NBA battle over Kings lists many questions, few answers
A look at where things stand and what might happen next as a decision looms in the battle between Seattle and Sacramento over the Kings.
Seattle Times staff reporter
NEW YORK — Monday marks exactly three months since it was officially announced that a group had bought the Sacramento Kings with the intent of moving them to Seattle for the 2013-14 NBA season.
If anything, it might be less clear today than it was then if Chris Hansen's plan for returning the NBA to Seattle by next fall will work.
Since that heady day for Sonics fans has come a dizzying array of Kevin Johnson news conferences, Sacramento counteroffers, NBA meetings and Seattle swings in emotion.
All of which means it might be a good time to answer a few questions about where things stand and what might happen next:
Q: When will this be over?
Going by the timeline stated by NBA commissioner David Stern at the Board of Governors meetings Friday, the earliest a decision would be known is May 6. That will come after the 12-person Finance/Relocation Committee meets late this week and gives a recommendation, and then a grace period of seven business days before the BOG would vote. The vote, though, could happen later than that.
Q: Isn't that past the time that was originally expected?
Yes. And to recap the process — all sales and relocations of NBA franchises must be approved by the Board of Governors, which consists of one representative from each team (usually, the controlling owner). The Board of Governors generally votes on such issues at its end-of-season annual meetings in April, as it was expected to this year.
However, Stern said the complexities of the issues involved meant the BOG needed more time.
Q: What are some of those issues?
The league has preferred not to answer that in great detail. Stern, though, has mentioned several times the ability and timeline of each city to get a new arena built, which is why this all began in the first place. The current owners of the Kings, the Maloof family, have been attempting to either get a new arena built, or move the team to a city that has a better one, since about 2006. Frustrated in those efforts, it decided this year to finally sell the team. Hansen wanted the team to enable the NBA to return to Seattle after the Sonics left in 2008, after they had been bought by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett after previous owner Howard Schultz grew frustrated at attempts to get a new arena built in the Seattle area.
Hansen helped get approved a $490 million plan for a new arena in Seattle's Sodo District that includes $200 million in loans that will be paid off in revenue from the city's taxes on use of the arena. Sacramento, helped greatly by the enthusiastic support for keeping the Kings shown by Mayor Johnson — a former three-time NBA All-Star — assembled a $447 million arena plan that includes $258 million in city money.
Stern has indicated the city that could get an arena built first would have an edge. The problem is that with environmental-impact reviews and other such issues, the NBA might not have a clear answer. Seattle has said it could have its arena done by the 2015-16 season if all goes well. Sacramento's plan appears further behind.
Q: Seattle's ownership group is not an issue, correct?
Not by any reported account. The group led by Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer originally agreed to pay $341 million for 65 percent of the team, giving the Kings an overall value of $525 million. The previous high paid for an NBA team was a reported $450 million for the Golden State Warriors in 2010. After Sacramento assembled an ownership group with stated plans to match, Hansen upped his offer by about $17 million, making the Kings worth $550 million.
"What makes this particularly difficult, as we said to you before, is the Seattle group has done a lot of work," Stern said Friday. "It's well-funded. It's got spectacular businessmen who support the community behind it."
Q: Doesn't the NBA usually approve sales of teams to well-qualified owners even when relocation is involved?
Yes, as Seattle found out in 2008. What's generally regarded as the last time a formal sale and relocation was denied came in 1994 when a group that wanted to buy the Minnesota Timberwolves was found financially wanting.
Likewise, the league has often long been thought reluctant to tell an existing owner who he can sell his team to, as long as the new owner has the wherewithal to buy it.
The Maloof family sent its clearest signal yet Friday that it prefers the Seattle offer, writing a letter to NBA owners saying as much. Stern, though, said bigger-picture issues outweighed the desire of a single owner.
"Each team owns its team in its market," Stern said. "And that is why, when a team wants to move, it becomes the province of the board, rather than ownership. That's why we have this constitutional provision which has this rather labor-intensive process that is sort of weighing down on all of us."
Q: But didn't the NBA rather handily approve the relocation of the Sonics in 2008?
It did, by a vote of 28-2.
Stern, though, has said repeatedly that moving a franchise is a last resort. And one difference between then and now is that Stern seems to believe Sacramento has worked a lot harder to keep the Kings than Seattle did to keep the Sonics.
"Sacramento's group has a very strong base of economic support as well," Stern said Friday. "And, in fact, Sacramento itself has stepped up in various ways."
Few question the plan in Seattle, which is a larger media market and probably a safer long-term financial proposition. But the NBA and Stern appear to feel a responsibility to Sacramento, to give it every opportunity to work things out. As one national columnist recently put it, it might simply be a matter of head (Seattle) vs. heart (Sacramento).
Stern basically said as much Friday.
"Seattle is a very strong market, and in fact has gotten stronger and more growth-oriented than when the NBA left," he said. "But there is another city involved. So I think that the owners are probably individually wrestling with the degree to which the Sacramento incumbency deserves consideration as well."
Q: Does Stern just have it in for Seattle?
Some Seattle fans, many of whom likely remain skeptical about the NBA after what happened in 2008, might be asking that question now that this process has been delayed. Judging from social-media reaction Friday, some view the drawing out of the process as Stern giving Sacramento every chance to stay in the battle.
Stern, though, sharply resisted Friday the notion he would favor one city over the other. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who will take over for a retiring Stern on Feb. 1, repeated that.
"I think I can speak for both of us, I mean, there's no lobbying or campaigning going on by the league office," Silver said. "We are presenting the facts in a most full way we can to the owners. They've asked other questions. They've sent us back to get additional information."
Q: If each city is so deserving, why don't they just add another team?
That's an oft-asked question. Stern, though, has consistently said expansion is not an option. Friday, he seemed to soften just a bit when he said expansion isn't a complete non-starter. But he said it also had not been discussed and indicated that if expansion becomes an option, it wouldn't be until after the NBA begins negotiating its new television deals. The current contract goes through 2015-16.
For now, as Stern said Friday, one city will win and another will lose.
"There's going to be a disappointed city one way or the other," he said.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta