Kings ownership and the city of Sacramento are still in a staring contest, the cooling-off period has stretched into its second NBA season, and hopeful Seattle remains in the distance as ever, and yet this is not more of the same on the relocation front.
In a moment befitting the twisted saga of team and community, bouncing from heart break to romance restored and back to scorned lover, the update is there is no update. Which is the point. There is so little movement anywhere that the growing belief among several insiders is that not only will the Kings not file before the end of the season to relocate for 2013-14, as many assumed was an automatic, but that the NBA could plausibly be in Sacramento several more seasons even without a deal on a new arena.
This could realistically be years – plural – of a holding pattern. The Maloof family has no card to play, and, to their credit, they know it. The one thing the embattled Kings owners have done right in this mess is to not force a move for the sake of moving, to find resolution once and for all. Anaheim was the wrong place at the very wrong time, Seattle has no chance of happening under current conditions, and Virginia Beach is a non-starter, little more than polite chatter between a city trying to get in the game and a family needing to consider every option, even the ones being reported without context on the respective home fronts. And so the Maloofs wait.
The strategy of Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson is clear: Hope the Maloofs are starved back to the negotiating table with his city. The former All-Star point guard of the Suns has made no attempt to reboot talks since the Kings threw the emergency brake in the spring on the train barreling toward the happy ending of a new downtown arena. It should be apparent by now that Johnson does not feel the need to act when he would be negotiating against himself for the team.
Plus, the importance to Sacramento of continuing to put time on the clock cannot be overstated. The Kings in Sleep Train Arena next season without a resolution for fans already worn to exhaustion will not be comfortable for anyone, especially if the small crowds of early 2012-13 continue, but does contain the key point: The Kings in Sleep Train Arena next season. The longer the NBA is in town, the more time there is to find a solution. Once it’s gone, chances are very good it is gone for good.
Johnson has made a lot of right moves in the tangled process, has won the respect of a lot of people around the league, and will come out of this looking good even if major-league sports leaves Sacramento for good on his watch. But waiting for someone else to create a need for a response is a very risky strategy that assumes the mayor will know his team is being poached with enough time to do something about it. Deals of this magnitude take many months to complete, so, yes, the burglar alarm could go long before the Kings would file, except that the Maloofs could shut KJ out of the conversation. Passing on the chance to be proactive with the region at a major crossroads, City Hall may never get the chance to make a last bid later.
For now, the read that the Kings have nowhere to go is accurate, according to several people close to the situation. That has been the city’s biggest reason for optimism in the toughest of times, when talks turned ugly and personal, and it is never more true than in November 2013 in a twisted sort of way. Sacramento’s hopes to keep the NBA rest on every other place.
The obvious first option as plans for a new arena move forward with the support of local government and the private sector. But the point man on finding a replacement for the SuperSonics has made it clear he will bring in a team he owns, not a tenant for the building with someone else controlling the franchise. The Maloofs have said as an absolute, and through years of others making offers, that the Kings are not for sale.
Yesterday’s news. There is no indication the city that nearly closed the deal at the end of the 2010-11 season is still in play. Either that or the new attempt is the most stealth bid in the history of the world.
A city with no arena, no firm arena financing plan, no proof from other sports it can support a major-league franchise, a small market, and the eventual need for NBA realignment. Yeah, that’ll happen. Virginia Beach does have the credibility of Comcast Spectacor as the major backer of the proposed building, but we’re years away from the doors opening. Seattle at least has KeyArena as temporary housing until its arena would open.
Sacramento leaders appear unmoved by any outsider, which is understandable and, more importantly, the reason for optimism. Along the same lines, there is no indication of progress on retrofitting Sleep Train Arena, the scenario the Maloofs inexplicably put into play after pulling out of the verbal agreement on the planned facility a few miles away, following years of the owners saying renovating the current building would not work.
Everything changes, of course, if the Maloofs pull a 180 and decide to sell. But there is no clear signal that is a possibility and so the California capital city, fans who want this team but not this ownership group, and a interested suitors around North America must deal in the reality of today. Including the part about the growing belief from several camps that the Kings will be in Sleep Train at least next season and that Sacramento is still in the game.