NEW YORK The fight for the Sacramento Kings is going into overtime.
With questions lingering over whether Sacramento or Anaheim is the best fit for the franchise, NBA Commissioner David Stern said Friday the league is extending until May 2 the deadline for the Kings to request a move to Southern California.
The move gives Mayor Kevin Johnson and a team of developers studying an arena project two weeks to convince the league that Sacramento is a viable home for the Kings.
"We live to fight another day," Johnson said in a teleconference Friday.
At the same time, officials in Anaheim now have two weeks to convince the NBA that their proposal to lure the team is sound.
Stern said other NBA owners still have an "incomplete" understanding of the Anaheim deal, which he said has changed within the past few days. He said the group of owners studying a possible Kings relocation has questions about TV revenue, needed upgrades to Anaheim's arena and relocation costs.
Stern made his comments at a news conference following the two-day NBA board of governors' meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
The delay puts the team's owners, the Maloofs, in limbo. They arrived at the St. Regis to ask for approval from their fellow owners to move the team after 26 years in Sacramento. They left without making that request. In addition, they faced a sudden proposal from California billionaire Ron Burkle to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento.
One by one, the Maloof brothers angrily dismissed the idea, with Gavin Maloof telling reporters on Friday that Burkle "can go back to where he came from."
Stern played down Burkle's interest in the Kings. "That's not a high priority on our agenda," he said.
Sacramento facts sought
In the next two weeks, Stern said, a league committee led by Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett will look at whether Johnson has hard facts to back up his Thursday pitch to the NBA owners. Johnson told them arena efforts are progressing well and that he has $7 million in committed sponsorships and ticket sales for the Kings.
Bennett who moved his franchise from Seattle three years ago and NBA staffers will arrive in California next week and also will delve into the Anaheim proposal.
Stern remains skeptical about Sacramento's ability to build a new arena, saying the topic is "usually an eye-roller." But he said he was intrigued by Johnson's presentation.
Johnson, he said, spoke of a new "intensity" in the city's support for the Kings, and was persuasive in saying there may be a way to translate that energy into real action on building an arena.
"The mayor's vision is for a downtown arena ...We don't know if that's real or a pie in the sky. We don't know whether we can find that out in a couple of weeks, but we are going to knock ourselves out to do it."
Sacramento developer David Taylor and the ICON Venue Group are working on an arena study expected to be released at the end of next month.
So far, the group has determined that a city-owned parcel in the downtown railyard could accommodate a facility. It's exploring whether such a project could work financially.
"We are early in that process, but we are going to deliver very quickly," said Tim Romani, ICON president and CEO.
Still, Johnson said Friday that it would be "foolish" to think that an arena plan can be finished by May 2, although ICON says parts of the study can be accelerated.
Johnson's office said Romani told the NBA's owners on Thursday that progress has been made on "developing a facility through public-private partnership that would protect taxpayers."
Stern was unequivocal: the Kings' current arena just won't do. "Power Balance Arena is not the arena of the future," he said.
Scrutiny for Anaheim deal
As for the situation in Anaheim, it doesn't seem to be a matter of whether the market can support another team playing 30 miles from the home of Los Angeles' Lakers and Clippers. Stern said it probably can.
Instead, Stern said the "very, very complex" deal to send the Kings south needs more study. Ultimately, the Maloofs' fellow owners will vote on whether to allow the move.
"It was sort of like a timeout, this is difficult, let's take some time here to better understand it," Stern said. He later added the Honda Center, where the Kings would play, needs "substantial" upgrades to support the NBA.
Anaheim officials professed not to be bothered by the delay.
"We are very excited and confident that as they learn about Honda Center, they will see the virtues of a team in Anaheim," said Michael Schulman, chairman of the firm that runs the arena.
A consultant familiar with the Kings' finances said the Maloofs' debt burden is a very real issue. The team owes the city of Sacramento $77 million. The family would borrow $50 million from Honda Center operator Henry Samueli to cover relocation costs.
"I'm sure that's something Stern and his deputies are looking at pretty long and hard," said the adviser, who refused to be quoted by name because of his association with the Maloofs.
Those obligations come on top of the family's other Kings debts and money owed on their Palms casino in Las Vegas.
While the Maloofs' bank account could be a concern, one expert in NBA finances said Samueli likely would find a way to get the move done. That includes coming up with what could be a hefty relocation fee.
"Even if it's $60 million, or $50 million to $75 million, that really shouldn't preclude the deal," said Andy Dolich, who was a senior executive with the Grizzlies when that franchise moved from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Memphis. "I would think there would be an ability to find the money."
If the move to Anaheim falls through, Burkle and Sacramento lobbyist Darius Anderson said this week they are interested in buying the Kings. If the Maloofs won't sell, their group has looked at buying another NBA team possibly the league-owned New Orleans Hornets and moving it to Sacramento.
An arena is also key to that deal.
And so the uncertainty over the Kings' future will drag on into May. Will the delay force the team to stay put for another season?
"No," Stern said, "(the Kings) are not forced to stay in Sacramento at all."