If you thought the Kings were wandering through a thick haze before, imagine the layers of uncertainty now that the team has been sold, sort of.
Transitions to new owners can be tricky on the basketball operations side under the best of circumstances – a pretty settled roster, a relatively quiet time on the calendar – and this is definitely not the best of circumstances. This is a losing operation desperate for traction with personnel decisions looming, varying degrees of involvement from the out-going owners depending on the day and the mood swings, and leaders in Sacramento weighing several counter-strikes, including legal action, to block the sale to a group that would move the team to Seattle.
P.S.: The trade deadline is Feb. 21, and the potential sale won’t be close to untangled by then.
Normally when a franchise is in escrow, the current owners, officially in charge until the Board of Governors approves the sale, continue to handle business, but in strong consultation with the incoming owners. It’s possible something would have been written into the agreement about veto power on decisions, it’s possible it would have been a courtesy. But, for example, outgoing Chris Cohan was not going to do a sign-and-trade for David Lee to come to the Warriors on an $80 million deal without a nod of approval from pending boss Joe Lacob.
This time? The Maloof family has agreed to sell to a group headed by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. But Sacramento officials are lining up investors for a counter-bid in a last-ditch hope the Board of Governors votes down Hansen-Ballmer. Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has been promised a chance to appear before the BoG votes in April and commissioner David Stern is meeting with potential owners who would keep the team in the California capital. There is no “normally.”
The Kings have needs – defense, rebounding, shooting, playmaking – but only the future of Tyreke Evans is an issue on the clock. The former starting point guard, former starting small forward and current starting shooting guard becomes a restricted free agent July 1, making this the last chance to be in control of the possibility of getting something in return for a key player. If they have decided to match any offer sheet, which is not the case, that would be one thing. Evans would be coming back to the “Seattamento SuperKings” and there would be no pause heading toward Feb. 21. But letting free agency play out means management will have trade options greatly reduced if he signs a deal elsewhere and Sacreattle chooses not to match. The only trade can be with the team Evans has picked and there’s no guarantee that signing club would have anything of value to swap.
DeMarcus Cousins, meanwhile, is not pressing. There is no indication Geoff Petrie, the president of basketball operations, has had any serious trade conversations, no matter how many bad rumors got started this time. (To the Celtics for a package headed by Jared Sullinger? Good one. Because what the Kings really want to do about six months after investing a lottery pick on Thomas Robinson and big money to re-sign Jason Thompson is move their best talent for another power forward, and one with a concerning injury history at that.)
The real updates remain on the business front. Ron Burkle, the kind of big-money guy Sacramento has been hoping to have at the top of the ticket to present to the Board of Governors, met with Stern in New York on Thursday in a definitive statement of interest by the Pittsburgh Penguins owner.
The development, while noteworthy, is little more than an emotional boost to Sacramento fans latching on to any positive. In reality, landing investors and kick-starting an arena project, now possibly at a different location than what had been in place from the brief 2012 agreement with the Maloofs, was never the biggest challenge. It was, and still is, convincing the Board of Governors not to like what appears to be an ideal bid from Seattle. The money from Sacramento interests will be there in the end. But so will the Seattle group, and if the Board approves the Hansen-Ballmer purchase, Burkle or anyone heading efforts in the current Kings home won’t have a team to buy.