Tag Archives: Seattle SuperSonics

A World Without Westbrook

In sports, as in life, we get so used to certain presences that we’re unsure what to do once that presence fades. Tonight will be the first game Russell Westbrook has missed not just in his professional career, but in his entire sports career, high school included. That a player so devilish and reckless, so bruising and physical would be so immune to injury is somewhat unfathomable. Just as unbelievable will be tonight, when the Thunder takes the floor without Westbrook.

Two years ago, my parents, sister, and both grandmothers came in town for my college graduation. At dinner the night before the actual ceremony, my mom looked at me and asked where I was going to get my haircut from now on.

“What?” I asked, bemused. My mom had always had a propensity for asking questions that seemingly had little to do with the current conversation, and I figured this to be another instance. The beat of puzzled silence that follows these questions came, but the laughter that usually comes after, from both my mom and the rest of my family, didn’t.

“What?” I asked, this time concerned. I turned to my dad, but in the time it took for me to make eye contact with him, my brain had pieced it together. So, when I came face to face with my dad, instead of asking “what?” again, I simply, quietly, said, “no.”

“Jerry passed away,” my dad said, confirming my fear. Jerry, my barber for the better part of my entire life, had suffered a massive heart attack following a tennis game with his friend and business partner a few weeks prior. My dad waited to tell me because he didn’t want the news to interfere with school.

The loss of a barber may seem inconsequential to some, but it was profound to me. He wasn’t just a barber; he was my friend. We’d talk about the Chiefs, the Royals, the Jayhawks, fishing, movies, school and all of the common topics of conversation between men. Jerry had been there through all the phases, and corresponding hairstyles, of my life, from the short, simple “Princeton” haircut, to my unkempt, knotty, unmanageable Jewfro that required the use of a machete just to trim, and back to a shorter cut, less Slideshow Bob and more a shorter Harpo Marx.

I’d go off to summer camp, come back, then visit Jerry in the next few days. I’d go off to college, first at UConn then Tulsa, and almost every time I returned home, I’d call Jerry and ask if he had anything open. Usually, he did. He was always there, the very definition of a constant. And now he was gone.

Westbrook, for so young a player, has been a pivotal figure in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 2008, a franchise cornerstone for a franchise that was soon to end. He was there for the Thunder’s inaugural season, a miserable, and turnover-prone one to be sure, but formative and integral to the development of the team and specifically the chemistry between Westbrook and Durant. He was there for the Thunder’s first playoff appearance, for the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins trade, the emergence of James Harden and Serge Ibaka, and started (and starred) in the NBA Finals just four years after being drafted. And through it all, he has been maligned, celebrated, jeered, scapegoated, praised, and an overall polarizing figure.

More than any other player on the Thunder, Westbrook has been the team’s constant. Nick Collison, though fully embraced by the Oklahoma City fans, will never wholly belong to them, as his history is just as much with the specters in Seattle. Jeff Green and James Harden were traded (to decidedly different fanfares, of course). Even Kevin Durant, the face of the franchise and the second best player in the NBA, has missed a few games because of injury. But not Russell Westbrook. He’s always been there, night in and night out, bad game or good game. He may cost them the game with a silly mistake, or he may win it with a daring feat of athleticism and skill, but either way, his presence has always been undeniable.

Good or bad, he was always there. It never crossed the minds of Thunder fans, and basketball fans at large, that he would ever not be. He’s fallen down hundreds of times, grimaced, limped, doubled over in pain, but he’s always come back, no matter what. His presence, nearly as much as his production, is what made him Russell Westbrook.

A few days after moving back to Kansas City, I made an appointment at Bock’s, where Jerry used to work. Pulling up to the shop, nerves, like so many corn kernels in a microwave, jumped and bounced and wrecked their way throughout my stomach. I pulled open the front door to see Bernie and Maurice, two other barbers, one of whom, Maurice, was Jerry’s brother.

Maurice tended to the first chair, while Bernie was stationed at the third. In the middle, unoccupied, untouched, was the second chair. Jerry’s chair. My appointment was with Bernie, whom I’d known just as long as Jerry. Inevitably, we talked about Jerry, and through the entire haircut my eyes rarely strayed from Jerry’s vacant chair, magnetic in its emptiness.

It was all so wrong, and I kept expecting Jerry to come out of the back room, or walk through the front door, or just be there. And every time I go back, I still wait for him to appear, and every time reality disappoints me.

When the news broke that Westbrook was out, first indefinitely, then later for the rest of the season, we were introduced to a reality we never thought could possibly exist: a world without Westbrook. It’s as uncharted a territory for the Thunder as it is for fans, navigated easily by neither. But navigate it they, and we, must. That  means more Reggie Jackson and (unfortunately) more Derek Fisher, the former unproven, the latter far past his prime, and neither enough to compensate.

It doesn’t, and won’t, seem right for the Thunder to play without Russell Westbrook. We’ll look to the court, wondering where the dynamic guard is before catching ourselves and remembering that the Thunder’s greatest constant is now, in more than one way, their greatest absence.

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

What quarter deserves the most attention when trying to draw a link between NetRtg (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions) and winning? What does it take to be number one?

In each season, beginning with the 2007-2008 campaign, the most linked quarterly Rtg (offensive or defensive) was the first quarter. A poor DefRtg in the first 12 minutes resulted in the highest Loss Correlation in each of the past five seasons.

