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Timing may not be right for Coyotes purchase; readers will miss Steve Kelley; Damian Lillard in elite company

Observations from your local scribe ...

• A good source tells me Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher is not going to be involved in the purchase of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes.

Greg Jamison’s bid to buy the financially troubled and league-owned Coyotes fell through this week when he missed a deadline to render essentially a down payment on the club. Word was that one of his investors wanted majority owner status, and the deal fell through.

Reports surfaced that Gallacher is pursuing ownership of the Coyotes, and I’m told that’s not the case.

However, Gallacher — a Calgary oil magnate — has made it clear in the past he desires ownership of an NHL team and has interest in placing it in Portland.

Ken Stickney, president of Avenir Sports Entertainment in Southern California, is Gallacher’s right-hand man who visits Portland regularly to oversee management of the Winterhawks.

In an interview with me in December 2011, Stickney told me there had been preliminary discussions with the Blazer owner Paul Allen, who owns the Rose Garden.

“We have talked to the Blazers conceptually (about NHL hockey) but nothing in depth, Stickney said, adding, “You couldn’t make any moves to bring the NHL here without their support.”

Allen has made overtures at bringing the NHL to Portland — including the Coyotes — but has decided against it, at least in part because of the inevitable competition selling the NBA and NHL to prospective fans and sponsors.

That doesn’t mean if he felt he could make money by leasing the Rose Garden to an NHL team, he wouldn’t do it. The bigger question is, could it pencil in profitably for an NHL group that would be unlikely to gain subsidiary revenue from parking, concessions and the lot?

Portland — the largest U.S. market with only one of the major four sports leagues — makes a lot of sense for the NHL, though the new arena in Seattle means the league will be looking there as a potential site as well.

The Rose Garden, as Stickney pointed out, “is a Class A-plus building that’s hockey-ready. There aren’t a lot of those around that don’t have an NHL team.”

Stickney and Winterhawks President Doug Piper feel the Hawks could survive even with an NHL club in the city.

Stickney said it could work in Portland, as it does in Los Angeles, where the Staples Center and Nokia Theatre work in tandem for events. Piper pointed to Western Hockey League franchises in NHL cities Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, though those are all located in hockey-driven Canada.

“We believe we would continue to operate the Hawks out of the coliseum,” Piper said. “There are lots of markets that have major- and junior-league teams. We believe the Hawks could play in the coliseum and an NHL team could play in the Rose Garden, and both teams could do well. It wouldn’t kill the Hawks by any stretch to have both.”

I wouldn’t write off the chance that Gallacher could get into the picture for the Coyotes, though that’s evidently not the case at this time.

“Timing is everything,” Stickney told me. “If something opens up, you have to be ready. There are a multitude of things that have to fall into place. But I’m not getting any younger. I’d like to see it happen sooner rather than later.”

• One of the greats of our industry is retiring, and I’m sad to say, the times are part of the reason.

Steve Kelley put away his laptop last week after 30 years as sports columnist for the Seattle Times, which were preceded by six years with The Oregonian.

In 2006, I wrote a column listing my 10 favorites newspaper sportswriters, including Phil Mushnick, Ray Ratto, Scott Ostler, Jason Whitlock — and Steve Kelley.

Maybe more than anyone, Kelley’s columns left you thinking, “Wish I’d written that.” He had an even-handed manner and easy writing style, plus a brilliant knack at getting to the crux of the story and making it interesting along the way.

Yeah, he was tough, but only when it was needed. Yeah, he was a wordsmith, but never so much that he beat you over the head with it. He had a dry wit and used it beautifully to deliver his message, or just to entertain.

Plus, he was always a friendly face to swap stories and opinions with in the press box. One of the truly good guys.

Kelley, 63, came to The Oregonian in 1976 — the year after I started at the Oregon Journal — and left for Seattle in the summer of ‘82.

“They called me the ‘ing’ editor at The Oregonian when I started,” he says with a laugh. “Boxing, bowling, auto racing — the sports nobody else wanted to do.

“I knew I’d arrived when I hit the press room at Portland Raceway one day and (promoter Ron Ail) had a message in the janitor’s in-box that said, ‘Clean the bird droppings off the press seats.’ "

Kelley says he had been pondering retirement for six months. Among the catalysts, he says, is the “comments” section on the Times’ website.

“Anonymous clowns get to say whatever they want without fear of reprisal and without any expertise,” Kelly says. “There’s stuff that is libelous. I don’t mind negative comments. I don’t take it personally if people disagree with what I write.

“I just don’t like when they make it personal to me and my family — stupid, vile comments that don’t belong in anything, much less a newspaper. That’s my crusade right now, to bring civility back.”

Kelley has plenty to occupy his time in retirement. For now, he and wife Carole will stay in Seattle — “I kind of want to find some sun, though,” he says.

He’ll continue to volunteer teach fourth-graders and volunteer coach basketball in the AAU and high school ranks. He has been to San Salvador a couple of times and is involved in working with teenage gang members there in the fields of art, music and sports. Two book projects loom.

“I woke up the other day,” Kelley says, “and realized I don’t have to do anything the rest of my life.”

He’ll stay active, though. He’ll just get to pick his spots now. Good for him. His readers will miss him, and so will his colleagues.

• Portland’s Damian Lillard joined an exclusive list when he was named the NBA’s Western Conference rookie of the month for January.

Since the NBA began awarding rookie of the month awards by conference more than a decade ago, seven players have earned the honor for each of their first three months in the league. The others are Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, 2011-12; the L.A. Clippers’ Blake Griffin, 2011-12; Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, 2009-10; Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, 2007-08; Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, 2003-04, and Cleveland’s LeBron James, 2003-04.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers