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Sacramento one vote away from losing the Kings last night, but still in control of their destiny

Feb 8, 2012, 7:30 PM EST

team maloof with stern

If you build it sticky-fingered shooting guards will come.

And if Sacramento doesn’t approve an arena for the Kings quickly then Seattle has no problem playing Kevin Costner.

And let’s not bury the lede here, Seattle almost got their wish Tuesday night as the Sacramento City Council narrowly voted 5-4 to bury a resolution that would have sent the Kings packing for all intents and purposes. But let’s couch that for a second and start from the top.

Seattle mayor Mike McGinn has been working with multimillionaire Christopher Hansen to bring an NBA team back to the Emerald City, and it’s clear Hansen has been in long-term discussions with power brokers in the Seattle area and probably David Stern and the NBA. How far they are along is debatable, but this week at least some in the Seattle media have gone as far as to say that there is a “70/30” chance the Kings play in Seattle next year and that the announcement could come in April.

That sounds like wishful thinking, because there are way more questions in Seattle than there are answers, and Sacramento appears to control its own destiny when it comes to the Kings.

McGinn, who said he has met with Hansen face-to-face just once, has admitted as much in his various media appearances, refusing to give too much hope to Seattleites that the Kings could indeed be coming. “A lot of things have to align for this to work, and I can’t predict whether everything will align or not,” he said, trying to manage expectations of listeners on ESPN 710 in Seattle.

“My expectation, and this isn’t my side of the equation, that’s gotta come from the folks that are looking to own a team – I don’t think they’re moving forward unless they feel they have commitments from the NBA and the NHL, but that’s their business, and I think that’s one of the things that has to align, as well. They’ve gotta make sure that they have a pathway. My understanding is that given the way that these things work, they probably have some type of pathway but I can’t give you any information about what that looks like.”

That pathway is for the Kings arena effort to fall flat on its face. One way to help agitate the process is to leak news of the city’s very real plans to snatch the next available NBA team in the weeks leading up to Sacramento’s critical stretch run.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson was unfazed in comments made to the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis.

“I don’t blame them for trying to build an arena. I just don’t think it’s going to be Sacramento,” said Johnson, in reference to which NBA team could move to Seattle. “We have a laser focus on our business at hand, we’re controlling our own destiny and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

If Seattle cannot cash in on the Kings then the next most viable option would be the league-owned Hornets, as the NBA is closer to contraction than it is to expanding anytime soon.

Sacramento has until March 1 to present a viable funding plan to the Maloof family and the NBA, or it’s widely believed that the league will allow the Maloofs to move the team. Anaheim, like Seattle, has taken a wait-and-see approach and has appeared to be elbowed out by Seattle, and one doesn’t have to think hard to figure out what Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling think about that.

The Maloofs, for their part, have appeared committed to keeping the team in Sacramento and multiple sources have indicated that they have no plans to sell the team. They also said in December that they would be willing to be flexible with the deadline if arena talks were moving in the right direction. Regardless, assuming that anything is set in stone on their end is a fool’s errand right now.

While there have been many rumors to the effect that the Maloofs are struggling financially, nobody truly knows how they’re doing. Their sale of the Palms in June could be seen as both a sign that they freed up money to operate the Kings, or a sign that the ship is sinking. And even if they were to sell the Kings, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the NBA could continue to work with Sacramento in coordination with another buyer, as the league has spent tremendous time and resources helping the team regain its footing in the California capitol.

Going back to the lede, Kevin Johnson and his Think Big Sacramento coalition are nearing a conclusion to the year-long fight, and they had a critical vote last night that was closer than any arena insiders, including myself, thought it would be.

Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, the unofficial figurehead of the anti-arena effort on the council, made a motion to bring the Kings arena issue to a vote in June. Her motion would ask the public to vote up-or-down on whether or not the city should turn over its parking assets to a private operator for upward of $200 million to go toward a new arena. This, of course, is a disingenuous position knowing that the NBA’s March 1 deadline would render any June vote useless – and the prevailing belief in and around the city political scene is that she is exacting political revenge upon Johnson. As the story goes, he did not give her a seat in his inner circle after she endorsed his mayoral run. Sheedy has since drawn numerous competitors for her district seat amidst plummeting popularity, and last week announced that she would not seek re-election next cycle.

In following the commentary made by council members throughout the past few months, only two had made strong statements against using public funds for an arena, and I had handicapped the total vote to be in favor of Kings fans. What we saw last night was the most recent ‘call’ in arena poker, with one anti-arena leaning vote (Kevin McCarty) making his position clear after supporting Sheedy’s resolution, one swing vote (Jay Schenirer) swinging hard to the pro-arena side and voting against a public vote, and one arena cheerleader (Bonnie Pannell) going completely off-script with a vote to support Sheedy’s resolution.  The resolution ultimately failed by a 5-4 vote, so there will be no deal-breaking public vote and the decision to keep the Kings will be made by the council itself in the coming weeks.

Combining the new projected anti-arena votes with the old ones, there are four councilmembers that have acted to send the Kings packing, including Sheedy, Darrell Fong, McCarty, and Pannell. Arena supporters Rob Fong and Angelique Ashby join Steve Cohn and Schenirer as leaning yes votes on the eight-person panel, with mayor Johnson as the tie-breaking ‘yes’ vote.  While I suspect this is a group that votes ‘yes’ to keep the Kings in Sacramento, this situation is much too close to call with just one more defection needed to kill the deal.

