There have been persistent rumors that Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, man-about-Seattle and all-around filthy rich guy, will buy an NBA team and bring the NBA back to the greater Seattle area. In 2008, Ballmer tried to entice King County, Wash. to match his $150 million pledge to renovate Key Area and to keep the Sonics in Seattle.
The valiant attempt to save the Sonics for Seattle identified Ballmer as a basketball aficionado who is both interested and has the means to own and maintain an NBA franchise. The rumors have been swirling ever since.
The buzz around Ballmer has heated up since he liquidated some of his Microsoft stock, putting a reported $1-to-2 billion of walking around money in his pocket. Does this mean he's going shopping for NBA franchises?
Are the Lakers for sale?
Hold on a minute. Maybe Seattle should set its sights on teams that are actually in trouble, might be for sale or have been rumored to peak Ballmer's interest. Here are the five current franchises the Emerald City is eying, from worst to first.
Rumors abound! The owners of the Kings, the Maloof Brothers, have been trying to get the city of Sacramento to pony up for a new arena for years. They have threatened to sell the team for years. However, when the Brothers Maloof were asked if the were going to they were in negotiations with Steve Ballmer, they said they hadn't heard from him.
Now let's talk basketball.
The Kings are No. 5 on this list because even the most rabid NBA aficionados might scoff at a chance to acquire this long-struggling franchise. Of all the teams on the list, the Kings, at 5-17 in 2010, have the furthest to go to build a contender.
Tyreke Evans is a fine young player and a possible All-Star in the future. The rest of the team is built with misfits, castoffs and one possible head case in rookie first-round draft choice DeMarcus Cousins.
In addition, the team owes Samuel Dalembert the remainder of his $12.2 million salary for this year. Dalembert averages 4.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.85 blocks per game and he is the highest paid player on the team. Clearly, the first thing to do would be to find a new general manager.
On the positive side, at $43,798,401, the Kings have the lowest payroll and the most room under the NBA salary cap of any team in the NBA. If Ballmer were to buy this team, he would have to make wholesale changes to build a viable Western Conference playoff team.
The Kings' salary structure would accommodate rebuilding and they are a virtual lock for a lottery pick in the 2011 draft.
The Blazers of today bring to mind the Blazers of the early '80s. In the '80s, the Blazers drafted Sam Bowie with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Michael Jordan was the third pick. Sam Bowie got hurt again and again and never turned out to be the player he was slated to be.
These Blazers drafted Greg Oden with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The team formerly known as the Sonics drafted reigning NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant with the second pick. Oden has been injured for three years.
But that's not the main concern.
The Blazers' best player, Brandon Roy, has a bad knee, a knee they are afraid might be career limiting. His points per game have diminished from 23 and change last year, down to 17.2 this year. Roy is under contract to make $13.5 million this year, $14.9 million in 2011-12, $16.4 million in 2012-13 and $19.1 million in 2014-15.
These are fine numbers for a rising superstar, but for an injured player on the decline, I think not. The NBA salary cap negates Ballmer's deep pockets. No one will trade for Roy and the Blazers are stuck. Seems like a lot of money to spend for a team that would be difficult to rebuild.
The Memphis Grizzles are one of the least financially solvent teams, which is why rumors continue to circulate about their being sold and moved to Seattle.
The Grizzles boast of one of the best frontlines in the league. Zach Randolph has proved he can score in the low post. Marc Gasol is a defensive-minded banger and a good role player and small forward Rudy Gay is on the verge of stardom.
The team is run by Mike Conley, a serviceable point guard who shows toughness on both ends of the floor. The Grizzles have a fine starting five but a thin bench. Memphis is a couple of good role players to provide scoring and defense off the bench from being a perennial contender.
Oh yes, the Grizzles would look great in green.
The Bucks made a playoff run last year and, as far as I know, they are not for sale. This has not stopped people in Seattle from talking about their fair-haired benefactor buying them the Bucks for Christmas.
In the NBA, the hardest positions to fill are point guard and center. Point guards run the team and a good one is a coach on the floor. Big men are skilled now. Gone are the days when you could stick some big stiff in there who can hardly move and expect six or seven rebounds to fall into his hands just because he's 6'10".
The Bucks are a desirable team because they have those positions handled by electrifying second-year guard Brandon Jennings and Australian-born veteran center Andrew Bogut. Of course, to actually win a playoff series they will require a few good role players at power forward and shooting guard and a scorer off the bench.
Next year, Michael Redd's contract will expire, leaving room under the cap. Redd is a high-scoring but often-injured guard. He is making the money that all-around superstars make, but his game is that of a one-dimensional role player.
Redd can score bu that's all. Even if he's healthy, a rare occasion indeed, re-signing him would do more damage to the cap situation than his game would warrant.
The Bucks already wear green. It's not that big a leap!
The Hornets started the 2010-11 season with an 11-2 record, during which time they managed approximately 13,000 in average attendance. There are reports that the length of their lease at New Orleans Arena is based on attendance. Those same reports claim that they can opt out of their lease should they fail to reach certain levels of attendance during the 2010-11 season.
That sounds a lot like the Cleveland Indians' scenario in the movie Major League. Though recent and reliable sources say that the NBA itself is planning to purchase the Hornets due to the financial instability of current ownership, David Stern has said that he would like the franchise to stay in New Orleans if possible.
The 3-8 record the Hornets have posted since they were 11-2 cannot have done much to boost attendance. Let us not forget that this would not be the first time an NBA franchise left New Orleans because it could not stay afloat.
For the younger NBA fans who think that Utah Jazz is an oxymoron, it is. The Jazz moved from New Orleans—you know, where they actually have Jazz. I guess the organization didn't think the more appropriate and indigenous moniker, the Utah Salt, created the desired effect.
The team is unlikely to be sold until league officials and the NBA players association can come to a collective bargaining agreement. Such an agreement might change revenue sharing in such a way that the Hornets could be a viable and solvent NBA franchise.
Needless to say, the rumor mills are all atwitter at the prospect of Chris Paul dishing dimes in or about the greater Seattle area. New Orleans is first on this list because it is the only team that comes complete with a legitimate superstar signed through 2013.
It has been reported that Paul asked for a trade before the 2010-11 season began. If Paul is a student of NBA history, he probably wanted to be traded to a team that already has a superstar because one superstar cannot win championships without another.
To date, the Hornets have Paul and role players whose scoring is enhanced by Paul's great point guard play. A great player can put a stamp on a game even when he has an off night scoring. Good role players post good, or even great, stats that are commensurate with their roles, but they do not possess the all-around game to put a team on their backs and carry them on any given night.
Of all the teams on this list, the Hornets are the closest to being the type of perennial playoff team that could make the people of Seattle forget the sting of the Sonics leaving and embrace the NBA experience once more.