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When the Kings host the Nuggets tonight at Sleep Train Arena, it "will be an opening night for the ages, with Bollywood dancers, Shaquille O’Neal, a sellout crowd and more glitz and glitter" than Kings fans have seen in years, according to Kasler & Bizjak of the SACRAMENTO BEE. But the Kings' second home game a couple nights later will be "a good deal quieter," as "hundreds of tickets remain unsold." The first week of the NBA regular season "illustrates the promise and challenges facing the Kings and their new owners," including Managing Partner Vivek Ranadive. Kings President Chris Granger said that "average attendance at Sleep Train Arena 'without question' will improve over last year’s worst-in-the-league 13,749." Yet it is "clear it will take time" before the Kings return to continual sellouts. For all the "euphoria about Ranadive’s arrival, the Kings are still in recovery mode." The team since Ranadive took over has "hired 92 new full-time employees, most of them in marketing." The NBA said that the Kings have "attracted more new season ticket holders than any other team in the league." Granger said, "I’m more focused on the infrastructure than 41 sellouts. That will come." Kings VP/Communications Donna Schwartze said that the team has "lined up six new corporate sponsors this year." Two of the new sponsors, Kaiser Permanente and Golden 1 Credit Union, have "secured the naming rights to two of the arena’s entrances -- a first for Sleep Train." The new direction will be "on vivid display" at tonight’s opener. A pregame fanfest outside the arena will "include a demonstration of India’s national sport, cricket." The game will "air live on Sony Six, a sports channel in India that regularly televises NBA games" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 10/30). A SACRAMENTO BEE editorial stated it is "welcome" that Ranadive and Granger are "putting a priority on improving the fan experience." But it would "really help the franchise and the city if this team is at least competitive and entertaining" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 10/29). The Kings and local broadcast partner KXTV-ABC will air tonight's game commercial free (THE DAILY).
WINNING CHANGES EVERYTHING: CSNBAYAREA.com's Ray Ratto wrote the Kings are "in many ways an expansion team, with an open field to define themselves in any way they want." But now "comes the hard part," which is "winning games and being noticed." That is going to be "a much longer process." The Warriors "did that, but if you ask for the blueprint by which it occurred, they cannot provide it for you because so much of what they are now is due to a combination of brains and luck." The Kings are hoping to "recreate that 90 miles up the road, but it won’t work just that way." This is "an ocean liner and it takes time to turn it about." As long as Ranadive et.al. "openly and honestly acknowledge what the Kings have not been, and what they are now, the easier will be the transition to what they can become" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 10/28).
GETTING ANALYTICAL: Kings Advisor to the Chair Chris Mullin noted the team is "going to use analytics and statistical data a lot." Ranadive said, "To me, basketball is just a big data problem, both on the court and also on the business side. So whether it's helping sell tickets and merchandise and knowing who to sell what to at what point in time or it's the game itself, what combination of players produce the best results, where you shoot from, how you got the other team. We're not going to give you our secret sauce but Dr. Mullin here is hard at work. He's using the same software that we use to find cures for cancer." Fox Business' Liz Claman noted the Kings want to "push their goal to build a global brand." Ranadive replied by saying the branding effort will be a "process ... and we'll get there, but it will take a few years." He said he wants to air Kings game live in India and noted his goal "is not to surpass cricket as the national pastime in India, but we think we can be a very strong No. 2." Ranadive said the team will have clinics in India, and "we're going to take our team there in the off-season" so that basketball can become "in the next five years the second most popular sport in India" ("After The Bell," Fox Business, 10/29).
