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Originally published March 1, 2013 at 8:04 PM | Page modified March 1, 2013 at 11:46 PM

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Sacramento group officially places bid to buy the Kings

NBA expected to make key decision in April

Seattle Times staff reporter

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As had been promised the night before, an offer from a Sacramento group to buy the Kings and keep them from moving to Seattle was submitted to the NBA on Friday.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson confirmed the offer in a tweet, saying "the proposal is in."

The Sacramento Bee reported the offer was made at 8:45 a.m. Friday.

The bid to buy the team was made by a group led by Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness. He was named by Johnson during a raucous State of the City address on Thursday night as leading the investment group.

Johnson also said Ron Burkle, a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, would lead an effort to build a new downtown arena for the Kings. Johnson said he hopes the NBA and its Board of Governors will consider the proposals when it votes April 18-19 whether to approve a tentative sale of the Kings to a Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

If the NBA denies the Hansen/Ballmer bid to buy the team and relocate it to Seattle, the hope in Sacramento is Mastrov would then be able to buy the team from the existing owners, the Maloof family, and keep it in Sacramento.

In Johnson's tweet, he called it "a proud day for Sacramento."

Johnson said Thursday night the Mastrov offer for the team would be "very strong and competitive." The Bee cited a source saying the offer was "very close and competitive" with the offer made by the Hansen/Ballmer group, which agreed to pay $341 million for 65 percent of the team.

A Yahoo.com report, meanwhile, said the Sacramento bid was "slightly lower" but would be close enough "to cause real debate" among the NBA owners who will vote whether to approve the sale to the Seattle group.

Michael McCann, a legal analyst for NBA-TV, said the Sacramento offer will definitely draw heavy consideration from the league but that he still thinks Seattle has the upper hand.

"I think it's certainly a credible bid and because it's a smaller market one might argue that a group from Sacramento might be able to offer less in the sense that it shows even a small market can attract a great deal of money," he said. "And I'm sure there are some owners who are sympathetic to the situation and the fact that relocating a franchise would harm the league in some ways, as it harmed it in Seattle and would harm it (in Sacramento).

"The flip side is that the Seattle offer is still stronger in the sense that it is for more money and the impact of the Seattle market on the NBA's television contracts is important, as well (Seattle is the 12th largest TV market, Sacramento the 20th). I think it's a credible challenge, but I would still say the Seattle bid would have to be considered the favorite."

Reports seemed to indicate the difference in the offer isn't that great. McCann said the variance could be critical.

"We don't really know what 'slightly less' is" he said. "If it's $5 million, it may be considered more or less an equal offer. If it's $50 million, then that's a different price tag."

With Sacramento now having shown its hand, fans in the two cities now mostly have to be content with waiting anxiously for the NBA decision in mid-April.

McCann said he expects for each side to do some lobbying on its behalf. There also will continue to be news in Sacramento as the City Council there debates the arena proposal. There also is the matter of the 7 percent share that is in bankruptcy court that could be sold before the NBA meetings in April.

McCann called the 7 percent share "a potential wild-card" but said the situation is also so complicated — namely, it's unclear if that share comes with a right of first refusal to match the Hansen/Ballmer offer — that it's hard to read.

"This is really a very challenging situation," he said.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.

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