HANG TIME WEST – That was some reality check commissioner David Stern delivered to Sacramento on Friday night when he said the counter-strike to keep the Kings is so far behind the Seattle package that it won’t even receive serious consideration unless the deal in the California capital gets better.
That would have been encouraging enough for the attractive bid out of Washington state. The real uplifting news for the group trying to revive the SuperSonics, the real take-away from Stern’s blunt analysis before Rockets-Warriors in Oakland, is the new awareness of how much the league is holding Sacramento’s hand during a very challenging process.
In short: Not as much as it seemed before.
Stern has always wanted the Kings to stay. They would have been gone years ago if not for Stern guiding the Maloof family, the owners who almost always followed the commissioner’s lead on any league matter. He previously believed in Kevin Johnson as a first-term mayor and newbie politician at any level. More recently, either Stern or top aides have been in regular contact with Sacramento after leaders there were caught flat-footed by the Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer that was more proactive and more organized.
But for the Sacramento proposal to be so lacking that Stern said the offer is “not comparable“ to the one from Seattle is very interesting insight. Either the league is not holding Sacramento’s hand to the point of telling Johnson specifically what the bid needs to look like, as it once seemed, or Mayor KJ, Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle as lead private investors didn’t listen. Either way, Stern has drawn a line between encouraging the Sacramento efforts and privately leading them.
This is not close to game over. Mastrov, a Bay Area resident who attended Warriors-Rockets, downplayed Stern’s comments by telling The Associated Press that “It’s all part of the process.” He’s right. But he’s also spinning: Johnson waited so long, beyond his own original timeline, to deliver a sparkling offer on the purchase of the team and the construction of an arena, and now it should be painfully clear to the Sacramento backers that the city did not. This is not the process they wanted.
Johnson missed the chance to truly lobby owners and other influential NBA leaders at All-Star weekend when he showed up in Houston without a Sacramento bid to spotlight and now he has missed the chance to push back hard at Seattle. Sacramento needs to regroup again, and now it is clear Stern will only hold their hand so far.