In a late move to land the Kings, Orange County billionaire Henry Samueli has offered to increase his personal loan to the team from $50 million to as much as $75 million, and has offered to buy a minority stake in the organization.
Samueli, owner of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, also has agreed to make far more costly improvements to Anaheim's Honda Center, which he manages, to bring that facility up to NBA standards.
Originally, Honda Center officials had planned to spend $25 million on upgrades. That figure has jumped in the last few days to $70 million, center officials said Thursday afternoon.
Kings co-owner Joe Maloof declined to comment when reached Thursday evening.
The move by Samueli represents a dramatic counter to recent efforts by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who earlier this week announced $10 million in new corporate sponsorships, should the Kings stay in Sacramento.
Those Sacramento pledges and other local efforts appeared to have swayed NBA officials in the last few weeks into agreeing to support keeping the Kings in Sacramento, at least for another year.
NBA officials declined to comment Thursday evening on Samueli's move to sweeten the pot in Anaheim.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson continued to express confidence that the capital city has proved it has what it takes to support NBA basketball. Still, he has issued several public cautions that the outcome of the Kings saga is still not known.
"Anaheim may be trying to sweeten the pot, but nothing beats home cooking," Johnson said Thursday.
The Kings owners have until Monday to decide whether to request permission from the league for relocation to Anaheim.
Team owners reportedly were on the fence about that move as late as midweek.
The new offer from Anaheim includes one critical change that could save that city from running into a potential deal-killing roadblock.
Originally, Anaheim city officials agreed to float $75 million in bonds to broker a part of the deal being negotiated between the Kings and the Honda Center. But a Sacramento group launched a petition drive to force the city to put the bond sale on a future ballot for voter approval.
Honda Center officials said Thursday Samueli now has agreed to float private loans to cover the deal, if need be, instead of relying on a public bond sale.
Key questions remain unresolved about a critical media deal in Anaheim, a source close to the issue said. Staying in Sacramento, however, would present the Kings with serious financial uncertainties as well.
Team officials say they fear that Sacramento is a "challenged" market, the source said, and that the team cannot survive here if it does not have a new arena immediately. League officials also have said Sacramento needs a new arena but have expressed more hope that a deal might be made, if the Kings will stay in town at least one more year.
If the Kings file for relocation against the advice of league top brass, history suggests a tough road and potential court fights. The request would trigger a maximum 120-day review by the league's relocation committee, headed by Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, who moved the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma three years ago.
Bennett's group already is reviewing the issue, however, and likely could make a recommendation to the league's Board of Governors soon after a relocation request. The Board of Governors, made up of team owners, would vote on the Kings' request within 30 days of receiving word from the relocation committee. League rules require a majority vote of the 30-member body to approve a move.
Three relocation requests have been OK'd in the last decade: Seattle to Oklahoma City, Charlotte to New Orleans and Vancouver to Memphis.
But in 1994, the league blocked a suitor from buying and moving the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans.
The NBA's relocation committee unanimously concluded that boxing promoter Bob Arum's plan was "speculative and inadequately financed." The Board of Governors ratified the committee's recommendation by a 25-1 vote. The team remains in Minnesota with new owners.
A decade earlier, however, an owner defied the NBA and won. Donald Sterling moved the San Diego Clippers to Los Angeles in 1984 without permission from the league board.
The NBA sued Sterling in U.S. District Court in San Diego, demanding $25 million in damages, and threatened to take the franchise away from him. It later backed down, and the suit was settled when Sterling agreed to pay the league $5.7 million.
Legal experts say the issue over franchise relocation was clouded by the Oakland Raiders saga. In 1982, owner Al Davis sued the NFL over its refusal to let him move the team to Los Angeles. The courts ruled in his favor a victory that made leagues squeamish about blocking relocations.
"The Al Davis case threw everything up in the air," said Michael Kelly, a retired antitrust lawyer who teaches sports law at Virginia's George Mason University. "(Leagues) have always treated these situations gingerly."