HANG TIME WEST – This battle has been Sacramento against Seattle all along.
It’s not Sacramento against itself, because it was inevitable the city would build a new ownership conglomerate and a new arena plan. And it’s not Seattle against the NBA, because the league has been very clear in its interest in returning to Washington state.
If Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer headed the same group to buy the Kings to play in Sacramento, it breezes through the approval process. If any city other than Seattle is trying to poach the team – Anaheim, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach – Sacramento mounts a successful comeback victory and probably wins easy.
Sacramento against Seattle.
Today, for the first time, they go head-to-head, with both mayors, representatives from both hopeful ownership groups and leaders from both West Coast locations on the East Coast to make presentations to NBA officials and select owners to gather information. That leads into the April 18-19 Board of Governors meeting and a vote on the future of the Kings. And that leads to an outcome that will impact the NBA for many years.
Either a new arena is being built to keep a team in Sacramento or a new arena is being built to bring a team back to Seattle, and there is still no hint from the league office that the win-win scenario in both cities is possible. No expansion, commissioner David Stern said without wiggle room during All-Star weekend in February in Houston, the last comment on the matter.
Every indication is that this will be a very tough call for the Board of Governors, with strong arguments each way as well as counter-arguments and more counter-arguments. Statistical data will be offered as supporting evidence, and so will emotion. The pitches will be so far reaching that Seattle may promote its massive international corporate base, and Sacramento will definitely promote Vivek Ranadive as the general partner of the proposed ownership group that will make the entire league money by broadening the appeal of the NBA in his native India.
There are so many layers to this:
- If the Seattle bid is voted down later this month – if – don’t be surprised if the current owners, the Maloof family, holds on to the Kings for a while. It could be a few months to step back and see who else wants to play Monopoly now that the team is on the open market, but that would be long enough to have control over trades, draft and free agency. They could still sell late in the summer and give the new owner enough time to draw more than 3,500 fans a game.The Maloofs have not ruled out the possibility of owning the Kings next season. That’s more of a longshot than the July/August scenario, but the family is considering all options at this point. Including staying on and gauging the mood with a new commissioner, Adam Silver.
If Seattle is denied and the Maloofs sell? It will have to be to a group that will own the team in Sacramento. Again, the Board of Governors vote is about location. If California’s capital city wins, the team stays no matter who is at the top of the masthead.
- Voting consideration No. 1: It makes sense that small-market owners would prefer competing against the local TV money of other small-market teams. Boost for Sacramento. Except that some owners, from markers of any size, could want the cut of the to-be-decided relocation fee. Boost for Seattle. (See, counters to every argument.)
- Voting consideration No. 2: Ranadive’s late addition to the Sacramento group, after Stern backhanded the first offer of its attempted counter-strike, is a positive. How much of a positive is unclear. Owners have to at least be intrigued by the potential of increasing the revenue stream in India, and the relationships he may have already built as No. 3 man in Golden State ownership group can help. But the Warriors may already have been in the Sacramento camp. It is possible Ranadive will not swing a vote.
- Voting consideration No. 3: Stern, who has worked for years to keep the Kings from moving, has lost one of his most compliant voters. The Maloofs historically followed the commissioner’s lead on most topics. They’re clearly looking out for their best interests on this one.
- Kobe Bryant, dismissing the notion that Saturday’s game at Sleep Train Arena was the last installment of Lakers-Kings, once a great rivalry before the Kings fell off the map: “They’ve been singing the same song for three years. Enough already.” He is sort of right. This has been the Sacramento saga on a loop. But it has never been like this. There has never been a relocation vote weeks away. There has never been a Seattle.
- One important clarification: When Stern said recently an outgoing owner will not dictate where that team would play, he was indicating the decision belonged to the Board of Governors once the owner had reached a sales agreement. It did not mean the BOG can makes the initial sales agreement. The governors’ power is in approving or denying a deal, not making it. Some people in Sacramento took that to mean owners can simply force the Maloofs to take a deal from the Ranadive-Mark Mastrov–Ron Burkle consortium. Not true.
- The read at the moment? Pick ’em. Both sides have precedents in their favor, both sides have strong arguments, both sides have the emotional factor of passionate fan bases. The needle likely moves based on whatever feedback comes out of today’s important gathering, but this is setting up as a little more than two weeks of tension around the league, and especially around two cities.