Also, fans like to obsess over the fourth quarter scoring (How often have you heard, “Kobe is the most clutch player of all time” or early in his career “LeBron freezes up down the stretch and couldn’t finish a game is his life depended on it”?), but is that really all that important? The average Win Correlation for OffRtg (how directly tied the game result is to the number of points scored per 100 possessions) is lower in the fourth quarter than the average of quarters one through three in every single season since 2007. This stat indicates that the offensive efficiency prior to the fourth quarter is consistently more crucial to winning that what a team does in the final 12 minutes.

In fact, if you’re still going to look at the fourth quarter as the most crucial of quarters, you’re better off looking at the defensive efficiency. In three of the five seasons studied, the average Loss Correlation for DefRtg was higher in the fourth quarter than the average of the first three quarters three times.

When analyzing the data from the past five seasons, it becomes obvious that games are won in the early going, as opposed to the final few minutes. Success is ultimately determined by victories and the wins leader (Lakers with 277) has the greatest cumulative first quarter NetRtg (48.2) over the last five seasons. Coincidence? I think not.

The total number of wins by the quarterly NetRtg leader decreases as you progress through the game. But this trend isn’t only true for the elite teams, it holds true for the NBA as a whole. The top 17 teams in terms of wins over the last five seasons are the exact same 17 teams that lead the way in cumulative first quarter NetRtg. Here is a look at how each team stacked up in total wins and cumulative NetRtg by quarter since 2007.

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

Further disproving the myth of fourth quarter efficiency and its overall importance is the overall trend of the top teams in NetRtg and the bottom teams in NetRtg . Now, one must acknowledge the fact that blowouts do play a role in the late game data and not the early game stats, but with five years of games (394 games per team), the vast majority of games are competitive throughout. Even during a game which has for all intensive purposes been decided with considerable time left on the clock, both teams will turn to their reserves, thus not skewing the data a whole lot. Take a glance at the trend of the best team/worst team in terms of cumulative NetRtg by quarter.

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

As you can see, the worst team in the league (in terms of cumulative NetRtg) improves as the game progresses while the best team gets worse. The gap from the best team to the worst team shrinks from 94.5 in the first quarter to 59.4 in the fourth stanza, a 37.1% drop off.

With all of this data surrounding the fact that the best team excels early in the game, it would only follow that the best player in the world would be associated with a similar trend. Since 2008-2009, no player has won more games than LeBron James (231) and his teams have dominated in the first quarter. In the last four seasons, James’ team has had a first quarter cumulative NetRtg of 47.5, far and away tops in the league. While his fourth quarter efficiency is still very good (27.2) in those seasons, that represents a 42.7% downward trend.

 LeBron James Pie

 If your gut feeling is to blame that disparity on James’ slow developing “clutch gene”, consider that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (the most successful franchise over the last five seasons) have seen their cumulative NetRtg drop by 72% from the first to the fourth quarter.

Kobe Bryant Pie

 What could this trend of production early in games tell us about the future?

Since the 2007-2008 season the East has gradually improved and finally overtook the West as the better conference when it comes to playoff teams. The 2007-2008 Eastern Conference playoff teams (Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavs, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, Hawks) had an average NetRtg of 3.2, with four teams logging a negative NetRtg. It was a top heavy conference, as the top three seeds had the highest NetRtg’s in the NBA. The Western Conference, however, had the next eight highest NetRtg totals from its playoff teams (Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nuggets) and averaged a far superior 5.84 NetRtg.

Since that point in time, however, the Eastern playoff teams have cut into that gap until finally passing their Western counterparts last season. Despite a minor regression in 2009-2010, the East teams have gained ground on the West in average NetRtg (trailed by 2.64 in 2007-2008, by 0.68 in 2008-2009, 0.87 in 2009-2010, by 0.37 in 2010-2011) before finally breaking through with a higher NetRtg by 1.24 last season. Instead of being a top heavy conference, the East boasted five of the top seven playoff teams in total NetRtg.

Production in the first half of games appears to be directly correlated with this changing of the guard. In 2007-2008, the Western Conference playoff teams averaged a NetRtg of 12.3 in the first half of games, a number that was 40.2% greater than the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The East gradually chipped away at that difference by cutting the disparity to 16.2% the next season and 2.8% in 2009-2010. The East broke through last season, as their NetRtg was 13.9% greater than that of the West. They were able to make these strides specifically due to their strong play in the second quarter. Back in 2007-2008, the average Western Conference playoff team had a NetRtg that was 3.1 points better than the Eastern teams in the second quarter alone. Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, and the Eastern teams had a NetRtg 1.69 points higher than the West.

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Eastern Conference has won 14 games (five seasons) in the Finals. They had won only 17 since the Michael Jordan era (nine seasons) ended in 1997-1998. The bottom feeders in the East are as bad as ever, but are we seeing a changing of the guard at the top of these conferences?

Franchise Movement Deja Vu

Image via T.M. Photography on Flickr

Image via T.M. Photography on Flickr

No one saw it coming, even though everyone kind of did.  Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story–as he is wont to do–that the Sacramento Kings were finalizing their sale to an ownership group in Seattle. While this “Will they or won’t they” Kings saga seems to be reaching a long-drawn-out conclusion (although nothing has been agreed upon), one can’t help but think that this situation is eerily similar to one that took place in the mid-1990s. Well, one could help it, but this one happens to have grown up in Cleveland in the 1990s and knows this story all too well.

In 1996, the Cleveland Browns ceased to exist. The ownership moved the team to Baltimore. Baltimore was thrilled to have a team–after all, its own original team was relocated to Indianapolis in 1983. I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t get this out of my head, so I turned to another Cleveland-Raised-Basketball-Writer-in-Exile, Eric Maroun, for his thoughts.

Amin: Recognizing that the Kings were the only major sports team in Sacramento, how does you feel this move–and the relationship between the fanbase and the ownership–compares to what transpired with the Browns in 1995?

Eric: First of all, the fact that the Kings are the only professional sports team in Sacramento makes this slightly different from the Cleveland situation. At the time of the Browns move, the Indians were coming off their first World Series appearance in 41 years a month prior to the announcement so as painful as the Browns move was, Cleveland fans at least had the Tribe to fall back on every April-October. Sacramento has…the San Francisco Giants, I guess? That’s akin to Cleveland fans cheering for Ohio State. As far as the relationship between the fans and owners go, it’s too bad that the SAT did away with the analogies section years ago because Art Modell:Cleveland as The Maloofs:Sacramento would be a perfect fit. Both fan bases are incredibly passionate, and my heart aches for the people of Sacramento who don’t deserve to be jerked around by these idiots. It’ll be interesting to see how the vitriol among Kings fans compares to Browns fans in 1995 as Cleveland set the standard of hanging Modell in effigy, removing bleacher seats by hand, and bringing saws to Cleveland Municipal Stadium to cut out seats for personal keepsakes. In Cleveland’s last home game, both the Bengals and Browns had to go toward the same end zone in the fourth quarter because fans in the Dawg Pound were literally throwing bleacher benches on to the field. Can you imagine the Clippers-Kings game on April 17 turning into a 5 on 5 half-court game?

Amin: A lot of people are happy to see Seattle get a team back. The Ravens fanbase in and around Baltimore is extremely passionate. The OKC Thunder sure as hell know how to draw a crowd, and the Indianapolis Colts have a long, storied history. But… does any of that matter to Kings fans? Does it matter to anyone?

Eric: In the immediate future, none of that matters. Assuming I’m a Kings fan and the deal goes through, I’m reading that and thinking, “Well all of those cities have teams and we don’t. That’s all well and good for them, but I don’t care what they do. I just want a team in my city.” It’s great to be passionate; that’s one of the best parts about being a sports fan. But at some point, you have to realize that all the passion in the world sometimes cannot overcome business decisions that are made by those in charge. Hell, ONE day after Art Modell announced he was moving the team to Baltimore, the Cleveland voters passed an issue on the ballot that would have provided $175 million in tax revenue to be put toward renovating the Browns stadium. The run down condition that the stadium was in was cited by Modell as one of the reasons for the move, and even the promise of $175 mil couldn’t stop it from happening. Passion is good, but at the end of the day, money talks.

Amin: The Browns “came back” to Cleveland in 1999 after a 3 season deactivation. Seattle gets to do the same thing with their franchise. The Kings legacy is (for now) getting washed away. Do you foresee Sacramento ever getting a sports team back? Do you foresee the Kings ever coming back (they were in Cincinnati and Kansas City before Sacramento)? Do you think Sacramento and the Kings will be reunited?

Eric: Do I think that they’ll get a team in the next three years? Unfortunately, no. I do believe that eventually they’ll land another franchise. After all, the city has a lot going for it. It’s a top 30 city population wise in the United States. There’s a history of basketball there. And there is a fan base and mayor who clearly will do whatever it takes to bring a sports team of any kind to the city, particularly an NBA team. I see this being much more similar in timeline to Baltimore losing the Colts and gaining the Ravens (13 years) than the Browns brief hiatus from Cleveland. If and when they do return, I see no reason why they wouldn’t be called the Kings just as I would expect Seattle to bring back the SuperSonics name as well.

Amin: After the Browns moved to Baltimore, they became–oh, what’s the word?–good. In fact, they won a Superbowl in 2000, something the Browns were never able to do in Cleveland. Once the Sonics left Seattle, their success skyrocketed in just a few years, and fans and front offices across the country applauded “The Oklahoma City Model” as the best way to rebuild a franchise. As of now, the Thunder are defending Western Conference champions, and they’re one of the favorites to win the title this year. Do you think the Kings will get tremendously better after relocation? How much will it hurt if they do get better after relocation?

Eric: Quick history lesson. Thanks to The Move torpedoing the Browns season, they finished 5-11 in 1995 resulting in them getting the #4 draft pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. Additionally, the Browns had traded the 10th pick in the 1995 Draft to the San Francisco 49ers for, among other picks, the 49ers 1996 first round selection. In the Ravens first draft as a franchise, they selected Jonathan Ogden, an eleven time Pro Bowler, with the fourth pick and a linebacker from Miami by the name of Ray Lewis with the 49ers pick in the 26 slot. Together, Ogden and Lewis anchored the Ravens franchise on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball for over a decade. While the conventional wisdom says that the Browns would have won a Super Bowl in Cleveland had they stayed there, I’m not sure I buy that line of thinking. If The Move doesn’t happen, and therefore no distractions off the field of that magnitude are caused, the Browns most likely win more than five games, thereby not getting Ogden with the fourth pick in the draft. Is there an Ogden and/or Ray Lewis in the 2013 Draft? That’s tough to say at this point since this year’s draft is largely regarded as a “weak” class. At least Seattle had Durant prior to moving to OKC; there is no Durant-esque player on the Kings roster currently so it’s unlikely that we will see them improved dramatically in the short term. If they do hit the jackpot though? I’m not going to lie to you; it’s awful. Watching Art Modell hoist the Lombardi Trophy is still one of the low points of my, and most Cleveland sports fans’, life. All you do is wish for failure year after year after year. It was one thing to see LeBron win a title last year, but that was just one individual who went to a team where he had 11 new teammates. To watch an entire franchise get uprooted and go on to win a title outside your city? Brutal.

Amin: As our resident Misery Expert (as a Wizards and Cavs fan, I just consider myself the Disappointment Expert), do you have any advice for Kings fans?

Eric: Understand that this is not over yet. As Kings fans, you should know by now not to trust the Maloofs about anything so even if they say that they have a deal in place, until it becomes official, there’s a chance. You saved the franchise before, so why not again? Sign the petition. Pledge your commitment to the franchise through the Here We Buy site. Demonstrate to the NBA that you are a force to be reckoned with and that you deserve to have a team in Sacramento. And if worse comes to worse and they do leave? Get cracking on the campaign to bring an expansion team to your area because if there’s one thing you don’t want to be, it’s to become that city that steals another franchise. You really don’t want to be THAT city, do you? *Stares directly at Seattle*

RTOE: SEAcramento

110312_RTOE_mkiv

The Sacramento Kings, in all likelihood, will be moving to Seattle for the 2013-14 season and beyond, as the Maloofs prepare to sell the team to a Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer-led Seattle group, as first reported by Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski. How should we feel about this? Sean Highkin, Andrew Lynch, Noam Schiller, Jordan White and I take a stab at a few pressing issues below. 

1. It seems like a common response to the news has been “This is awful for Sacramento, but Seattle deserves this.” Do you buy into that?

Sean: I think the “deserves” argument is more applicable to “this fan base doesn’t deserve to go through losing a team” than “this fan base deserves a team more than this other one.” I’ll bet not a lot of people in Sacramento care whether Seattle’s NBA history is technically richer than theirs, or that that makes it easier to swallow for any of them.

Noam: I want to, but no. The franchise roundtable game is a cruel one, but within its draconian guidelines it is clearly stated that communities must pay up for NBA teams in the form of public funds. The Sonics failed to do that in a satisfactory manner before leaving; Kings fans, to go with the city of Sacramento, worked to construct an honest deal that was verbally agreed upon, and were then left at the altar.

Andrew: You don’t get to be hypocritical just because you admit that you are, in fact, a hypocrite. Admission of guilt isn’t a get out of jail free card; if it where, thieves would be the world’s most honest people and the Maloofs would have made their most-recent fortune on the back of a series of self-help books focused on improving the world through the virtue of truth. Instead, Seattle’s gain is the Maloofs’ gain is Sacramento’s loss. Great for Seattle. Just know that kidnapping isn’t adoption, even if you leave a tip.

Jordan: Do I think Seattle fans deserve a team? Yes. But not like this. Sacramento has long been one of the most impassioned fan bases, and to have the source of that passion so unceremoniously ripped away from them is despicable.

Jared: Not all that much. Seattle fans have been vilifying the Thunder and their fans for years for doing this to them, and I don’t really see how it’s all that different. Team-stealing be team-stealing, and this is that.

2. Which King/Kings fan/mayor of Sacramento are you most sad for right now?

Sean: Just because I know and work with them on a semi-regular basis, everyone at Sactown Royalty and Cowbell Kingdom. Two of the best team-specific NBA blogs in the game, which says a lot about the dedication of the Sacramento fan base that’s getting screwed with today’s news.

Noam: Yes.

Andrew: All the basketball twitter people, obviously, and Kevin Johnson. Though they’ve really become a symbol for the Kings fanbase at large, so in essence, it’s all of Sacramento.

Also, I feel bad for the Maloofs for being so incredibly awful at everything.Jordan: All of them. The time and effort the fans and the city put into showing the Maloofs that they cared about this team, that they needed the team to stay, was all for naught.

Jared: Tie? The bros at Cowbell Kingdom and Sactown Royalty, and Kevin Johnson. Great writers deserve a team to cover, and Johnson worked so damn hard to keep the team in that city since becoming Mayor, and for it all to turn out to be for naught kind of sucks.

3. What is your favorite Sacramento Kings-related memory?

Sean: I went to several Blazers-Kings games as a kid in the late ’90s and early ’00s. The Webber-Divac-Peja teams were some of the most enjoyable to watch in my lifetime.

Noam: Anything Peja Stojakovic. He was my favorite player ever, and those early 2000s Kings teams were my favorite team ever. His 2003-04 season has somehow disappeared in the past, but it was a magnificent display of marksmanship for a team that was supposed to crash without Chris Webber. I’ll never forget the joy I had in 2011, when a decrepit Peja managed to pull out a few last playoff shooting barrages to assist the Mavs en route to their, and his, first title.

