Stern Wrong To Compare Lakers, Kings

17 10 2011

David Stern relied upon a slew of talking points during his media blast late last week, but the most frustrating one to hear was his comparison between the Lakers and Kings. He liked noting that the Kings (24 wins, last in the Pacific Division) spent $45 million on players last year while the Lakers (57 wins, first in the Pacific) doled out $110 million. That, in Stern’s argument, leads to one team selling hope versus another having none to sell. Let’s roll through the problems with this example:

–The Kings weren’t in a position to spend a lot of money last year. They weren’t expected to be in contention for a playoff spot, so they didn’t see the need to spend a lot of money. The Lakers obviously have a title-contending team.

–The point can be made that the real problem with the Kings is that they had no hope of contending. But does that have more to do with them making money to spend or with poor roster construction by team management? I’ll take the latter. The Kings’ major free agent signing of the past several seasons was in 2008, when they gave Beno Udrih $32M over five years to play point guard. Prior to last season, they traded Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni to the 76ers for Sam Dalembert, a middling center who made $13M last year. (It was presumably to use Dalembert as a trade chip, since he was in the last year of his bloated contract.)

Again, Beno Udrih was given $32M and Sam Dalembert was acquired with $13M left on his contract.

–Did Stern have a problem with the disparity between the Kings’ and Lakers’ payrolls during the early 2000s? The Kings won 55, 61, 59, 55 and 50 games from the 2000-01 season to the 2004-05 campaign. The teams from that era were fueled by smart trades (Chris Webber, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby), free agent signings (Vlade Divac, Bobby Jackson, Scot Pollard) and draft picks (Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Gerald Wallace). They didn’t need deep pockets because GM Geoff Petrie had enough savvy to build a roster without one. In fact, deep pockets could’ve gotten them into trouble. Hence desperation signings like Udrih so that the team can say it’s throwing around dollars to build a winner.

–Yes, the Kings have a rundown arena that doesn’t bring in lots of revenue. Their owners, the Maloofs, don’t have the resources that owners in other markets have. Yet the Maloofs have fallen on hard times also from poor decision-making by themselves in industries which have nothing to do with the NBA. Remember the Palms Casino?

The Maloofs built the first installment of the mega-celebrity hangout in 2001. Fair enough. It was popular then and probably made a boatload of money as Vegas raked in tourists during the early to mid-2000s. So, the Maloofs spent more hundreds of millions to build a second installment of the Palms in 2005. Then…the 2008 recession hit. Vegas was pounded – one of the most negatively-affected areas in the country. People nationwide struggled financially to survive, much less to string together a budget for a Vegas trip. Casinos like the Palms were hit hard. No tourists, no money.

That led the Maloofs to sell off all but 2 percent of their ownership in the casino earlier this year. Surely the financial hit in the casino’s downturn had an effect on what money they were willing to put into the team. (The same could be said for the Maloofs and their beer distributorship, which they sold in December 2009.)

The Maloofs made poor decisions in their non-NBA holdings through the years, including an incredibly dumb idea to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a Las Vegas casino three years before a massive recession. It’s not an NBA player’s responsibility to help cover the loss incurred by an owner for a decision which was made outside the realm of the NBA.

The fact the Kings didn’t spend a lot of money last year occurred because of a confluence of factors. They weren’t competing because their team was bad. Their team was bad because team management hadn’t done a good job drafting, signing and trading for players. If there really was less money available for them to spend, it wasn’t just because Sacramento is a small market and their arena is crap. Their owners have mismanaged their non-NBA holdings, which has led them to mismanage their NBA club. That’s not the players’ fault. The owners have to take, well, ownership for that.

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