Without Big Splash, Kings Still Hope to Make Waves
There's the business reason, for one, as the exorbitant deals so many of Maloof's peers are handing out almost certainly increase the chance of a lockout after the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires next summer. Then there was the basketball reason, the fact that his team was never in the running for LeBron James despite having the necessary salary cap room to sign him.
Yet the always-optimistic man who knows a good show when he sees one was too awestruck by the spectacle at hand to dwell on any negatives. And while so many critics have argued that the James-led circus is an example of modern-day professional athletes at their worst, Maloof -- whose family owns the Palms Casino in Las Vegas -- argues that it's the best late-summer performance the league has ever seen.
"Let me tell you what this has done," Maloof told FanHouse by phone. "You've got the NFL one month away. You've got the Major League Baseball All-Star game. This free agency with the NBA has stolen the show in sports, not only with the World Cup but all over the world."
The specific show to which he was referring, of course, was the ESPN telecast to announce James' decision that starts at 9 p.m. ET Thursday. But the show began in earnest on July 1, when the official negotiations began and the unknown futures of James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and friends captured North America's attention.
"It's been great for the NBA," Maloof continued. "It's tremendous. It spotlights our stars. It showcases the interest our fans have. It showcases the intense media. The media is fascinated with it. This never happened before. I think it's a really great thing for the NBA."
The only better outcome, as Maloof sees it, would have involved the self-anointed King donning a Kings jersey. Maloof said the obligatory call was made, as he informed the team's basketball president, Geoff Petrie, to call James' representatives at the start of free agency and report back if there was any hope of tempting him to bypass Cleveland, Miami, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and the Clippers for Sacramento. Predictably, there wasn't any promise. At least as it pertained to James.
Maloof sees nothing but promise with his revamped team, as the Kings acquired center Samuel Dalembert from Philadelphia recently and did well on draft night by adding Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth pick and Marshall 7-footer Hassan Whiteside in the second round. The team's young core was already heading in the right direction thanks to Tyreke Evans, the former Memphis guard taken fourth overall in 2009 who won the league's Rookie of the Year honor.
"I think we stole the draft again (with Cousins)," Maloof said. "I think we got the best player in the draft. I don't know how we did it. I don't know how he didn't go No. 1. We would've taken him No. 1. No doubt about it."
With the Kings set to start Las Vegas summer league practice on Friday, Cousins -- who signed his rookie contract Wednesday -- has given Maloof even more reason for optimism. The 6-foot-11 Cousins, whose weight was a hot topic throughout the draft process, has lost five pounds since being drafted on June 28. He weighed in at 285 pounds on Wednesday with a body fat of 14.5 percent, according to Maloof, this after his body fat was approximately 16 percent on draft night.
There's the even bigger picture, too, as the Kings have approximately $16 million in cap space that affords flexibility beyond the possibility of splashy (and unlikely) free agent signings. The Kings aren't known to have pursued any of the bigger name free agents, and are instead intending to preserve their space for next summer when the league's new agreement -- should it be agreed on by then -- will likely afford more fiscally-efficient opportunities.
If the Kings can improve significantly via trade, however, the team that won a combined 42 games in the last two seasons could speed up its rebuilding process sooner than expected.
"There's going to be so many good players come our way, and we're going to have some great opportunities, good players where these teams have to shed these salaries," Maloof said. "I don't know what (their offseason move) is, but we're going to have great opportunity. That's the power we have (because of the cap room)."
As reported by ESPN.com, it appears they'll move forward without Jason Levien. Maloof confirmed that the team's senior vice president/assistant general manager will be leaving to pursue other opportunities in the league. Levien, a former agent who represented former Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin, was hired in December of 2008 as the team's general counsel and assistant general manager.
He was believed to be a possible successor to Petrie, who signed a three-year extension last December and simultaneously promoted Wayne Cooper to vice president of basketball operations and his son, Mike Petrie, to assistant vice president of basketball operations.
"Yeah, he is (leaving)," Maloof said. "I think you just need to talk to Geoff."
Petrie did not return a call for comment made late Wednesday, while Levien chose not to comment when reached by FanHouse. Levien is being considered for the vacant general manager position in Phoenix, and Maloof said he called the Suns on Levien's behalf to "highly recommend" him for the job.
Yet as Maloof made clear throughout the interview, nothing was going to spoil his bullish outlook on either the NBA or his Kings.
"I haven't felt this way since we bought the team (in 1999)," Maloof said. "I think we've completely transformed this team."