Andrew: Cliché answer, but the entirety of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. I happened to be in Los Angeles at the time, and the tension downtown — where I was staying — was very real. There was the sense that this Kings team was a legitimate threat to knock off the high and mighty Lakers. Then the Robert Horry shot and Game 7 happened, naturally.

I’ve never given any credence to the idea that series was rigged, but could you really blame David Stern for wanting to do something horrible to the Maloofs?

Jordan: As a late comer to the world of NBA fandom, I don’t really have any memories of the glory days of Webber/Divac/Bibby. Instead, I’ll go with the sit-in staged by Kings fans.

Jared: This pass:

4. Should the new Seattle team go with Sonics or come up with a new nickname?

Sean: Not up for debate. You have to bring the Sonics back. And you have to bring back arguably the best uniforms in NBA history.

Noam: Absolutely. The only possible silver lining that comes close to justifying this is easing the pain of Seattle fans. If the idea behind this isn’t turning the Kings back into the Sonics, it’s even more despicable.

Andrew: It’s going to be the Sonics; after all, that was part of the arena provision. I can’t wait to see the negotiations between Clay Bennett and Chris Hansen for Seattle to re-acquire those naming rights, though:

“All right, Chris, I’ll give you back the Sonics history, name, jerseys, logo and mascot, but you have to let the Maloofs make one personnel decision a year for the first three years. Deal?”

Jordan: Bring the Sonics back. Got to.

Jared: They’ll go with the Sonics and take their history back from the Thunder, probably, but I like new nicknames, and it can’t be worse than Pelicans, right?

5. Vent about the Maloofs for as long as you want. 

Sean: Every indictment of their incompetence has been made by people much smarter and more knowledgeable than me, so I’ll just leave this here:

Noam: People are allowed to be bad at what they do. It happens. It has to happen. Some NBA teams are bound to be bad just through the nature of the game, and we write about it all the time, in our inexplicable quest to bring equal exposure to the most remote corners of the Earth. But even if you rooted for the 11-12 Bobcats, that struggle, that everyday pain, that sickening tug on the chords of your heart – was yours. Yours to feel and yours to keep. Relocation is part of the business and it happens, but to rip those emotional capabilities right from a fanbases rib cage despite them giving a committed and fair effort to hang on – that’s more than just being bad at your job. That’s deceitful and cruel. That’s the Maloofs. Fuck the Maloofs.

Andrew: Out of sheer morbid curiosity, I once found myself playing poker at the Palms in Las Vegas. There was a gentleman at my table who was a little bit anti-sober, and he continued to drink as the night went along. He sucked out on a couple of big, all-in pots against players that were much better than he, and he kept on committing a nuclear war on his liver.

The problem with dumb, drunk luck is that it quickly dries up. When you have your money in every hand and refuse to back down from marginal value decisions at a poker table, it’s easy to go broke just as quickly as you built a big stack. Such was the case for this gentleman; little more than an hour after building a veritable Notre Dame out of his chip stack, he was down to fewer than six big blinds.

AT WHICH POINT HE, OF COURSE, WENT ON THE HOTTEST HOT STREAK I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE AND WALKED AWAY WITH FOUR RACKS OF CHIPS.

I don’t have a better metaphor for the Maloofs than that.

Jordan: Despicable, deceitful, ruthless, horrendous, heartless, bastards. They don’t deserve to make money from this deal.

Jared: They fucking suck.

6. Did you see this coming?

Sean: Eventually, yeah. When David Stern announced his upcoming retirement a few months ago, Woj wrote that one of his last wishes was to get a team back in Seattle. And David Stern usually finds a way of getting things he wants done.

Noam: Yes. Once the Maloofs shot down the arena deal last March, things were looking pretty darn bad for the Kings. The only way to keep the team in Sacramento was by selling it, and the Seattle group was always going to offer the most money because of the emotional background. It’s sad, but it was inevitable. Except, you know, for the completely reasonable alternative that was inexplicably denied.

Andrew:

Jordan: Unfortunately, yes. Though I would have loved to see the Kings stay (and this coming from a Kansas City native), the move seemed inevitable after the Maloofs backed off their supposed deal, in typical two-faced fashion.

Jared: Kind of, but I tried to will it out of existence by rooting for Sacramento to be able to keep their team.

7. Do you think Virginia Beach was just a smokescreen?

Sean: lol

Noam: Yes. And I’m not even slightly moved by news that the mere pitch cost Virginia Beach a ton of money. That’s just how these guys operate. They suck and that’s it.

Andrew: Virginia has a beach?!?

Jordan: Yes. I mean, really, Virginia Beach? That’s like moving a team to Oklah…oh.

Jared: Absolutely.

8. Was this move inevitable?

Sean: Yeah. Even if they had put it off for a few years, the Maloofs have proven themselves so incapable of running a team that them keeping ownership was not sustainable or viable. And nobody was ever going to outbid the Seattle group.

Noam: It shouldn’t have been inevitable, but it was. I realize that contradicts the actual meaning of the word, but there’s your Maloofs for ya.

Andrew: Inevitable might underestimate how much of a done deal this was after Seattle came up with the funds for a new arena. We need a new word — I’m thinking “Maloofian.”

Jordan: See 6.

Jared: I guess. Once the Maloofs’ other business went south, it was just a matter of time, it seems.

