Sacramento Kings' future remains a mystery

04/17/2012 12:00 AM

04/02/2013 11:39 AM

So: Will they stay or will they go?

Three days after the collapse of the Sacramento arena deal, the future of the Kings remained a tantalizing mystery Monday.

The Kings will stay put in Sacramento for next season – and the team's owners, the Maloofs, insist they're committed to finding a way to remain in town long-term.

An investment group with deep pockets said it's interested in keeping the downtown arena deal alive.

But other cities beckon.

An official with the Honda Center in Anaheim, which nearly lured the Kings away last spring, said he wouldn't be surprised if the courtship were to resume. Seattle indicated it remains interested in the team.

And Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said Monday he isn't sure he believes the Maloofs want to stay: "I can't tell you whether they want to be in Sacramento or not."

But, he vowed, "This is not over. We're going to figure out something. We're not going to just sit on our hands and roll over." Johnson said he would present a response to the demise of the arena plan soon.

The sniping over the failed project continued late Monday, when the city released an email from its consultant, Dan Barrett, to a Maloof attorney, responding to a list of objections to the arena deal the family gave the city Friday.

Barrett said the issues raised had already been "discussed and negotiated for several months" and flatly rejected by the city.

The arena idea itself might not be completely dead. One of the groups planning to bid on the city's parking garages – a deal that could have raised $230 million for the arena – said Monday that it's interested in reviving the project.

"We're willing and open to play a larger role in helping to complete the (arena) project," said Roger Salazar, spokesman for Sacramento Forward. His group includes Antarctica Capital, which was poised to spend $2.3 billion on state office buildings. The deal was canceled by Gov. Jerry Brown.

If the Maloofs do want to move the Kings, it may not be that easy. The NBA's window for relocation requests for 2012-13 has already closed. Beyond that, they would need majority approval from fellow NBA owners and likely would face the same objections they did last year if they try to move to Anaheim. That would put three teams in Southern California and infuriate the owners of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.

"I don't think the Kings are going anyplace but back to the bargaining table if they're intelligent," said consultant Andy Dolich, a former executive with the Memphis Grizzlies and other NBA teams.

The NBA would like the Kings to stay put. A year ago, Commissioner David Stern said the league would support a relocation if an arena deal weren't in place by now. But when asked Friday about the possibility of the team moving, he was noncommittal.

"This is something that's particularly appropriately left to discretion of the owners, the board of governors and the committees that they designate," he said.

David Carter, a sports business expert at the University of Southern California, said the Maloofs might have a hard time persuading owners to let them relocate to any city, not just Anaheim. "They've alienated the league," he said.

But the league doesn't have absolute power over where its owners take their teams.

The late Al Davis successfully sued the NFL on antitrust grounds in the 1980s to move the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles, arguing the league was being anti-competitive. A few years later, the San Diego Clippers moved to L.A. without NBA permission. The league sued, and the case was settled with the Clippers paying the NBA about $5 million.

Would the Kings sue if they're prevented from leaving? Stern noted that the lead attorney the Maloofs brought to last week's NBA owners meeting has an antitrust background.

The lawyer, Barry McNeil, couldn't be reached for comment Monday. Family spokesman Eric Rose said a lawsuit "is not even on the table."

While the Maloofs have said for years they need a new arena, co-owner Joe Maloof said over the weekend the team could do well if Power Balance Pavilion were renovated. The difference now, he said, is the money that will flow to small markets like Sacramento under the NBA's new revenue-sharing formula, enabling the Kings to become more competitive.

The revenue sharing could mean another $10 million a year to the Kings, according to sports expert Matt Parlow of Marquette University.

Yet USC's Carter wondered if that would be enough to fix the team. Though Sunday's home game drew one of the biggest crowds of the season, he said the Maloofs' actions could cause fans and sponsors to flee: "There's not going to be enough revenue sharing in the world to mask that kind of free fall in ticket sales."

Rose said the Maloofs are 100 percent focused on playing next season at Power Balance. Co-owner Gavin Maloof spent Monday on the phone with season ticket holders, according to the team. "They haven't had any talks with (any other city), period," the spokesman said.

Beyond next season, he said, "they've got to see if there's anybody (at the city) willing to work with them."

If people here won't talk to them, the Maloofs may find a receptive ear elsewhere. A source with Anaheim's arena management, who wasn't authorized to be quoted by name, said, "We had negotiations with them before. It wouldn't be surprising if the same sort of thing were to happen again, but it hasn't happened yet."

In Seattle, financier Chris Hansen, who wants to buy a team for his city, said the Sacramento controversy shows "that franchise opportunities may arise quickly and in an unpredictable fashion."

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