The NBA championship ring Heat players and officials yesterday received "highlights the consecutive championship with two Larry O'Brien trophies set in 14-karat yellow gold nestled on top of a brilliant black onyx stone, framed by the words 'World' and 'Champions,'" according to Craig Davis of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. The two basketballs in the trophies are "set with round-cut diamonds." The right side "features the player's name, 2013 and a trophy encircled with 'Back to Back.'" The body of the trophy and the basketball are "set with black onyx." The bottom of the trophy "has the team's motto 'Sacrifice' in Chinese." On the left side are "three NBA championship trophies set with 53 round diamonds" representing the franchise's '06, '12 and '13 titles." The ring "weighs 135 grams and a total of 242 round-cut diamonds, 1.5 carats of custom baguette-cut diamonds, and three black onyx stones totaling 10.3 carats." An NBA spokesperson said that a "boost in sales was expected after the championship merchandise was seen" during last night's Bulls-Heat season opener. The gold-lettered adidas jerseys the Heat wore "won't be worn again, and are among 10 special jerseys the team will roll out for selected games this season." The gold-lettered jerseys "sell for $120, the special warm-up jacket featuring the Larry O'Brien trophy is $160 and a championship cap $28." The Heat also "offered their fans a chance to put a championship ring" on merchandise as well. Rings cost fans "anywhere from $318 to $5,808, depending on whether you opt for the $10 cheap commemorative ring or the $5,500 ultimate fan ring with diamonds." The championship ring collection from Jostens "went on sale at TheMiamiHeatStore.com and in the concourse at AmericanAirlines Arena immediately after the ceremony" as well as at the Jostens website (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 10/30).
In a "shocking turn of events" yesterday, Mavericks GM Gersson Rosas "turned in his resignation," according to Dwain Price of the FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. A source said that Rosas "wanted more influence on the team and that he ultimately didn’t fit in with the direction owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson want to take the Mavs." After Rosas was officially hired on Aug. 1, the Mavs said that he would "work under and report to Nelson, who had also served" as the team’s GM before Rosas was hired. But the source said that the Mavs "became worried how Rosas would fit into their structure if he wasn’t going to have a larger voice in player personnel and other basketball operation decisions." Rosas was with the Mavs "for only 90 days after he was hired" from the Rockets. Rosas in a statement said, "Mark Cuban asked me to reconsider my decision, but graciously accepted my decision and we part as friends." He added, "I made the personal decision to resign as general manager ... after determining that the position was not the best fit for me at this point in my career. The decision was made solely by me" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 10/30). Cuban said, "We parted ways, that's my stock answer. He's a great guy and it just didn't work out. Sometimes things just don't work out" ("The Tonight Show," NBC, 10/29). ESPN.com's Marc Stein cited sources as saying that "concerns about how Rosas would fit into the Mavericks' front-office structure and accept a supplementary role to Nelson ... surfaced almost immediately after Rosas' arrival in late July" (ESPN.com, 10/29). SI.com's Ben Golliver wrote Rosas' short tenure "is unusual both by general NBA standards and in comparison to the Mavericks’ recent history." The franchise has been "a relatively stable ship under Cuban, who took over as owner" in '00. Nelson has worked for the Mavs since '98 and coach Rick Carlisle was hired in '08 (SI.com, 10/29).
While a change in nickname and colors for the Pelicans "may be secondary to the actual performance of the product on the court, it’s also a carefully crafted plan to separate the team's past from its present," according to Ted Lewis of the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. Such makeovers "are rare in major professional sports, especially when the team has been in a location for a decade." But New Orleans-based Peter Mayer Advertising President Mark Mayer said, "From my perspective, the rebranding of the team away from the Hornets was absolutely essential. Everybody knew the team that was brought in from Charlotte wasn't 'our' team and the name wasn't particularly relevant to the local audience." Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha said, "We wanted to get something that was important locally, and we kept coming back to 'Pelicans,' because it is our state bird and is a barometer for the environmental health of the Gulf South after the oil spill." While Pelicans management is "certainly trying to sell the nickname, only 'New Orleans' graces the jersey, making the team one of only three in the league whose uniforms use exclusively the city name." ESPN.com’s Paul Lukas said that it was “'very odd' that 'Pelicans' isn’t on the jerseys, plus the lettering on the front is smaller than that of the names on the back." However, Chicago-based Gameplan Creative Founder & CEO Tom O’Grady "praised the 'clean' look of the Pelicans uniforms." O'Grady also said that the team "was doing the right thing in not getting 'too cute,' with its logo and auxiliary units" (Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 10/30).
NOT EVERYBODY IS A FAN: The Pelicans nickname certainly will not conjure up the same controversy as the Redskins name, but one national NBA analyst may be staging his own personal boycott. During a preview of the NBA season on TNT's pregame show last night, conversation turned to the Pelicans, causing Charles Barkley to say, "That team from New Orleans. I refuse to say that silly nickname. I'm not saying that name!" ("NBA Tip-Off," TNT, 10/29).