When Kings Are Deposed: The Maloofs’ Small Pockets

By now you should have seen the new Sacramento Kings documentary Small Market, Big Heart on the strife and struggles of the franchise, the city, the fans, and owners in an opposition of wills with different goals. Despite vague assertions of support for #HereWeStay it’s pretty clear the Maloofs have been packing for some time now.

Only one other NBA franchise has moved or changed identities more times than the Kings, the Washington Wizards. Should the Maloofs manage to sway the relocation committee their way the Kings franchise will equal the Wiz as the least stable with six incarnations.

The Kings split home games in Omaha for two seasons

The Smoking Gun

There are those who would tell you the Maloofs have intended to move the Kings for a decade, to a bigger market, a major market. You have to be savvy and spendthrift to keep a small market team afloat, something the Sacto owners have never mastered or maybe never have been interested in achieving at all.

In the case of the Seattle Supersonics-Oklahoma City Thunder bail out, owner Clay Bennett, like the Maloofs, insisted he intended to keep the team in the northwest. The smoking gun came to light when email chains emerged which indicated a public smoke screen all along on this front.

Financial crisis is the crux of it in the case of the Kings. Simply put, the Maloofs are nearly broke — well, by the standards of the wealthy, anyhow. They lack the necessary funds to keep an NBA team competitive or profitable in Sacramento after several poor investments into ventures such as odd reality shows, a skate park in South Africa, and a sinking casino.

While the Maloofs’ finances have likely stabilized somewhat now, what they do hold — the Kings and quite a bit of Wells Fargo stock — isn’t conducive to getting ahead, back to the previous cushier lifestyle afforded them, as currently constituted. They are poor by NBA owner standards, not able to keep pace with the upward trend the league as a whole has experienced over the last decades.

A move to a large market inherently raises profit margins, generally and relatively speaking, or at least the potential is there in an Anaheim market that even already sporting two NBA teams has more untapped opportunities than Sacramento to get ahead once again, they hope. It’s projected that an Anaheim Royals team would pull about 10% of the LA Lakers’ market away from them, equaling about $500 million a year in lost television revenue from the lucrative Lakers deal.

Approval to Pack?

It takes a majority of NBA owner votes to approve any move, so how likely is it that enough would approve one?

Any team that recently moved, would like to one day, or, like the Orlando Magic threatened to, netting a new arena for their efforts, would likely side with the Maloofs. Wild cards are teams up for sale, ones considering it, or recent new owners. It doesn’t appear likely at this time that the Maloofs would have enough support to pull it off, but landscapes can change quickly, as we saw during the lockout, when NBA owners are involved.

Understandably, even those that may support a move have expressed concerns about the precedent it would set by putting three major sports teams of the same variety in a single market.

The relocation committee in the NBA consists of (irony alert) the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Clay Bennett, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Glen Taylor, the Miami Heat’s Mickey Arison, the San Antonio Spurs’ Peter Holt, the Indiana Pacers’ Herb Simon, and the Utah Jazz’s Greg Miller (and a replacement for Ed Snider that I couldn’t find). Contact information can be found here.

So, Where is this Headed?

The city and the fans of Sacramento have a legitimate beef in trying to keep the team, showing overwhelming support and doing their part when all was on the line, and coming through only to have the door slammed shut at the last minute, excuses made in a bizarre press conference that left only questions in what was supposed to be a time of answers.

The Maloofs will relinquish the franchise, the only question is when and where — they know a large market team appreciates faster than a small one most times, hence the push for the Los Angeles market. Should they manage to land in LA they could get enough of a financial bump in a sale so as to begin rebuilding the family’s financial legacy. They know if they stay in Sacto they will only tread water, slowly sinking.

The best case scenario for the fans here is a hero comes riding out of the sunset to save the day, making the Maloofs an offer they can’t refuse, keeping the team in town. Who knows, it could happen. Things appeared bleak for the New Orleans Hornets and they landed on all six feet.

But for now, all remains in limbo. Sooner or later, something has to give.

The Lowdown: Jack Sikma

Four years ago someone asked the Sonics’ then-general manager, Zollie Volchok, if he would consider trading Sikma for Moses Malone. “I wouldn’t trade Jack Sikma for the resurrection of Marilyn Monroe in my bedroom,” was Volchok’s reply, and the feeling was that he spoke for a majority of the bedrooms in Seattle.

Via A Buck, For a Change

Years Active: 1978 – 1991

Career Stats: 15.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.9 bpg, 1.0 spg, 46.4% FG, 32.8% 3-PT FG, 84.9% FT

Accolades: 7x All-Star (1979 – ’85), All-Rookie 1st Team (1978),  All-Defensive 2nd Team (1982), FT% Leader (1988) Champion (1979 Sonics)

The NBA career of Jack Sikma began on the low-end of “no expectations.” He played college ball at Illinois Wesleyan, a small university in the NAIA garnering very little attention nationwide. However, he did catch the eye of Seattle Supersonics executive Lenny Wilkens. Much to the disbelief, chagrin and jeers of Sonics fans, Sikma was selected 8th overall in the 1977 draft. By the time he was traded to Milwaukee nearly a decade later, Sikma had become a cherished idol of Sonics fans with his rock steady play.

