Morning Shootaround — April 3

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Carmelo Anthony‘s 50-point game last night against the Heat was one you have to see if you’ve missed it. But the one we’re going with this morning is the Bulls-Wizards game from D.C. The Wizards are definitely playing better defense overall and smarter down the stretch, too, as evidenced by a smart dump-off pass John Wall made to Nene in the closing minute of last night’s game that led to free throw attempts. Although Nene missed ’em both, Trevor Ariza got the ball back, drained two free throws of his own and clinched the win for Washington. In these last eight games the Wizards have to go, they’ve become a must-see team on League Pass.


News of the morning

Seattle, Sacramento ready to start fight for Kings | Heisley nearly was a part-owner of Bucks | Babby staying with Suns | Wizards show pride down stretch

Seattle, Sacramento step into the ringThe official ruling on whether or not the Sacramento Kings will remain in California’s capital city or move to Seattle and become the rebranded Seattle SuperSonics won’t be known until the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting on April 18-19. But today, in New York, constituencies from both the Seattle and Sacramento groups will present all of their information to NBA officials as they attempt to gather data about the potential scenarios. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper has more on the battle for a team that begins today, as well as some key issues to watch:

This battle has been Sacramento against Seattle all along.

It’s not Sacramento against itself, because it was inevitable the city would build a new ownership conglomerate and a new arena plan. And it’s not Seattle against the NBA, because the league has been very clear in its interest in returning to Washington state.

If Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer headed the same group to buy the Kings to play in Sacramento, it breezes through the approval process. If any city other than Seattle is trying to poach the team – Anaheim, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach – Sacramento mounts a successful comeback victory and probably wins easy.

Sacramento against Seattle.

There are so many layers to this:

  • If the Seattle bid is voted down later this month – if – don’t be surprised if the current owners, the Maloof family, holds on to the Kings for a while. It could be a few months to step back and see who else wants to play Monopoly now that the team is on the open market, but that would be long enough to have control over trades, draft and free agency. They could still sell late in the summer and give the new owner enough time to draw more than 3,500 fans a game.The Maloofs have not ruled out the possibility of owning the Kings next season. That’s more of a longshot than the July/August scenario, but the family is considering all options at this point. Including staying on and gauging the mood with a new commissioner, Adam Silver.If Seattle is denied and the Maloofs sell? It will have to be to a group that will own the team in Sacramento. Again, the Board of Governors vote is about location. If California’s capital city wins, the team stays no matter who is at the top of the masthead.
  • Voting consideration No. 1: It makes sense that small-market owners would prefer competing against the local TV money of other small-market teams. Boost for Sacramento. Except that some owners, from markers of any size, could want the cut of the to-be-decided relocation fee. Boost for Seattle. (See, counters to every argument.)
  • Voting consideration No. 2: Ranadive’s late addition to the Sacramento group, after Stern backhanded the first offer of its attempted counter-strike, is a positive. How much of a positive is unclear. Owners have to at least be intrigued by the potential of increasing the revenue stream in India, and the relationships he may have already built as No. 3 man in Golden State ownership group can help. But the Warriors may already have been in the Sacramento camp. It is possible Ranadive will not swing a vote.
  • Voting consideration No. 3: Stern, who has worked for years to keep the Kings from moving, has lost one of his most compliant voters. The Maloofs historically followed the commissioner’s lead on most topics. They’re clearly looking out for their best interests on this one.

Babby, Suns reach 2-year dealDuring his tenure as Suns president of basketball operations, Lon Babby has seen Phoenix go 96-126, has traded away franchise icon Steve Nash and embark on a rebuilding process that has left many NBA observers puzzled if not downright confused. But Suns managing partner Robert Sarver has liked what Babby is doing with the franchise, presumably, or he wouldn’t have given Babby the two-year extension that Babby signed on Saturday. Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic has more on Babby’s tenure and future in Phoenix:

With his contract set to expire at the end of June, Babby agreed to a two-year contract extension to remain at the helm of the Suns in what was an unconventional NBA front office format when he was hired in 2010. Babby, 62, tabbed Lance Blanks, who has one contract year remaining, to be his general manager and basketball expert while Babby was charged with remaining competitive for Steve Nash’s final two years and then transitioning to a new era this season.

“I’ve had a wonderful career and I view this was a wonderful opportunity,” Babby said. “I knew it was an extraordinary challenge. Not every day is simple. It can be painful and difficult. I didn’t want to leave it at this stage. I may be like Moses. I’m on a journey to get to the promised land of a championship. I didn’t want to leave at the start of the walk through the desert.

“… We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting. It doesn’t feel right to leave if Robert and the organization have faith in me when I feel like we’re about to start the climb up the mountain.”

The idea of tapping into Babby’s esteemed career as a lawyer, sports agent and pro franchise counsel was to take advantage of a new collective bargaining agreement, have trade and contract negotiating expertise and change the payroll to a younger team by adding draft picks and creating salary-cap flexibility for free agents.

The hits of Babby’s tenure have been trading for Marcin Gortat, extending Jared Dudley, winning an amnesty bid for Luis Scola, bringing back Goran Dragic at Sarver’s behest, signing P.J. Tucker at a minimum salary, accumulating 10 picks in the next three drafts and creating a possibility to sign a maximum-salary free agent in July.

