While it's still very murky whether the Kings could really move to Virginia Beach, Va., there are some things that should be crystal clear to Sacramento's leaders:
Don't even think about getting into a bidding war to keep the team.
And make absolutely sure that if the Kings do leave, the city gets the $65 million it's owed preferably in cold, hard cash.
In April, the Kings owners, the Maloofs, passed up the chance to secure the team's future in Sacramento when they blew up a deal for a new arena in the downtown railyard.
The proposal was more than fair, and it could be resurrected. The city and arena operator AEG would have put up more than 80 percent of the $391 million cost, while the Maloofs wouldn't have had to put in any of their own money for their $73 million share. The NBA was prepared to broker a $67 million loan and give the rest. The Maloofs, however, apparently didn't want to add to the team's debt, reportedly more than $200 million.
The deal in the works in Virginia Beach could be better for the Maloofs. A proposed new arena would be 90 percent publicly funded, counting relocation subsidies. The city would contribute $195 million and on Wednesday asked the state of Virginia for $150 million more. Another $35 million would come from developer Comcast-Spectacor.
But there's absolutely no guarantee the plan will materialize. One city councilman in Virginia Beach told The Bee that the city can't afford its proposed share, and a member of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership said it's "very doubtful" that the state will approve its share, either.
There are other reasons to be skeptical. For one, other NBA owners may not be all that interested in putting a franchise in a relatively small media market that could drain fans and advertising from nearby teams in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C.
The more likely prospect as a Kings suitor may be Seattle, where billionaire Chris Hansen won city and county approval in October for $200 million in public financing toward a $490 million arena. It is a more attractive city (the 12th largest TV market, compared to 20th for Sacramento and 43rd for Virginia Beach) and supported an NBA team for 41 years, until the SuperSonics went to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Sacramento has also proved that it can be a strong NBA city if there's a competitive team with solid ownership. It will only grow stronger as the region's economy recovers.
NBA Commissioner David Stern knows that, which is why he's had Sacramento's back in the arena drama. The Maloofs ought to think long and hard about that, too.
They should also think about putting a better product on the court and doing more than merely talk about sprucing up the newly renamed Sleep Train Arena. Yet again, the team has one of the worst records in the league (4-10, heading into tonight's home game with Indiana). Fans are voting with their feet; the Kings are dead last in announced home attendance, a paltry 12,574 per game.
The Maloofs won't talk publicly about a possible move, and continue to insist they're committed to Sacramento. Their actions, on the other hand, provide increasing evidence to the contrary.