Pistons Owner Tom Gores said he is "happy with the Pistons' home at The Palace but open to conversations about moving downtown," according to a Q&A with Bob Wojnowski of the DETROIT NEWS. Gores also said that President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars "is not on the hot seat." Below are excerpts from the interview.
Q: It seems like you're pushing harder now, wanting more.
Gores: We took a philosophy, Joe and I, to win now without sacrificing the future. I really think we accomplished that. Obviously the business is very tricky, but we had to create an urgency. The fans need it, the Pistons need it.
Q: You mentioned Dumars. He’s in the final year of his contract, and there hasn’t been public talk of an extension. I have to ask: Is Joe on the hot seat?
Gores: He’s not. Joe and I collaborated on these moves, we talk every other day. He’s done everything we’ve asked, and his basketball organization is really solid. I’m excited where they’re at. I don’t think I could’ve asked for more this summer
Q: Then why no contract extension?
Gores: We haven’t talked about it. I really respect this about Joe -- his focus is on the Pistons, on winning. He knows we have a job to do this year. The good news is, we’ve done all these move hand in hand.
Q: Do you plan to be around more this season?
Gores: I do. The first couple of years, the team was really in transition. At times, if I got involved, I might have gotten in the way. But if you’re not here, that doesn’t mean you’re not doing the work behind the scenes. Now we’ve solidified the team and it’s time for me to be more visible.
Q: Have you enjoyed owning the Pistons?
Gores: It’s been a lot of work, but I have enjoyed it. The first year, it was really just about putting all the people in place. I enjoy that it’s a piece of the community. I grew up here, that really gets you embedded.
Q: There were lots of empty seats at The Palace last season. How much did that trouble you, and how much did it push you to make changes?
Gores: I can’t say it hasn’t bothered me. But I believe in the fans of Detroit, and we’ll ultimately get what we deserve. If we do this right, we’ll get the fans. If we don’t, we won’t. Attendance is looking up, and that probably has a lot to do with the changes we made, and people realizing we’re serious about building a team (DETROIT NEWS, 10/30).
MOTOWN MOVES: In Detroit, Terry Foster notes Pistons officials "hope the moves they made this offseason -- namely bringing in" G Brandon Jennings and F Josh Smith -- will "infuse new life into a slumbering franchise." From the "outset, it seems like they have," as season ticket sales are up 23.8%, while group sales "have doubled" (DETROIT NEWS, 10/30).
In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes Raptors President & GM for Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri's vision for the team, "the one he sold" to MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke, "has yet to materialize in any meaningful way." The Raptors begin the season "in that terrible NBA place called no man’s land." Simmons: "Maybe, if everything goes right ... this can be a team that makes the playoffs and [lasts] a few minutes in the first round." But it could be "another season of in-between basketball, with the Raptors not good enough to be real, not bad enough to be in the mix" to draft Univ. of Kansas F Andrew Wiggins next year (TORONTO SUN, 10/30).
DIVING FOR A REBOUND? 76ers GM Sam Hinkie said of the team's potential struggles this year, "All our focus is on building something special for the Sixers, building a team that could in time be interesting." In Philadelphia, Mike Sielski writes Hinkie arrived this summer "with a mandate: We have to bottom out so we can begin again." If such a strategy is "antithetical to the notion that a professional franchise is obliged to try to put a competitive team on the court, don't blame Hinkie." Sielski: "Blame the NBA, particularly its oppressive salary cap and a draft that rewards failure with the promise of a lottery pick" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/30).
PICK UP THE PACE: In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes the city has "finally noticed" the Pacers' success. Individual ticket sales "are up" 50% and package sales are up 30%. Kravitz: "Seriously, if Indy can’t get behind this team -- a team in every conceivable sense of the word -- there’s no hope for pro hoops in Indianapolis" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 10/30).