They will meet on February 14 to discuss the finalized list of parking lot operators that the city will request final proposals from.  Chances are at some point KJ is going to have to get an extension on the March 1 deadline. With those parking numbers in hand, the last step is for all of the public and private funding sources to get in a room and decide finally, once and for all, what everybody is going to contribute to the estimated $400 million price-tag of the new Entertainment and Sports Complex.

Multiple sources tell me that number is going to be reached, and the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place quickly. Earlier Wednesday James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom reported that Sacramento is going to ask the NBA and the Maloofs for $80 million and his cohort Rob McAllister reported that two executive level sources with the Kings have a “strong belief” that if the “numbers are close” that the league will come up with the balance.

While things are coming into focus, for now there will be speculation, and with last night’s close city council vote the vultures will descend and you’ll find more reports trying to pry the Kings from Sacramento’s nowhere-near-dead hands.

“Stern is one of the guys who the group in Seattle is talking to, and he wants a team (in Seattle), and he’s apparently told them that they can play in Key Arena while an arena is being built,” said Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times, who also made the 70/30 comment tying a Kings-to-Seattle announcement to April.

Stern was more diplomatic when speaking to Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Obviously, we certainly have been supportive of Mayor [Kevin] Johnson’s efforts with respect to the building and we sure would like to see that happen,” Stern said. “But we cannot guarantee or [assume] it, and we’ll have to deal with the realities as we find them.”

Surely the commissioner could take umbrage to Kelley’s reports that he is knee-deep in talks with Seattle, but I’m betting he lets the Emerald City flex its arms and scare the cow poop out of Kings fans and councilmembers alike.

The irony here is that Sonics fans were exactly where Kings fans were when Clay Bennett moved their team away, and the producer of the acclaimed documentary Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Dream, Jason Reid, was outspoken in supporting Kings fans last April – showing up at a Thunder playoff game ringing cowbells for all the cameras to see. But all is fair in love and sports.  When news broke about Seattle’s interest they tweeted out an old 2010 video that states, “No Team Is Safe,” and at the end shows a Seattle Kings logo. Colin White, web and graphic designer for Sonicsgate said, “It is what it is. We want (their) team.”

So, no, Stern won’t put a blanket on the bidding war at this late hour. If anything he’ll ratchet it up. The only difference here is that Kevin Johnson has the ball in the final seconds, and as long as he gets four council members to agree with him he’ll probably hit the game-winning shot.

  1. echech88 - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    Curious if it’s more than just speculation by the author that Seattle has elbowed out Anaheim as a landing spot for the Kings? Love the idea of Seattle getting a team back (although I’m bummed they would not be able to be called the Sonics) but I just read how Anaheim’s arena has already broke ground on all of it’s renovations to accommodate a second team for NEXT season. Interesting to say the least!

    Regardless of what’s going on, though, I think Sacramento still keeps the Kings

  2. bearsstillsuck - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    They’d have to rename the team to the sonics.

  3. illbringdabeers - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    why not just send the Hornets???

  4. AlohaMrHand - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:16 PM

    Even if they do get an arena they’ll still be the doormat of the West.The Maloofs will pocket that revenue and then cry poor once they don’t land top free agents.Seriously do you honestly think a new arena entices big names like Lebron or Howard?The Magic have a new arena and Howard wants out,the Nets get a new arena next season and it won’t be enough to keep Darren Williams.Sure commit to keep the Kings in Sactown but don’t be surprised when Tereke Evans and Jimmer bolt once their contracts are up.

  5. dannymac17 - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    Uh, I thought they were moving to Anaheim?

  6. truehog21 - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    the sonics !!!!!! I lived in seattle there was nothing special about that team or town they SUCKED!!!the arena was garbage their fans have no heart and always bail out on the game in the third quarter if they’re not staying in sacramento the nba can find a better town then seattle !

  7. trbowman - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    The Madouche brothers.

  8. hawknuts - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    Seattle owns the history of the sonics, the colour scheme, jersey designs and that nice shiny trophy from the 1978-1979 season

    the team will have their old appearance and name. they bought that when clay bennett moved em.

    the maloofs will not be the owners up in seattle, how is your reading comprehension AlohaMrHand. Christopher Hansen, the seattle billionaire is buying them, the maloofs will have nothing to do with the nba or seattle. get your facts straight.

    • AlohaMrHand - Feb 9, 2012 at 11:48 AM

      the Maloofs haven’t agreed to sell anything slick.Perhaps you need to read the Sacramento Bee and read for yourself that the Maloofs have repeatedly said they ARE NOT SELLING THE KINGS.

  9. glink123 - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:49 PM

    Chicago needs a second NBA franchise. Forget Seattle. If LA can have two franchises, so can Chi Town.

    • trbowman - Feb 8, 2012 at 11:39 PM

      Good one

  10. detroitcityryda - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    Chicago don’t need 2 teams I rather see st.louis with a team then Chicago,anaheim , or Seattle

  11. rohlo - Feb 9, 2012 at 5:39 AM

    jerry west had said if he didnt own the lakers he would purchase one for san diego..he lives there in the offseason and they had support of the rockets and clippers before they left..rockets were sold and moved to houston in 1971 and clippers owner sterling was a moron and pulled the same thing the thunder owner did when they were in seattle.. sterling said he wanted the team closer to his hom in beverly hills… lmao what a moron losing money all these decades as a doornat to the lakeshow when he could have made money in san diego in an arena equal to the old LA spoorts arena they played in.

  12. snoqualmieterry - Feb 9, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    As a Seattle native whose family had season tickets since day one, I can tell you, we will support a NBA team no matter how bad or good they are. I don’t know if we will get the Kings or the Hornets, but we will get a team. Some of the richest people on the planet live in the area. It will happen.

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