Their wallets thinned by recession and debt, the Maloofs believe moving the Sacramento Kings to Anaheim would be a financial lifesaver.
But the NBA is far from convinced that a relocation would cure the Kings or their owners.
On the contrary, the Maloofs' depressed finances have raised concerns about their long-term viability as NBA owners regardless of location. The league has tilted toward keeping the team in Sacramento for at least another year. The Maloofs have until Monday to decide whether to file for permission to relocate.
The Maloofs say operating from antiquated Power Balance Pavilion costs them millions of dollars a year, making it difficult to field a competitive team. But their financial issues go deeper than that and include their struggles to hold on to their Las Vegas casino. Already deeply in debt, the Maloofs would borrow up to $75 million from their new landlord in Anaheim.
The family's financial issues have opened the door for billionaire Ron Burkle, the potential Kings owner-in-waiting who's become a rallying point in Sacramento's drive to keep the team.
"Ultimately, the league is looking at this as something where a new owner would come in," said a Burkle associate who insisted on anonymity.
The Maloofs say the team isn't for sale, but Burkle's camp says his interest in keeping the Kings in Sacramento has given the city credibility with the NBA. His point man, Sacramento lobbyist Darius Anderson, met in Sacramento last week with Clay Bennett, chairman of the NBA's franchise-relocation committee and owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Anderson also helped Mayor Kevin Johnson round up $10 million in corporate support for the team, which helped persuade NBA Commissioner David Stern to give Sacramento another chance.
"From the NBA's standpoint, what he represents is a deep pocket; he represents stability," said Los Angeles investment banker Lloyd Greif, a longtime Burkle friend.
What happens next is uncertain. While Anaheim has sweetened its financial offer to the Maloofs, top league officials advised the family this week not to seek relocation, according to a source close to the family.
This source said the Maloofs told the NBA they're concerned their finances couldn't survive several more years in Sacramento, waiting for the new arena that everyone agrees is needed.
That's where Burkle could come in. Although the Maloofs have loudly and repeatedly rejected the supermarket tycoon's overtures, they might get backed into a corner because of their financial difficulties.
"Maybe you don't want to sell, but you have to sell," Greif said.
The Maloofs appear to be getting increasingly sensitive when it comes to discussions about their finances.
Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who's been campaigning against the Anaheim move, recently compared the Maloofs to the troubled owner of the Dodgers. On Friday, a lawyer for the Maloofs asked an Orange County Register reporter for a tape recording of Jackson's comments. The Register said the Maloofs are trying to get Jackson to quiet down.
Kings spokesman Troy Hanson confirmed that the lawyer who called the Orange County newspaper does represent the Maloofs. He had no further comment.
A consultant familiar with the Kings' finances said the team is losing about $8 million a year. The losses would be higher, except that the Kings operate with the lowest player payroll in the league around $44 million in the just-concluded regular season.
Such a business model isn't sustainable over the long haul. With a chronically low player payroll, the organization "just withers on the vine," said this consultant.
A new arena in Sacramento would significantly improve the Kings' finances; the Maloofs told an NBA consultant in 2009 that a new building would be worth more than $13 million a year in additional revenue from luxury suites and other amenities.
A move to Anaheim would give the Maloofs a larger and wealthier market, and a much nicer building than Power Balance Pavilion. Honda Center operator Henry Samueli, who owns hockey's Anaheim Ducks, would spend $70 million upgrading the arena.
Samueli also has offered to buy a minority stake in the Kings and would loan the Maloofs $75 million, up from his original loan offer of $50 million.
As it is, the Maloofs owe $67 million on a loan from the city of Sacramento. The city says they'd have to repay the loan immediately if they leave, plus a penalty of nearly $10 million.
Beyond that, the team owes an undisclosed amount on a line of credit arranged by the NBA two years ago. The line was capped at $125 million.
In Las Vegas, the Maloofs have become casualties of the city's epic economic crash. Despite some stabilizing in the past year, casinos are operating at "nowhere near the levels we saw during the boom," said Brian Gordon of Vegas consulting firm Applied Analysis.
Gordon said Palms Place, a condominium tower the Maloofs built alongside their Palms casino, sits one-third empty with 200 units unsold. Clark County, Nev., records show the condo tower borrowed $90 million last summer from the casino.
The casino, meanwhile, is in trouble despite efforts to shore up its finances.
Last year the Maloofs sold their New Mexico beer distributorship, the cornerstone of the family's business empire, to raise cash for the casino. In August the casino reached a forbearance agreement with lenders on a $400 million line of credit, according to county records. That gave the Maloofs more time to pay on the loan.
Even so, the Palms breached its loan covenants, Bloomberg business news reported in January. That means the casino's creditors could seize a controlling interest in the family's marquee Las Vegas property.