NEW YORK - NBA Commissioner David Stern, calling the tug-of-war over the Kings one of the most vexing issues in league history, said today that Sacramento and Seattle's dueling bids for the team "are in the same ballpark."
He said Sacramento's counter-offer for the Kings "is not as complete" as the Seattle bid but he expects that to be remedied today or Saturday.
He added that a committee of owners vetting the two bids will likely make a recommendation late next week on whether the team should stay in Sacramento or move to Seattle.
Addressing reporters at the conclusion of the NBA Board of Governors meetings, Stern reiterated that the final vote should come in the first week of May. The board has to wait seven business days after receiving the committee's recommendation.
The timeline didn't appear to be set in stone. Stern first said the committee recommendation will likely come next Thursday or Friday. Then he indicated it might come early the following week, on or about April 29. He said the committee over the next few days will ask for additional clarification on both cities' bids for the team.
He said owners are struggling to compare Seattle's "well funded" offer and strong market against "the Sacramento incumbency."
The Kings' owners, the Maloofs, complained to the NBA in a lengthy letter Wednesday that Sacramento's counter-offer for the team is riddled with flaws and comes up financially short of the deal they struck in January with Seattle investor Chris Hansen. The letter, which was leaked to the media today, confirms earlier reports that Sacramento's group failed to match the higher offer Hansen made a week ago.
The Maloofs say Hansen is putting a $550 million valuation on the franchise - giving the Maloofs $357 million for the 65 percent share of the team they control. The letter says the Sacramento group, led by Silicon Valley businessman Vivek Ranadive, matched Hansen's original offer, which puts a $525 million value on the team. That gives the Maloofs a payout of $341 million.
When Stern was asked to compare the two offers, he said, "They're in the same ballpark with respect to the net result to the selling family."
The Maloofs' letter also said the Sacramento bid is non-binding and presents them with "staggering and ultimately unacceptable execution risk" when compared with their binding offer from Hansen.
They added that Sacramento offered them a $15 million deposit - half what Hansen has given them. The letter doesn't make clear if the Sacramento deposit is non-refundable, like Hansen's.
Stern, when asked about the Maloofs' complaints about the Sacramento offer, said the bid "is not as complete as it is going to be by the close of business today or tomorrow." He said it includes a down payment, although he didn't say if it's non-refundable.
In a press conference in which every question but one focused on the Kings, Stern said the owners are also mulling other issues in the two cities, "and of course we're most concerned about the critical path to arenas being built." Each city has vowed to build the team a state-of-the-art arena to replace their worn-out facilities, but Stern said there are still questions about the potential of litigation and red tape holding up construction.
Kings co-owner George Maloof, speaking with The Bee after the press conference, said, "We respect the process, but we want it to be over. Everyone does."
But a quick resolution seemed out of the question. Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters, "It's a very difficult position the owners find themselves in....We can't short cut this process."
Stern rebutted suggestions that he has been favoring one city over another, taking issue with a Seattle reporter's question implying he's been trying to lobby owners on Sacramento's behalf.
Silver added, "There is no lobbying, campaigning going on by the league office."
The Bee reported today that the Maloofs are continuing to push for approval of the Seattle deal, and Wednesday's letter spells out their lack of confidence in the Sacramento proposal. The letter says the Ranadive group hasn't yet proven "it has sufficient cash to consummate the deal."
Stern, however, said he believes the Sacramento group is well funded "to the committee's satisfaction." And while the Maloofs complained that Ranadive's offer wasn't concrete, Stern said, "It is binding."
Ranadive leads a group of eight investors up and down the state, including the founders of wireless giant Qualcomm Inc. and the 24 Hour Fitness chain. Ranadive himself leads a $1 billion-a-year company, Tibco Software Inc.
A source close to the Sacramento bidders declined to respond to the Maloof letter but said, "They remain focused on continuing to work closely with the NBA."