ORLANDO – Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson expressed optimism Sunday night that approximately eight hours of meetings with the Kings, the NBA and city officials had brought the sides closer to a deal to build a new arena and keep the team in Northern California.
“I’m really excited with where we are,” Johnson said after talks at a hotel continued through the All-Star game at nearby Amway Center and stopped at 10:05 p.m.
Discussions are scheduled to continue here Monday morning after several participants changed travel plans in hopes that another round of talks would yield an agreement. Johnson said that could come as soon as Monday, but was also careful not to get pinned down on the timing.
The important thing, he noted, was that the process took a step forward Sunday night.
“Absolutely,” the former All-Star point guard said.
The city is facing a March 1 deadline to have an arena deal in place or else the league would give the Kings owners, the Maloof family, a clear path for relocation. If an agreement is reached, the team is definitely staying and hopes in Anaheim and Seattle would be dashed.
The Kings staying has always been a greater possibility than most around the country figured, given how close the only major-league franchise in town had come to leaving for Anaheim nearly a year ago. In the final days before the deadline, people with direct knowledge of negotiations were hopeful – “I think it’s going to happen,” one source said – but also concerned that the financial framework of a very complicated process could fall apart.
As late as Sunday evening, commissioner David Stern was asked just before he left for the All-Star game whether he feels good about the progress of the day and said, “I feel good that we’re still talking,” a sign of little or no forward movement. Johnson later echoed the sentiments, as did owners Joe and Gavin Maloof.
By later Sunday night, after meetings continued with Joel Litvin, the president of league operations, heading the NBA side, the mood felt more upbeat. They hoped to carry that tone into Monday.