Sikma’s game was a curious blend of power and finesse. Until his senior year in high school, he played guard. However, his height exploded to 6’ 10” shifting him to the post. Barely able to hop over a phonebook and still figuring out his own dimensions and abilities in his new body, Sikma routinely had his shot blocked by opponents.  As he recalled it, “I had SPALDING written across my forehead a few times.”

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The Lowdown: Paul Silas

Photo via Sports Illustrated

While Havlicek is a quiet, gentlemanly sort, Silas is a cordial, beaming man who could teach smiling at a stewardess school. And while Havlicek is exacting of himself and his teammates, Silas may be doubly so.

- They’re Replaying The Sixth Man Theme

Years Active: 1965 – 1980

Career Stats: 9.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 43.2% FG, 67.3% FT

Accolades: 2x All-Star (1972, ’75), 2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1975-’76), 3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1971-’73), 3x Champion (1974, ’76 Celtics, 1979 Sonics)

In 1972, Paul Silas was traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Boston Celtics. The 6’7″ forward wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of moving from sunny Arizona to Massachusetts. It wasn’t just the weather that he was wary of, however. Already an 8-year veteran, he had heard tall tales of the Celtic mystique all his career. His skepticism soon dissipated:

“To be truthful, I thought it was a lot of nonsense. But when I arrived it was amazing. It’s almost like a collegiate atmosphere in a pro world—an atmosphere of total sacrifice for the good of the team, on and off the court. It’s a way of life. You just fall into it.”

Those Celtics of John Havlicek, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens fell into Silas at the right moment. Just a year earlier in 1971, Silas had shed a commendable 30 pounds to drop his weight from 240 to 210. Before, during his days with the St. Louis Hawks, Silas was known as one of the NBA’s premier tough guys. A mountain of a man patrolling the lane and dominating the boards. It was an era overly focused on beefing up frontlines to thwart Wilt Chamberlain. After the weight loss, Silas stunned opponents with a new-found ability to gracefully run the court and beat his man for easy buckets. And in the halfcourt set, his lighter frame allowed better lift on his jumper. His defense remained almost as stout as it was before, but he did concede his lost weight allowed opponents to sometimes get him out of rebounding position.

Watching Silas’s transformation was Red Auerbach who exchanged Charlie Scott’s draft rights for Paul. Red  correctly surmised that Silas was just what the Celtics needed. Already a 56-win team the season before, the Celtics had arisen from the short slumber following Bill Russell’s retirement in 1969. They needed a veteran ready to contribute immediately alongside center Cowens. The addition of Silas catapulted the Celtics to 68 wins.

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The Lowdown: Bob Rule

Bob Rule

Photo from fanbase.com

Indeed, individual accolades were about the only glory associated with the SuperSonics during their first seven seasons, as the team finished with a winning record only once. Rule continued to be a scoring force, tallying 49 points on November 15, 1969, to set a then-team record for points in a game. He was named an All-Star for the 1969-1970 season.

Via “Seattle SuperSonics — Part 1″ by Dan Johnson

Years Active: 1968 – 1975

Career Stats: 17.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 46.1% FG, 68.6% FT

Accolades: All-Rookie 1st Team (1968), All-Star (1970)

He held the Sonics rookie-record for ppg until Kevin Durant showed up just a few seasons ago. He set a Sonics franchise record with 49 points in a single game in 1971. His 47 points in a game as a rookie is still the highest for a Sonics (or Thunder) rookie. He could knock down the mid-range jumper. He was methodical on the boards. A handful downlow on offense.

But I’ll be honest with you. I’ve only seen a grand total of maybe 10 minutes of Bob Rule on the basketball court all from this YouTube video of a 1967 Christmas Eve game between the San Francisco Warriors and the Seattle SuperSonics. Everything I know of him has been distilled from the written word. There’s no video of him easily accessible. The photograph leading this story was the lone one I could find that had Rule with a basketball in hand. Even the Seattle Sonics had trouble finding Rule’s whereabouts when they wanted him to participate in team functions after his retirement. It’s as if Rule never existed.

Slinking away into obscurity is certainly antithetical to Rule’s NBA entrance. In 1967, the expansion Seattle SuperSonics selected Bob 19th overall and he certainly did not disappoint. A burly 6’9″ C, he gave good meaning to his surname. In just 30 minutes of action, Rule delivered 18 points and 9.5 rebounds per game and was selected to the All-Rookie 1st Team.

For his next season, Rule unleashed a reign of destruction on his fellow centers. Averaging 24 points and 11.5 rebounds, Bob was beastly. He led all centers in scoring with Nate Thurmond coming in a distant 2nd with 21.5 points but in 45 minutes, 7 more than what Rule was averaging.  The Evening Independent recalled Rule getting the best of Celtics legend Bill Russell in November 1968:

“Rule, who averaged 21 points in seven games against the Celtics last year, once again showed Russell little respect last night as he led Seattle to a 114-112 National Basketball Association victory over Boston. The 6-9 pro sophomore from Colorado State U. manhandled Russell as he scored 37 points, including 26 in the second half and 11 straight as Seattle was coming from behind in the final period.”

The Sonics struggled to make good on his stellar play nightly as they finished the season with just 30 wins, but Rule’s rise and the acquisition of Lenny Wilkins that year seemed to promise better days.

