Perhaps no owners have been so thrilled to hear the commissioner’s office could be softening the NBA’s stance on legalized sports betting as the Maloofs. When the Maloof family bought the Sacramento Kings a decade ago, they agreed to eliminate NBA odds from its Palms Casino sports book in Las Vegas.
In 2007, the Maloofs convinced commissioner David Stern to let the Palms take bets on every team but the Kings. Now, the possibility of Stern starting a conversation within the NBA about the eventual embracing of sports betting has Joe and Gavin Maloof prepared to campaign with the commissioner.
“I’m thrilled to hear him say that,” Joe Maloof told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. “I think it does two things: First, it legitimizes gambling. It regulates it. That’s the most important thing. It’s clean. It’s honest. It’s fair.
“And then it creates a tremendous excitement for your product. People react differently when they have a bet on a game versus when they don’t. This is going to bring in great interest. If it’s regulated properly, this can be a tremendous revenue source for the league.”
Stern told SI.com’s Ian Thomsen that legalized NBA gambling could be a “possibility” that “may be a huge opportunity.” Rest assured, there are massive financial incentives for the NBA to consider the possibility. This discussion could someday take sports betting, which is legal primarily in Nevada, out of the hands of neighborhood bookies and organized crime syndicates and turn it into a mainstream, taxable industry.
The NBA had shown some softening on surrounding itself with legalized gambling in recent years, but the Tim Donaghy scandal set back the league’s agenda. Stern allowed the 2007 All-Star Game in Las Vegas and appeared enthusiastic to work with local politicians and businessmen about eventually bringing a team to the city.
Behind the scenes, there are still powerbrokers in Vegas working to bankroll an arena and lure an NBA franchise.
“Some of the biggest names in Nevada,” one NBA front-office executive said.
The Maloofs insist they want an arena deal to stay in Sacramento, but Joe made one thing clear about the Kings’ future: Whatever instability that arises with the arena issue, he says he and his brother Gavin plan to sit down with general manager Geoff Petrie soon and begin talks on a contract extension.
“I think Geoff wants to see his work through, and for certain we want him to be our GM,” Joe Maloof said. “We really respect his ability, his talents and we want him back. And we’re sure he wants to be back. I think in the future we’ll sit down and iron it out with him.”
Around the league, there’s been speculation the Maloofs are undergoing serious financial strife. They’ve sold a long-standing family beer distribution company and the WNBA’s Monarchs. They’ve also made significant cost-cutting measures throughout the organization, including limiting their college scouts to driving trips in November and December. Nevertheless, the Kings have been one of the league’s surprises, starting four players under 24, including a burgeoning superstar in rookie Tyreke Evans(notes).
Joe Maloof insists that selling of the Monarchs was less about money – “We’d make $200,000 one year and maybe lose a million another” – and more about focusing on the Kings. Maloof is sensitive to the notion that his family has been spendthrifts with the franchise.
“When we had our great years, we never hesitated to sign a free agent,” he said. “We always believed the basketball part came first, and when we had an opportunity to win a title, we signed [Chris] Webber to the $124 million contract. When we had the chance, we went for it. We didn’t hesitate to sign [Mike] Bibby or [Doug] Christie. We kept that team together. For the most part, we paid a tremendous amount of [luxury] tax.”
Now, Maloof is enamored with his fourth coach in five years, Paul Westphal. After Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus and interim Kenny Natt, Maloof believes Westphal is a keeper. “He’s a really good fit for us, a great personality for this organization,” Maloof said. “The reason it’s worked so well is that he and Geoff Petrie are on the same page. They think a lot alike, have the same philosophy about the game. They’re about the same age. Paul is very stable, with no agenda. He’s been great. He’s a pro.”
Warriors’ Randolph on block again
For two seasons, the Warriors have had an odd time with Anthony Randolph(notes). Sometimes, they’re in love with his sheer athletic ability in that 7-foot frame and considered him untouchable. As a rookie, they dangled him in deals, too. Well, it’s happening again. Several NBA teams say Golden State officials have offered Randolph in trade discussions, but as one Eastern Conference executive said: “I think all of their roster could be had.”
Says one Western official: “The Warriors are willing to do anything and everything.”
Randolph is 20 years old and blessed with terrific talent, but his staying power and maturity have frustrated Golden State officials. It appears they’re willing to cash his potential for more mature assets. After destroying the summer league in Vegas, Randolph has averaged 11.1 points in 21.8 minutes per night for the Warriors.
Even with his patriarch, Keith Smart, substituting for an ill Don Nelson, Randolph’s productivity hasn’t improved. Still, he’s so young, so gifted, it’s a move that would come with a great deal of long-term risk.
LeBron’s budding relationship with Calipari
The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst had a terrific story Sunday on the relationship between LeBron James(notes) and John Calipari’s Kentucky program. James used his summer sneaker camp to build relationships with America’s best young players – kids who could eventually be represented by his own marketing company, LRMR. For now, John Wall is clearly a target.
What’s more, James’ cozy relationship with Calipari has long inspired discussion within the league that the star could make a power play for him to become his coach. Calipari has deftly created the illusion that James is his player, a powerful association in the recruiting battles. In fact, a source says LeBron was on the Rupp Arena pass list – along with his two Cavs teammates, UNC alums Jawad Williams(notes) and Danny Green(notes) – for Kentucky’s victory over North Carolina on Dec. 5. They were supposed to fly down in a private jet for the Saturday afternoon game, but a snag in Cleveland cancelled the trip.
At Memphis, Calipari had tried for a return to the NBA. He would’ve taken most pro jobs, but that’s changed with his move to Kentucky. Perhaps no coach in college sports has a chance to win more titles and make more money than Cal does at Kentucky.
Says one source close to Calipari, “I don’t see a scenario anymore where he would leave to join LeBron in Cleveland, but another situation? Different team? In two or three years? That might be a different story.”