Do the Maloofs really want to go down in history as the ones who took the Kings from Sacramento?
They apparently are in talks to sell the team to a group led by billionaire Chris Hansen, who would move it to Seattle. According to some media reports Wednesday, a $500 million deal is close.
If that's true, the very least the Maloofs can do is allow time for a bid from ownership groups who would keep the team in Sacramento. The other Kings owners who control 47 percent of the team need to push in that direction.
It is also way past time for the Maloofs, who previously insisted they had no plans to sell the team, to make a clear statement of their intentions. Their stock answer to any question their PR people say the team won't comment on "rumors or speculation" is disrespectful to city leaders and long-suffering fans, who deserve far better.
It's understandable why the NBA would be interested in the deal. Seattle is the nation's 12th-largest TV market (Sacramento is 20th) and supported an NBA team for 41 years until the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. In October, Hansen's group won city and county support for $200 million in public subsidies toward a $490 million arena and has bought the site.
But Sacramento has also proved over 27 years that it can be a strong NBA market. There is a viable arena deal to be done here.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, who has championed Sacramento, should use the league's leverage to encourage a sale to local owners. The Kings owe an undisclosed sum on a $125 million line of credit arranged by the NBA in 2009. The league could also discourage a move by imposing a sizable relocation fee.
With all the rumors swirling, it is clear that the financially struggling Maloofs are running out of options. No one is going to give them a new arena basically for free plus pay off their $77 million debt to Sacramento (a loan, plus a prepayment penalty) so they can move the team and remain its majority owners.
No one should be surprised that a deal fell apart in Virginia Beach. On Tuesday, Mayor Will Sessoms said his city was ending its courtship of an NBA team widely reported to be the Kings because the arena developer and team failed to reach agreement. Without that commitment, the city was unwilling to ask the state Legislature for $150 million.
As we all should know by now, the Maloofs have commitment issues. Last year, they derailed the deal for a new downtown Sacramento arena at the last minute. The city and arena operator AEG offered to put up more than 80 percent of the project's $391 million cost, while the Maloofs wouldn't have had to put in any cash for their $73 million share. The NBA was willing to broker a $67 million loan and give the remainder.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson says that deal, which was fair to all sides, is still possible. He said Wednesday that he's talked to local investors who might bid on the Kings.
The status quo a subpar team playing in a second-rate arena with owners who can't afford to improve either isn't acceptable. If they're not up to the challenge of making the Kings a success again in Sacramento, the Maloofs should do what is best for all involved and give someone else the chance.