The misses that drew overwhelming social media disapproval of the extension was whiffing on prioritizing Michael Beasley as a free-agent signing, trading Dragic and a first-round pick for Aaron Brooks, the portrayal of this season’s team as a playoff team, the dismissal of coach Alvin Gentry and the handling of the departures of Nash and Grant Hill.

Babby was offered the extension Saturday and accepted Tuesday. Sarver’s endorsement means Blanks likely will stay on board for his last contract year and there is a strong possibility that interim head coach Lindsey Hunter is named the permanent coach.

“Lon has led our front office during this important transition period for the organization and he has my full support as we continue to rebuild,” Sarver said in a prepared statement.

Report: Heisley nearly a part-owner of BucksFormer Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has been hospitalized since late February after suffering a stroke. He has reportedly been in a coma for more than a month and his health is obviously in a dire situation. But long before Heisley had these unfortunate medical issues, he was reportedly interested in becoming a part-owner (and eventual owner) of the Milwaukee Bucks with its current owner, Sen. Herb Kohl. Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times has the details:

After last season when Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl publicly acknowledged he was looking to take on business partners for his NBA franchise, rumors of potential candidates immediately began to swirl around the NBA.

By last fall, there were whispers Michael Heisley, who had decided to sell the Memphis Grizzlies, had more than a passing interest in joining forces with Kohl. Some NBA officials and insiders even contended Heisley would be part of the Bucks’ ownership group sooner rather than later, perhaps even this season.

The scenario painted by some individuals was that Heisley intended on first becoming a Bucks minority owner with Kohl still in charge. Then, after approximately three years, Heisley would have the option of becoming the majority owner.

According to some people close to Heisley and Kohl, though, the latter got cold feet and balked at the idea of relinquishing his franchise, just like he did in the summer of 2003 when it appeared he was on the brink of selling the Bucks to a consortium headed by Michael Jordan.

Kohl, who purchased the Bucks in 1985 from Jim Fitzgerald for approximately $19 million, is apparently still receptive to bringing on an additional business partner. The possibility of the 76-year-old Heisley re-entering the Bucks’ picture is highly unlikely.

Wizards finishing out season strong — A knee injury to John Wall coupled with a 4-28 start gave Washington all the makings for another woebegone season. But since Wall has returned, the Wizards have knocked off some pretty solid opponents — including Denver, Oklahoma City and their latest victim, Chicago — while showing improved defense and execution, particularly in the fourth quarter. Washington could have easily mailed in the last few weeks of games and not tried to build toward the future, but by doing the opposite, it is setting itself up for success come the 2013-14 season, writes Mike Wise of The Washington Post:

In pure basketball sense, Randy Wittman announcing that the Wizards have set a goal to finish ninth in the Eastern Conference — one spot out of a playoff berth — makes, well, no sense. Same as his Yogi-like proclamation that “it ain’t over yet,” moments after his Wizards beat the Bulls, 90-86, on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.

“A lot of teams that aren’t really fighting for anything do tend to roll over and take the rest of the season how it comes,” Martell Webster said after the game. “But not us. We’re fighting for each other and showing each other we deserve to be in the playoffs, that we can actually play playoff-caliber basketball.”

“My perception of the team has evolved since I got here,” he added. “Be honest, I didn’t know what the hell to expect when I first got here. So many teams you got a lot of talk and no action. We talk and we perform here. We play for each other. We play to win. It doesn’t matter what part of the season it is.”

On second glance, it makes all the sense in the world to finish ninth — the world of the Wizards, where measuring progress since John Wall returned is so important to the future. His teammates have been much better. He has been flammable of late, knocking down a big shot late against the Bulls and making the right decisions down the stretch. Bradley Beal is occasionally butter from beyond the arc. Webster is suddenly worth a mid-level exception and more.

Look, they were never going to be a playoff team this season. Those hopes died the moment Wall sustained a knee injury that cost him the first 33 games and Nene aggravated a left foot injury in the Olympics, limiting him for much of the season’s early going.

Their postseason was gone after they started 4-28, and after that there were only two important questions to be answered: Would Wall show that he was a bona-fide point guard capable of making his teammates better while also showing the same explosiveness he had before the injury? And were some of the key components around him good enough to warrant keeping him for the future?

Sure, 28-46 doesn’t make for a complete roster reassessment. But 24-18 after that start, the way the Wizards have turned into a tough out on many nights and into one of the top 10 defensive teams in the league since Wall’s return, has answered both questions in the affirmative.

The best teams often compromise the integrity of the product to rest and protect their players with the express reason of being fresh for the postseason — see San Antonio and Miami. The worst teams sometimes don’t play their stars simply because they don’t want to miss out on the possibility of moving one slot ahead of another team in the draft for a significantly better player.

Wittman and the Wizards could get away with sitting Nene or Wall the next two weeks. Lord knows the organization, headed for the lottery for the fifth straight time, has not always done what’s right for the game the past five seasons.

The last thing the Wizards needed was another 20-something, doe-eyed kid trying to figure his game and his new environment out at the same time. They need a piece or two to be a playoff team next season.

One of those pieces became showing purpose and passion this season, right up until Game No. 82. Going all out for ninth place doesn’t sound very noble, does it?

But from whence the Wizards came this season, it’s a building block for next year.

ICYMI of the night: What Kenyon Martin likely did once or twice to Chris Andersen in practice when both were with Denver now available for mass consumption :

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