, in full effect. Driving the prices down further is the proliferation of so (too?) many distribution methods including tv, cable, internet, radio and satellite. Is saturation becoming a problem? Supply and demand, anyone?

With so many teams suffering, folding teams could eaasily emerge as a possibility. Just as businesses like Starbucks are forced to close weak-performing franchises, will pro teams follow suit? Is this the time when the league finds it's true financial niche, via addition by subtraction?

Only time will tell. Stern's policy's will certainly be scrutinized closely, as he tries to right the ship while simultaneously considering his inevitable retirement.

One idea that could bode well for the league financially would be a proven market like Seattle to have another team, something the NBA should begin pushing for. The City of Seattle needs to get on board and pay the idea some serious attention. Let's put the Stern/Bennett ill-will aside and look at it as bringing a business to town, a business that contributes to other local businesses, the local economy, and creates jobs.

It won't save the league, but it's a place to start.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Nine Thoughts For the Ninth

9. Lakers will repeat if not three-peat. A world class organization that out-Raiders the Raiders by “just winning, baby”. They talk the talk and walk the walk. They have the most elite scorer in the game in Kobe, and just added arguably its top defender in Artest. Wow.

8. Lance Armstrong – Still has that competitive drive at 37 - where does he rank among the greatest athletes of all time? Is he in the same breath as Ali, Jordan, Drysdale, Howe? Is cycling really a legitimate sport?

7. McNair – Tragic. Now we’ll have to watch his on-field legacy take an endless beating by a bored media and witness as exploiters vie for life rights for the book/movie deal. You want irony? Word out of Tennessee is that state officials were preparing a youth suicide prevention public service announcement featuring McNair before he was shot and killed last week.

6. Houston Rockets – on the cusp of greatness, then lose Yao and Artest, but add Ariza. Huge blow to this quality franchise. If Yao’s injury is as serious as some suspect it is, did playing for China’s Olympic team damage him physically? Did patriotism, even forced patriotism, contribute to the demise of his NBA career? How will this effect NBA/China relations? Probably won't at all, as long as we can sell Kobe jerseys in Beijing.

5. Seattle Mariners – Coming off a 100-loss season, this team is hovering at .500 and staying in the playoff picture on pitching, chemistry and pure guts and determination. Makes you wonder if desire and effort trump talent and ability in baseball. Imagine if the bullpen wasn’t imploding. To be honest, this is not a very talented team - which makes this team's ability to hang around all the more impressive. Looks like the front office, manager and team chemistry have drastically improved. That bodes well for the future of the franchise.

4. Who is America’s team in the NFL? The Cowboys are winless in the playoffs in 12 seasons. The Lone Star ain't shinin' too bright these days. Desperate moves like adding PacMan Jones, tabloid fodder Romo and his head case girlfriend, botoxed Jerry Jones and his need to control have turned this team into a laughing stock and the antithesis of the Cowboy lore created by Landry and Staubach. So, who takes the throne now? Pittsburgh? New England? Anyone else even close?

3. Whose running for the Dawgs? David Freeman and Brandon Johnson have been declared ineligible, adding to a depleted backfield already without Brandon Yakaboski and Terrance Dailey, last year’s leading rusher with an embarrassing 338 yards. Cougar Rueben Mayes had 356 in one game against Oregon by himself. With do-everything Jake Locker maturing into a more pass-oriented mentality, how does this hurt his progress?

2. Favre-to-Vikings speculation. Genius or boneheaded? How much more damage can Brett Favre do to his legacy? He hasn’t finished a season healthy or with a shred of dignity in two years. He’s embarrassing himself....right out of the Hall Of Fame? Not likely, but C’mon, Brett....call it a day and take that cushy gig in the broadcast booth before it’s too late and you’re a walking punch line. Or limping punch line.

1. Blunder did not get Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin. That warms the cockles of my heart. Not because it hurts the fans or denies the team – but because it denies jackass-supreme Clay Bennett the benefits it would have brought to him – like the sappy marketing of a “local boy comes home to play” garb and the potential increase in season ticket sales as a result.

More Corndogs, More Losses, More Blunder!

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Draft! More Free Agency! More Corndogs!

The draft came and went and the Blunder did not get Blake Griffin. Yes, I breathe a sigh of relief. However, the drafting of James harden from Arizona State has been getting mixed reviews. Even I am not sure what to think on this. He's exciting, athletic and has a rookie contract - all things good for OKC. He's practically a local, if you consider Arizona local.

Rodrigue Beaubois - huh? Jury is out on this guy. Seems like a potentially wasted pick, but this guy will likely be quite cheap, which really fits OKC's needs here. They probably would've traded this pick if any takers stepped up, but in a weak draft, not much you can do here. This guy'll be fun in practice.

Overall, I'll give the Blunder a C+ grade. Harden is good - for sure. How he meshes with OKC remains to be seen, but the guy can play. I even watched him get taken to school, twice, by an overachieving Washington State team.

FREE AGENCY

All Quiet on the Western Front.

On the OKC Free Agency front that is. OKC has been quiet this off season. Check book closed. The only noise so far has been the sounds of the Swiffer on the Ford Congressional Bail-Out Center floor and the Maytag scrubbing OKC's New York Knick tribute uniforms. Better run 'em through twice, folks - the stench of another 59-loss season under Bennett is hard to get off. Oh, and Ford is now bankrupt. Coincidence? I think not.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

The biggest moves in free agency were made by Detroit who corralled Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to play in the city formerly known as Motown. While the city's auto industry is on life support, the Pistons will be revving it up.

Los Angeles Lakers (c'mon, as if I even need to clarify Lakers, here) grabbed Ron Artest, lost Trevor Ariza and get Phil Jackson back. They are still very likely the team to beat.


Orlando signs Vince Carter and loses Hedo Terkoglu. This is interesting. This team was poised to stay atop the Eastern Conference. Losing Turkoglu to Toronto hurts. Frankly it makes little sense at all - he should've gotten a deal done in Orlando or looked at Portland where he could at least live under the illusion the playoffs were a possibility. In Toronto? Nice city, NBA wasteland. Adding Carter looks great on paper, but how much more is he bringing to offset the loss. If it is anything at all Orlando should be poised for another deep playoff run.

Rasheed Wallace to Boston. An aging team just got more physical in the post. They'll add rebounds, push opponents scoring averages down, and lead the league in technical fouls. In addition, they do not have to play against his. Sure he is mercurial, but he's with a savvy mix of veterans in Boston who know how to win. If he can keep from coming unhinged mentally, he'll have a fun ride in Beantown.


Shaq traded to Cleveland. If he can stay healthy and give the Cav's 20 minutes late in games, he'll help LaBron. Maybe Shaq will find a second wind playing with LaBron. A m otivated Shaq is a dangerous thing. Hopefully he spends the off season polishing up his foul shooting. He makes it interestend for Cleveland. It's all about im staying healthy and being able to play the post come playoff time. Clearly a pro-active effort to keep King James in Cleveland.