Redskins Owner Dan Snyder yesterday met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the team's name, but Snyder "reiterated to Goodell that he has no plans to change the Redskins' name," according to a source cited by Maske & Jones of the WASHINGTON POST. Another source said that the meeting was designed "for the league to gather information on the team's plan for dealing with the issues involved, including assessing and addressing opposition to the name." One source added that Snyder "shared sentiments similar to those he conveyed in a letter" to Redskins fans three weeks ago. NFL officials today are scheduled to meet with members of the Oneida Indian Nation, the group that "has called the name offensive" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 10/29). ESPN's Ed Werder reported the meeting was designed for the league "to gather information on the team's plans and how they're going to handle this." ESPN's Dan Graziano said, "What I was told about this meeting was it's a lot about perception. There were protests in Denver when the Redskins were there over the weekend. The league has a concern about the extent to which that's going to continue to happen and if so, how the team plans to deal with it, how the league should deal with it, because they're not pressuring Dan Snyder to change the Redskins nickname. They don’t feel it's their place to do so, but they acknowledge that it's an ongoing issue that is flowering up a little bit and they need to figure out how to handle it publicly." ESPN's Wendi Nix added, "The key takeaway here is Daniel Snyder has shown no real initiative to change" ("NFL Insiders," ESPN, 10/29).
Akron's Double-A Eastern League team "has changed its name from the Aeros to the RubberDucks," a name that "pays tribute to the city’s rubber industry," according to a front-page piece by Rick Armon of the AKRON BEACON JOURNAL. The new brand is a "snarling black duck with a tire tread and flames shooting out of its head." Competing names "that didn’t make the cut" included Tire Jacks, Vulcans and Canal Rats. Team Owner Ken Babby after meeting with fans over the past year "concluded it was time for a new franchise identity." The franchise had "gone by the name Aeros -- a tip of the cap to Ohio’s significant aerospace connections" since '97. The team "unveiled a giant banner on a downtown building promoting the Akron RubberDucks as 'Affordable. Family. Fun.'" A new mascot "will be named later," but current mascot Orbit "is staying." RubberDucks merchandise "already is on sale at the gift shop and online." The RubberDucks logo, designed by Brandiose, features “blue flame, racing yellow, fire orange and tire black.” Team GM & COO Jim Pfander said that the RubberDucks are "the first professional baseball team to use that color combination" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 10/30). BASEBALL AMERICA's Josh Leventhal wrote the new name "provides both a local connection" and "a kid-friendly element." The team's secondary logos "include a web-footed Akron 'A' and the same tenacious duck making fists at the end of its tire-tread arms." Akron becomes the "second team to unveil a new name this offseason" following the Triple-A PCL El Paso Chihuahuas and "the fourth in a week to reveal new logos." All four -- the RubberDucks, Chihuahuas, Triple-A Int'l League Charlotte Knights and Double-A Texas League Arkansas Travelers -- were designed by Brandiose, formerly known as Plan B Branding, which has "become the go-to company for minor league teams seeking an off-beat and irreverent identity" (BASEBALLAMERICA.com, 10/29).
On Long Island, Marc Carig notes Mets COO Jeff Wilpon "reiterated Tuesday that the Mets will be free from the financial shackles that have stunted their efforts to add talent in recent years." It remains to be seen "just how much the Mets actually spend to revamp a team that finished with a losing record for the fifth straight season." But expiring contracts alone "are expected to free up" more than $40M in payroll, "signaling what the team insists is the end of an era marked by austerity." Wilpon said, "That's always been part of the plan, to use the money that's coming off the books and try and improve the team" (NEWSDAY, 10/30). The N.Y. Daily News' Andy Martino noted the Mets are "going to spend some money" during the offseason, but the "extent I don't know." Execs are "going to spend some money on somebody," but fans "might have to settle for something less" than top free agents ("Daily News Live," SNY, 10/29).
TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF: MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke said that he is "trying to persuade his fellow MLSE executives to spring 500 or so Maple Leafs seats on a nightly basis at a discount so 'diehard, blue-collar fans' can introduce some 'new noise' in a building where the corporate types routinely linger in their luxury suites between periods so the players are greeted by thousands of empty seats." Leiweke: "There’s a lot of people, especially in that lower level, you can’t teach them to cheer. You just can’t. We have some trouble just getting them in the seats at the beginning of every period. I think we have to think about the culture of the Leafs experience and bring fresh blood in there” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/30).
GETTING THE BOOT: In Utah, Trevor Phibbs notes the AFL yesterday announced its realignment for the '14 season, and the Utah Blaze "were left behind." The Blaze last season "was evicted from EnergySolutions Arena after failing to meet its financial responsibilities as tenants" (DESERET NEWS, 10/30). In Salt Lake City, Christopher Kamrani cites a source as saying that the franchise "is working through its options, though it will be dormant" in '14. The source added that different issues "are being worked out to possibly bring back the Blaze" in '15 (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 10/30).