Sacramento Kings' future unclear as arena deal there falls through
Seattle may be back in play for the NBA's Sacramento Kings after an arena deal there fell through.
Seattle Times staff reporters
A dizzying day of activity Friday left the Sacramento Kings' future more uncertain than ever, increasing the prospects that the NBA team could move, with Seattle one possible destination.
The death of an apparent deal struck in February between team owners the Maloof family and the city of Sacramento intended to keep the team there sent shock waves from Northern California to New York and Seattle.
Friday's development suddenly improves the chances of Chris Hansen — the San Francisco hedge-fund manager who wants to build an arena for NBA and NHL teams in Seattle — acquiring the Kings.
Hansen, a Seattle native who has preached patience throughout the process, declined to comment specifically on the Kings situation.
"However, these developments are a reminder that franchise opportunities may arise quickly and in an unpredictable fashion," he said in a statement. "And so we should continue with our joint efforts to find an 'Arena Solution' that best works for our City, County and the various constituents of our community and in as timely a fashion as is feasible to ensure we are in a position to take advantage of an inevitable opportunity when it arises."
The collapse of the deal left both Sacramento and the Maloofs scrambling.
The Kings released a one-sentence statement that ended: "At the conclusion of a meeting this afternoon with Mayor Johnson, he advised us that there is nothing to be gained by continued discussions at this time."
Johnson, in a separate news conference, fired back. "Is the deal dead as we know it? Absolutely," said the former NBA player, adding that the Maloofs "were coming up with reasons why not to do the deal."
NBA Commissioner David Stern said he believes the Maloof family wants to keep the team in Sacramento. But Stern also said they have a right to re-examine the deal, and the league can do nothing to broker a new one.
"I think it's fair for the Maloofs to say they don't want to do that," Stern said at a news conference after two days of NBA owners' meetings in New York. "If they had done it simpler, earlier or more directly, it could have saved a lot of angst and trouble."
There's a long way to go before Seattle fans should start saving up to buy tickets. But the developments increased the possibility the Maloofs could put the team up for sale if they decide continuing to operate in Sacramento isn't an option. The Maloofs also might seek to move the team to Anaheim, Calif., although that could be blocked by the NBA, forcing their hand.
Relocating to Anaheim could meet strong resistance from the current Los Angeles-area franchises. The Lakers and Clippers might not want a third NBA team in their market.
How deal collapsed
The Kings nearly moved to Anaheim after last season before agreeing to stay this season while Sacramento tried to put together a plan to replace Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena).
The city and the Maloofs had reached a tentative deal to fund a $391 million arena that would open for the 2015-16 season in the downtown Sacramento rail yards. The Sacramento City Council already passed its end of the deal, brokered by the league and tentatively agreed to by the Kings.
Joe, Gavin and George Maloof have since taken issue with some of the terms — particularly environmental and predevelopment costs. Under the agreement, the Kings and arena operator AEG each agreed to pay about $3.25 million in predevelopment costs with the city paying the remaining $6.5 million.
The Maloofs made a presentation to NBA owners Thursday, which they shared at a separate news conference Friday. As evidence of how the tide on the issue had turned, the Maloofs proposed renovating Sacramento's Power Balance Pavilion, something they had opposed for years.
Johnson said a renovation would not get assistance from the city.
"If they choose to renovate on their own and use private dollars, that's certainly their prerogative," he said. "I don't know what the Maloofs plan to do. I know they don't plan to honor their commitment to a downtown arena."
During their news conference, the Maloofs said they liked Sacramento, but insisted the arena project was too expensive. George Maloof said they had given the city a list of concerns that needed to be addressed before they could commit to such a major deal.
While Stern said the Kings would play in Sacramento next season, he wouldn't speculate where they would play beyond that. If they seek to relocate, the commissioner said approval would be left to the relocation committee headed by Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett. Bennett bought the Sonics in 2006 for $350 million and moved them to Oklahoma City in 2008.
As chances increased that Sacramento might move, another NBA team with an uncertain future announced an agreement to stay put. The New Orleans Hornets reached a deal with the owner of the NFL's Saints, Tom Benson, to buy the team and keep it in Louisiana.
Seattle officials, meanwhile, said their focus remains getting an arena deal done that could lure a team. The Metropolitan King County Council is scheduled to be briefed Monday morning from Lenny Wilkens and Jan Drago, co-chairs of the Arena Advisory Panel that was asked by Mayor Mike McGinn to gather information and make a recommendation. It will be the first time the full council takes up the issue.
County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer said the news out of Sacramento gives local decision-makers reasons to go slow and remain careful rather than rush a proposed deal.
"Sacramento is a cautionary light rather than a green light," von Reichbauer said. "Sacramento is an opportunity. It's also a reminder of how important due diligence is, because the owners had an agreement with the NBA and backed out. It shows the importance of a clearly understood legal agreement."
McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine are expected to send legislation to the city and county councils this month, requesting approval of a memorandum of understanding between the city, county and Hansen's ArenaCo group. Hansen has requested that the councils approve legislation by early June.
Hansen has said he has several local investors interested in joining him to bring an NBA franchise to Seattle and help build a $490 million, 18,000-seat arena for pro basketball and hockey. Hansen wants taxpayers to pitch in $200 million in construction bonds, which he says would be repaid by revenue from the arena.
Hansen is paying for a study on the traffic impact of a new arena in Sodo. That study is expected to be completed next month.
Von Reichbauer said "the devil is in the details," such as the traffic study, but he credited Hansen with quickly paying for it.
"My primary take-away from Sacramento is how important it is to build a relationship between Mr. Hansen, the city and the county on a solid foundation so everyone knows what they're getting into," said von Reichbauer.
Seattle Times staff reporters Lynn Thompson and Bob Young, and The Associated Press also contributed to this article.
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