A week ago, we were preparing for what may have been the final NBA game in Sacramento. After that game, many of us mourned the loss of our team like we would mourn the loss of a loved one, a mourning that was deep for a loss that was total and permanent. And then, the very next day at the Board of Governor's meeting, a dramatic proposal for the sake of Sacramento and an underwhelming proposal on behalf of Anaheim delivered to us a reason to hope that our team is not yet gone for good: an extension of the deadline to file for relocation and two weeks for Sacramento and Anaheim to continue to make their case. Why the extension? What is the reason for our hope? For starters, I think we should pinpoint the source of the extension. David Stern told the press that the extension was jointly proposed to him by the Maloofs, Clay Bennett (the Chairman of the Relocation Committee) and Glen Taylor (Wolves owner, current Chairman of the Board of Governors). If you've watched the video of the Maloof brothers being interviewed by a group of Sacramento media while attempting to sneak out of a side door and hurry into their getaway car, you are hopefully as sure as I am that the Maloofs did not request the extension, and in fact were a bit ruffled by the surprising turn of events. I think it's fairly sure that Clay Bennett, perhaps jointly with Glen Taylor as a representative of the larger Board of Governors, devised and suggested the deadline extension. What follows is my own take on why the extension, our hope, came about, and on what happens now.
I suggest that the extension was, essentially, an attempt to answer the question of "why not wait a year"? Let's assume that the question came up during the BoG meetings last week, especially considering the CBA negotiations this summer and how that and the relocation might play into each other in various ways. Let's assume also that the question was directly asked of the Maloofs. I think it's likely that the Maloofs answered with a few reasons: they've given up on getting a new arena in Sac, they'll lose too much money next year (and every year without a new arena) if they stay, and they don't want to jeopardize their potential revenue, in particular a new TV deal, in Anaheim. I don't think they would be reasonably worried that a different team would try to swoop in on Anaheim, and I can't even think of any other reasons that they might give.
We know that the meat of Mayor Johnson's proposal to the Board focused on two things (aside from the Burkle Bomb): progress on a genuine, workable arena plan, and increased corporate support from the Sacramento business community. In other words, exactly what the Board needed to hear (bravo, KJ). Apparently the presentation was impressive enough that the league is no longer certain that an arena will never be built in Sac, and they are no longer certain that the Sacramento market cannot provide enough revenue for a team to be successful. They may, overall, still believe those things to be true, but it seems there is a hell of a lot more doubt about them than there was before Mayor Awesome made his pitch. There's at least enough doubt that they are compelled to investigate further. We also know that the Anaheim presentation left the Board with some questions regarding the team's revenue and the potential TV deal, questions that will also require some investigation to answer.
So, if the Maloofs did in fact tell the Board that they cannot wait a year to file for relocation because of the arena situation and revenue situation in Sacramento and not wanting to threaten the revenue situation in Anaheim, it would seem that the Board has sufficient concerns about those reasons to warrant holding off on a relocation filing at this time. In other words, there is enough reason to keep "wait a year" on the table. Why not simply let the Maloofs file now, let the Relocation Committee do their work and make their recommendation, and have the full board vote it up or down? I imagine that the league, and the Maloofs, do not want a failed relocation bid. If the Board decides that the Maloofs should wait a year before filing to go to Anaheim, they would want to do it without having to vote down an actual bid. That would be a PR disaster for everyone and would damage the potential of the Sacramento market as well as the potential of the Anaheim market.
Another possible reason for the filing deadline extension is that the Board has serious concerns about the Anaheim market, how a team there would survive as the "third team" in that market and how an Anaheim team would affect the revenue of the Lakers and Clippers. In that case, the Relocation Committee would be taking these two weeks to investigate the viability of the Anaheim market and to investigate the viability of the Sacramento market as a "backup" if it's determined that Anaheim will not be good for the league. I, personally, don't believe that those considerations are of immediate concern to the Relocation Committee. That seems to me to be an issue to be tackled by the Board as a whole; in other words, to have Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling make their case to their peers, and to allow a majority of the owners determine whether adding Anaheim to the league at the expense of Buss and Sterling is a fair move to make.
So where is this thing headed? I genuinely believe that the deadline extension will give Bennett the chance to find some answers that will determine what he recommends to the Maloofs on whether they should file this year or not. On the Anaheim side, he'll get a more complete picture of the proposed revenue plan (specifically, it would seem, to know what TV money is in play and what happens to that money next year). On the Sacramento side, I think he'll take a good look at the progress on the arena plans, and he'll use a fairly loose standard on determining whether the plan deserves some time to grow or not. I don't think he'll need to see a sure thing in order for Sacramento to have a chance, because he already knows that he's not going to see a sure thing. He'll also get a chance to see if the increased support from the business community can be, as Stern said, "reduced to certainty" to the degree that it will allow the team to be successful at least for one more year and hopefully for a few seasons until a new arena could be built. I think it's important to note that Bennett and Stern, when the Sonics relocation saga heated up, gave Seattle an ultimatum to build a new arena or lose the team, an ultimatum that Sacramento has not been afforded.
If Bennett discovers that the Sacramento arena plan has a legitimate chance to succeed, a chance that would likely be bolstered by another season in Sacramento and an ultimatum to break ground or kiss the team goodbye, and he discovers that the Sacramento market can provide enough revenue to keep the team alive until an arena can be built, and he discovers that the Anaheim revenue will not be jeopardized by waiting a year, then I hope, and I believe, that Clay Bennett will recommend to the Maloofs that they do not file for relocation this year, that they return to Sacramento with an ultimatum and a genuine commitment to make things work, and to revisit the issue with the Board next year if Sacramento fails the task it now faces. That chance to truly fight for our team, and for our city's future, is all I ask for. A chance to fight against forces we can see; a battle of politics, of public opinion, of economics, of heart. A bitch of a battle, for sure, but a real chance to arm up and face those enemies head-on instead of being told that it's already out of our hands, already too late. That's all I ask, and by the grace of Bennett may it be a chance we finally get.