NEW YORK – A decision on the Sacramento Kings' future has been pushed back at least two weeks, NBA officials said Wednesday, straining already taut nerves in Sacramento and Seattle. But for the first time, league officials hinted at a potential resolution that could satisfy both cities.
Emerging from a four-hour committee meeting, NBA officials said they have scheduled yet another meeting late next week for a select group of team owners to review dueling ownership proposals from Sacramento and Seattle.
Peter Holt, owner of the San Antonio Spurs and chairman of the league's board of governors, told a scrum of reporters on Fifth Avenue on Wednesday evening that the NBA has not ruled out the possibility of adding a team to the league.
Observers have been speculating for months on whether league owners would consider resolving the Seattle-Sacramento conflict by awarding one of the two cities an expansion team.
League Commissioner David Stern, who has said the league is not considering expansion, repeated that stance Wednesday after the meetings, saying the league "has no current plans to expand."
But Holt offered a different take when he spoke to the media just a few minutes before Stern, saying the expansion issue is "not off the table," though it wasn't discussed at the Wednesday meeting.
"The world is growing," Holt said. "We're focused on China and India and those kind of places."
Notably, the Sacramento group bidding for the Kings is led by India-born Vivek Ranadive, a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur who has said he wants to turn the Kings into a "global brand" and help expand basketball interest in India.
Both Stern and Holt said the issue of whether to allow the team to be sold to a Seattle group remains far from resolution.
"Not even close," Holt said.
Stern said he will convene the league's finance and relocation committees again late next week, and representatives of the two cities may be asked to come to New York to answer more questions.
"There are loads of documents, some of which (the league received) as recently as today (Wednesday) in connection with this transaction that we are in the process of sifting through," Stern said. "It's really quite complex."
He said the committees' questions involve potential lawsuits facing arena plans in both Sacramento and Seattle, as well as financial issues with those plans.
Both Seattle and Sacramento have assembled investment teams to buy the Kings from the current lead ownership group, the Maloof family. Both have pitched plans to build new arenas for the team. The Maloofs signed a deal two months ago to sell to the Seattle group, but any sale needs approval from three-quarters of the 30 NBA owners.
The joint committees are tasked with making a recommendation on the issue to the full board. The board cannot vote on the matter until seven days after it receives the committees' recommendation, Stern said.
"I'd be charitable to say the first week of May, but it could slide a bit," Stern said of any board vote.
He declined to give details on what the committees discussed Wednesday.
The Sacramento investors trying to buy the Kings and block the team's move to Seattle submitted a last-minute bid this week for the team. The group has offered few details about its bid.
The Seattle group, led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, initially struck a deal to buy the Maloofs' controlling interest, along with that of their partner Robert Hernreich, for $341 million. Last Friday they upped the offer to $357 million.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson indicated Tuesday that the Sacramento group wouldn't match Seattle's newly raised offer.
Johnson said he is confident, though, that Sacramento has done what it needs to do in order to keep the Kings. The Sacramento investor group "followed the NBA process and we feel very comfortable with it," he said.
Johnson referred to the Sacramento bid on Tuesday as "a binding agreement that we as a city and the ownership group have signed."
Johnson, who attended the Kings' final game of the season Wednesday, said the fact that Sacramento may give another presentation in New York next week is good.
"That means you're still in the game. Remember, a couple of months ago we were dead; they said we didn't have a chance."
Asked about expansion, the mayor said, "We can't worry about that right now. We can only worry about what we can control."
A source close to the situation disputed the mayor's characterization of the bid as binding.
The person, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly, said Sacramento's bid would require the Maloofs to terminate their deal with Hansen before the Sacramento group would negotiate a final, binding offer.
Under such a scenario, the NBA board of governors wouldn't vote on the Hansen deal. The source added that the Sacramento group's offer doesn't include a deposit until after the Maloofs agree to sever ties with Hansen. Stern said the group is willing to add a deposit.
The source said the Maloofs sent a letter to the NBA saying they want to press ahead with the sale to the Hansen group, and to get that deal brought to a board of governors vote as soon as possible.
Spokesmen for Hansen, the Maloofs and the Sacramento private investor group all declined comment on Wednesday's events.
The board of governors will meet today and Friday, but it is unclear whether it will discuss the Sacramento situation. Stern will hold a news conference Friday afternoon. The Sacramento issue has become the hot topic at most Stern news conferences. Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085.