ORLANDO – Life, David Stern said, is a negotiation.
The NBA commissioner said it a couple of times, in fact, during his annual “state of the league” address at All-Star Weekend. If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought the rancorous collective-bargaining talks that nearly wiped out the season and this particular celebratory weekend still were ongoing.
Labor peace prevails. But several of the topics that were in play Saturday night at Amway Center, prior to the All-Star Saturday events, fit the commissioner’s fortune-cookie philosophy as well: the fate of the Sacramento and New Orleans franchises, as well as the future whereabouts of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.
The most pressing, on paper, is the Kings, their unsettled arena issues and the threat of relocation to Anaheim, Seattle or elsewhere if the Maloof family that owns the team can’t come to terms with the city. Stern said he met with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson Saturday and that representatives from all sides also met and would gather again Sunday. “We all consider ourselves to have March 1 deadline to either come up with a financing plan and a critical path to the construction of the arena, or not,” Stern said.
Questioned about the Maloofs’ ability to contribute enough financially to satisfy the city and Sacramento taxpayers, and any other gaps in completing a deal that would keep the Kings where they are, Stern elaborated. “The Maloofs have stepped up, the city has stepped up. … The city has responded with respect to sponsorship and ticket sales. Joe Maloof and Gavin Maloof have been in town, going to games, selling tickets, doing whatever can be done, and the mayor has done wonders in terms of where he’s put this.”
The Hornets currently are operated by the league – that stewardship led to the awkward handling of point guard Chris Paul’s trade first (allegedly) to the Los Angeles Lakers and then, with Stern’s approval as New Orleans “owner,” to the Clippers. Asked specifically if one of the two groups lined up for a potential purchase is from California, the commissioner declined to say. He estimated that the sale and a lease deal with the state of Louisiana could be completed in “a week to 10 days.”
Stern also noted that the second ownership ground is not affiliated with Seattle’s ambitions to replace the Sonics team that moved to Oklahoma City. He added: “The only way to have a team these days is to have a world-class building,” which was the problem with Seattle’s KeyArena.
Regarding Howard, Stern brushed aside the suggestion that a team receive compensation – perhaps a high draft pick – if a superstar left via free agency. He said teams have options – re-signing the star, trading him or losing him – within the NBA system, a structure that generally keeps the top young players with the teams that draft them for seven years. Beyond that…
“We think that’s a system, not a prison,” said Stern, a proponent of players’ access to free agency. Even when a franchise cornerstone like LeBron James exits, a player such as Cleveland rookie Kyrie Irving can fill the void in what Stern called “the rite of renewal.”
Other topics addressed in Stern’s wide-ranging session across 45 minutes included:
- The frenzy over Knicks guard Jeremy Lin: “It’s a universal story of the underdog stepping forward. We’re proud of him.”
- The Minnesota Timberwolves’ return to relevancy: “I kid [owner] Glen Taylor a lot about it, how much more fun it is to win than to lose.”
- Cities such as Portland that might aspire to host All-Star Weekend need sufficient hotel rooms, since 20,000 people flood into the city and nearly 11,000 room-nights are needed to lodge NBA personnel alone.
- The commissioner reiterated that he was acting properly in handling the Paul trade proposals. Whether the first or second package of players and draft picks was better, Stern did not offer his opinion.
- If it were up to him, deputy commissioner Adam Silver — seated to Stern’s right during the presser — would succeed him when he retires sometime in the next six years, Stern said. But he will leave the decision to the Board of Governors, when the time comes.
- The endorsement deals that sneaker companies cut with individual players are outside the jurisdiction of the NBA, but Silver said the league requires incentives to be based on winning rather than market size. There has been speculation that Howard, for example, might be getting steered to move to a larger market by adidas to boost sales.
- Expansion beyond the current 30 teams is not in the plans.
- The NBA might stage one or more preseason games in China this fall. International games were kept off the schedule in 2011 in anticipation of the lockout.