The 1969-70 season saw more of the same from Rule. 24.6 ppg and 10.3 rpg. And again he provided some 4th quarter heroics:

…the New Yorkers had to play Seattle without Walt Frazier, who suffered a groin injury, and for a time without Willis Reed after he fouled out in the final minutes. Despite young Mike Riordan’s best performance ever – 27 points replacing [Walt] Frazier – the SuperSonics, sparked by Bob Rule’s 14-point fourth quarter, won 112-105.

Rule was named to his 1st and only All-Star team that season. Seattle behind Rule, Wilkins and Bob Boozer continued their improvement with 36 wins, missing the playoffs by 3 games. The Sonics seemed poised for a breakout. The prodigal PF Spencer Haywood would arrive for the 1970-71 season but only after sitting out the first several months. A tandem of Haywood and Rule in the frontcourt with Wilkins in the back was a tantalizing prospect. But that’s all it ever would be.

Before the season opener in Detroit, Rule let it be known he wanted a trade out of Seattle. Perhaps to entice suitors, he  dropped 37 points on the Pistons. Rule kept the tear a-rollin’ averaging 30 p0ints and 11.5 rebounds over the 1st four games. And there his stats for that season remained. Rule snapped his Achilles tendon in that 4th game of the season sidelining him for the year. Maybe his weight gain over the summer and the crash diet to shed the pounds created the tendon instability, but the effect was undeniable.

Rule was never the same afterwards nor did anyone pay much heed to him. Spencer Haywood arrived for the last 33 games of the ’71 campaign and the next year made Rule a forgotten man. in 1972, Spencer was the go-to scorer (26ppg) which relegated Rule to the bench. 16 games into the season, Bob was traded to Philadelphia. His 17 points and 8 rebounds there were respectable, but his explosiveness was gone. Soon afterwards he bounced to Cleveland for a spell and then to Milwaukee, where he declared: “I know I can become the kind of player I really am, the kind I was in Seattle.At other places, they expected me to be something else.”

Rule appeared in one game for the Bucks before being waived. It was the end of the line. And it’s a sad reminder of just how fleeting success can be. Rule was the finest offensive center in the NBA for back-to-back seasons was well on his way to a third year of domination and then it all vanished. Quick as a snap.

A Mariner’s and Barber’s Tribute to the Sonics

The Emerald City

Photo by The Western Sky from Flickr

The Seattle Mariners deserve a lot of credit for pulling this event off.  While some avoid talking about the Seattle Supersonics’ departure from Seattle, the Mariners addressed it dead-on.  

 Via “Sonics Celebration Night will go down in Seattle Mariners history” by David Nelson

Clearly, I’m not one to avoid the Sonics dead-on. Any chance I get, I’ll write about the SuperSonics. Thanks to the Seattle Mariners we get another opportunity to revel in the glory of Seattle pro hoops, which is a godsend given the M’s recent 17-game losing streak and the Seahawks declaration that their starting QB job is Tarvaris Jackson’s to lose.

In attendance at this Emerald City shindig was basically every great Sonics player in franchise history. The list is simply astounding: Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf, Jack Sikma, Slick Watts, Gus Williams, Lenny Wilkens, Brent Barry, Freddie Brown, Michael Cage, James Donaldson, Dale Ellis, Hersey Hawkins, Spencer Haywood, Tom Chambers, and Nate McMillan. The only players of import missing are Xavier McDaniel and the deceased Dennis Johnson.

Coupling this glorious event with Spencer Hawes’s splendid haircut debuted earlier in the month, I think its high-time we unveiled the SuperSonics All-Time Hair Rankings!

Coming in at #5 is Paul Silas who was an absolute bruiser down-low, belying his affable off-court personality. I dig his well-groomed afro while our 16th President is charmed by his well-kept chin curtain.

Paul Silas from seventies1970s.com

Paul Silas / seventies1970s.com

At #4 is Shawn Kemp. He put nearly as much energy into maintaining his high-top fades as he did in shaming Golden State Warriors big men. He kept that cut ultra clean. Not a single follicle out of place.

Shawn Kemp Fade / Fat Shawn Kemp

Shawn Kemp / fatshawnkemp.com

Speaking of follicles, Slick Watts arrives at #3 despite having none. Nevertheless he deserves inclusion for being the pioneer of the “bald is beautiful” movement in professional sports. The movement as a whole can be traced back to the hot buttered soul of Isaac Hayes.

http://www.historylink.org/db_images/sonics004.JPG

Slick Watts / historylink.org

The premier Sonics center, Jack Sikma only manages a #2 showing on this list. His golden perm afro was a modern hair marvel. Slick gave men everywhere the courage to just shave their scalp instead of masquerading with half-fros (think Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire). Likewise, Sikma gave hope to white men that they too could enjoy an afro.

Jack Sikma / thearch-info.com

Jack Sikma / thearch-info.com

At the top of the hair summit stands Michael Cage letting his Soul Gloooooo. Few NBA players wore the curl, so Cage easily beats the hoops competition. But expanding our scope to the entire population, Cage’s curl was bested only by a few (Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie). You could never tell if Cage was incredibly sweaty or just greased in activator. It’s little wonder he won a rebounding title in 1988 since opposing players were either a) disgusted by the curl or b) just slid off of Cage, preventing any effective box out.

http://cdn.bleacherreport.net/images_root/slideshows/1012/slideshow_101214/display_image.jpg?x=536342

Michael Cage / bleacherreport.com