Part of me really wants to ignore all of the questions that have been running through my head over the past couple of days and just ride the wave of good feelings from the return of the Kings for as long as I possibly can. I'd love if I could push the relocation trifles to the back of my mind and dive right in to draft prospects and lottery hopes, but I just can't do it. If you're still riding the wave, don't let me knock you off it. Don't read past the jump, hang ten, and just ignore me. This thread is for chronically serious buzzkills only, and based on a lot of what I've been seeing in other threads, I'm not completely alone. I promise to join the party when I'm ready.
The question on many of our minds right now is whether the Maloofs will deal with ICON and Sacramento in good faith on the Sacramento arena effort, and what would happen if it becomes apparent that the Maloofs are not truly committed to Sacramento long-term. I don't think I'm alone in my hope that things somehow play out to result in the Maloofs selling the team to someone who is committed to our city in ways that the Maloofs may not be, and is willing to prove that commitment with the proper investment to get an arena built and give Sacramento the winning team that it deserves. Let's explore some of the ways in which this could all play out.
Potentially the biggest factor in the Kings' future in Sacramento remains the "Anaheim factor". It seems clear to me that the Maloofs and officials (and columnists) in Anaheim still believe that Anaheim has at least a good a chance to be the long-term home of the Kings after next season as Sacramento does, if not a much better chance. In light of the powerful resistance of the Lakers to the existence of a third team in the Los Angeles market, how reasonable is Anaheim's continued hope? Is Anaheim completely off the table in a few months? Do Buss and the other big market owners agree to revenue sharing only with the explicit stipulation that that there will be no market poaching in the future? Would it be that shocking if Stern has already worked this out with Buss but the Maloofs (and Randy Youngman) haven't thought that far ahead, yet?
If Anaheim officially comes off the table this summer while the Sacramento arena details are coming together, the Maloofs will have to come up with an alternative to Sacramento rather quickly if they want to have any leverage in the Sac arena talks. Will Kansas City and/or Louisville make a big push? That's probably the most likely scenario since both of those cities have NBA-ready arenas and have expressed in interest in having a team, but as far as I can tell at this point there's no KC or Louisville "Samueli" offering up huge money to bring the Kings to their town. Any Kings relocation is still going to come with some relocation fee (likely to be around the $30 million OKC standard if it's to an unclaimed market), plus the $77 million to Sacramento will still need to be repaid (though, the Steinburg legislation just covers relocation within California, so the city would need to get repayment assurances in another way). Also, I doubt that any potential Kansas City or Louisville TV contract will be any higher than the Sacramento TV contract (in fact, it very well could be lower). Can the managers of the Sprint Center or the Yum! Center offer the Maloofs enough revenue guarantees from premium seating, parking, and sponsorships that it gives the Maloofs room to play hardball with ICON/Johnson in Sacramento? If neither the Kansas City nor the Louisville package meet the Maloofs "standards" that they'll be imposing on Sacramento's arena discussions, in regards to revenue guarantees, the Maloofs will have no room to claim that Sacramento's plan isn't good enough to support the team.
Another possibility is that a market much more desirable than Sacramento, Kansas City, or Louisville will suddenly enter the game. In my mind, this could be the biggest threat to Sacramento's efforts to keep the team long-term. If a Seattle group quickly comes up with a plan to get an arena built in that city, there's little doubt that they would have much more ability to make revenue guarantees to the Maloofs and the NBA than Sacramento would. The TV contract would likely be more lucrative, and the disparity in corporate presence between Seattle and Sacramento is vast. The problem there, of course, is that the NBA would only approve a move to Seattle if a new arena is guaranteed. I've heard nothing at this point to suggest that any group in Seattle is close to having a solid arena plan by next Spring. I'm fairly sure, however, that there are likely to be several people up there that have been working to some degree on bringing the NBA back to Seattle ever since they lost the Sonics. If Seattle is to enter the equation in time to influence Sacramento's arena discussions, however, something solid would need to come together very quickly. Maybe too quickly.
So what happens, then, if the Maloofs are claiming that Sacramento's arena proposal isn't fair to them, but Anaheim is officially off the table, there's not a significantly better offer from Kansas City or Louisville (or any other city with an available NBA arena), and there is no solid arena plan in a more lucrative market? Would this finally be the right mix of circumstances to force the Maloofs to sell the team? If history is any indication, "The Boys" do not react with grace and tact when they don't get their way. The issue for the Maloofs, to the benefit of Sacramento, is that their business is, in fact, a franchise, existing only in association with every other NBA franchise. They are not allowed to unilaterally do as they please without consideration of the bylaws of that association. That is, of course, unless the Maloofs decide to challenge that association in court.
There are the three ways that I see this all playing out over the next several months. The Maloofs could work with ICON and Mayor Johnson with a genuine interest in staying in Sacramento for the long-term, without making unreasonable revenue demands. I wish I had more faith in this option than I currently do. If they they do complicate Sacramento's arena discussions with unreasonable revenue demands, I think it's unlikely that those demands will be met by one of the other cities with NBA-ready arenas, nor do I think it's likely that Seattle or another available major market will have a solid arena plan in time to affect Sacramento's situation. I also don't think the NBA will allow a move to Anaheim, and I hope and believe that the market-poaching resistance will be clear and firm by the time the Maloofs start trying to throw their weight around to get what they want. That would essentially leave the Maloofs with two options if they're unwilling to compromise with Sacramento to get an arena built and keep the team there; sell or sue.
I have, unfortunately, no reason to believe that the Maloofs would do the right thing in that situation and sell the team to someone who is willing to make the deal in Sacramento that they are not. Our only hope is that somehow someone convinces the Maloofs that suing is not an option. Whether that comes in the form of David Stern giving them enough of a glimpse at the devastating wraith that they would face, or Mama Maloof telling the boys that an honorable "defeat" in the form of selling the team is better than a dishonorable defeat in the courtroom, or some trusted Maloof adviser convincing the family that a lawsuit of that magnitude is simply and undeniably unaffordable; something with enough authority to overcome the brothers' pride and stubbornness would need to materialize to save the day for Kings fans. We all hope that it doesn't come to that, and I know that we will all continue to fight and to do whatever we can to influence things and keep things from going down that road.