NBA.com's David Aldridge wrote a new piece today on the never-ending Sacramento saga and introduced a twist that is sure to leave many Kings fans squirming. In the article, Aldridge claims that the decision to keep the Kings in Sacramento will not be up to the Board of Governors, Mayor Johnson or Chris Hansen but instead the family who currently owns the team, the Maloofs.
Owners do not like to tell other owners to whom they should sell their teams.
Informed sources that know the thinking of league owners still believe the ultimate decision on where the Kings will play next season won't be made by the owners on the finance or relocation committees. The final call is, and remains, the Maloofs' to make.
That doesn't mean the Maloofs couldn't ultimately decide to change their minds and swing their backing away from the Seattle group, if they are blown away by the Mastrov/Burkle deal. But it won't come because the league says so, or because David Stern pushes behind the scenes. It will come because they believe it is the best deal financially for them.
Personally, I don't feel that the Maloofs have that much leverage in this situation. For years, the Maloof family was adamant that they were not selling the Kings and that they would not sell the Kings. That all flew out the window back in January when they signed a deal with Chris Hansen to sell their shares of the team at a record franchise valuation of $525 million, with the key being that the sale is pending NBA Board of Governors approval.
When the news of the sale was announced, almost nobody gave Sacramento a chance to keep the team. Now, as Sacramento's bid becomes real and public, the narrative seems to be shifting ever so slightly in Sacramento's favor. Adrian Wojnarowski went from saying that a relocation to Seattle would be "overwhelmingly" approved to saying that Sacramento has a shot. A similar difference of opinion can be found between Aldridge's latest and his article from a month ago when Sacramento was staring at a "clear path" to move. What has changed in the last month? Mayor Kevin Johnson stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park yet again.
Much of the belief that Sacramento had no chance to keep the team was that there seemed to be nobody available who had the financial wherewithal to both match Seattle's offer for the team AND build a new arena in Sacramento. Johnson proved them wrong by bringing both Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle into the fold and producing an offer for the Kings that is close to Hansen's offer (Wojnarowski called it "slightly lower") while negotiating a brand new downtown arena.
The NBA knows how much Johnson has done and brought to the table. They also know how incompetent the Maloofs have been as stewards of this franchise. They've said no to the Maloofs before, back in 2011 when the family was seeking relocation to Anaheim. There were other variables at play back then, namely adding another team to an already crowded Southern California market and the Los Angeles Lakers television deal that would be reduced by 10% with the introduction of another team. But if it weren't for the Mayor's efforts and pitch to the NBA, it's very likely that these last two seasons the Kings would have been in Orange County.
Aldridge says that owners don't like telling owners who to sell their teams to. That is true. But they also don't like torching markets like Sacramento, which is what they'd be doing should they allow the Kings to leave despite an offer on the table and an arena deal ready to go. Sacramento can forever be an example for the NBA to show to other cities when they ask "How can we keep our team?"
The NBA wants the Maloofs out. The Maloofs want to sell. There are two legitimate offers, both of which would be very lucrative for the Maloofs. Right now the Maloofs have a signed sale agreement with the Hansen-Ballmer group. The NBA will either approve or deny that sale taking into account both available offers, and if they do deny the sale, there will only be one avenue left for the Maloofs to take: selling to Sacramento. The Maloofs lost their leverage when they signed a sale agreement without giving the city a chance to make their own offer beforehand.
So while I disagree with the premise of the article, I highly recommend reading the rest of Aldridge's piece, which includes great stuff on Burkle, Mastrov and Mayor Johnson. He also writes at length about Sacramento's arena process, which to me is the biggest remaining hurdle for the city to clear. Should arena negotiations go well and a term sheet is signed and delivered in time for the Board of Governors meeting, that's another bargaining chip in Sacramento's favor. But should the arena talks break down yet again (something that should NEVER be discounted after almost a decade of trying) that would likely spell doom on our chances to keep the Kings.