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Originally published January 15, 2013 at 4:19 PM | Page modified January 17, 2013 at 3:22 PM

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Sacramento mayor says NBA will allow counter offer for Kings

Kevin Johnson optimistic of keeping Kings in Sacramento instead of moving to Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said Tuesday he has been assured he will get a chance to present the NBA's Board of Governors with a counter offer to a proposed deal that could move the team to Seattle.

It was the latest twist in a week of various rumors and reports since news first broke last Wednesday that the team's owners, the Maloof family, were in negotiations to sell the team to a Seattle group led by Chris Hansen.

Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, said he is continuing to develop a plan to keep the team where it has played since 1985.

That includes finding a local ownership group that can counter the $525 million that Hansen's group reportedly would pay as well as help build an arena in Sacramento.

The arena efforts appeared to get a significant boost when entertainment group AEG, which last year had agreed to be a partner with the city in building an arena, told The Sacramento Bee that it was still interested in the project.

AEG chief executive Tim Leiweke said Johnson and NBA commissioner David Stern had asked him to "re-engage on the issue," according to The Bee. He also told the newspaper that, "to the commissioner's credit, I don't think he ever forgot about Sacramento."

Johnson said a new arena is a must for the team to stay in Sacramento.

Johnson, in remarks reported by The Bee, also called "outrageous" the reported $525 million offer from Hansen, which would be the most ever paid for an NBA team. Johnson said he continues to work on putting together an ownership group that could counter the offer and has received permission from NBA Commissioner David Stern to present that directly to the NBA's Board of Governors, which is expected to meet in April.

A Sacramento offer would not have to include a relocation fee, that would likely be at least $30 million, or repay a $77 million loan the city gave the Maloofs.

The Sacramento ownership group would likely include Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24-Hour Fitness. He made a failed attempt to buy the Golden State Warriors in 2010.

As has been the case since reports first surfaced of a possible sale, there was no official comment from Hansen's group, the NBA or the Maloofs.

Johnson said he remains optimistic the team will stay in Sacramento.

"We want this to be the final act of a saga that's gone on for far too long," he said.

Johnson added, "I hope Seattle gets another team. They deserve another team. They didn't deserve to lose their team in the first place. It just won't be the Sacramento Kings if we have anything to do with it."

In what some in Sacramento also were portraying as a potentially significant breakthrough, Johnson also said he would not be opposed to the Maloofs remaining as part of the ownership group "if they want to remain a part of this team and this community."

The Seattle Times reported last week that one potential snag in the negotiations between the Maloofs and the Seattle group was that the Maloofs wanted to retain a small percentage of the team, which would allow them to remain involved in the operations of the franchise. That has been characterized as a potential "deal-breaker" between the Maloofs and the Seattle group.

A USA Today story, meanwhile, stated that Johnson's goal is to "force the NBA's hand" by showing that Sacramento also has a viable new ownership group and arena plan, with one option being for the NBA to consider awarding Seattle an expansion team while allowing the Kings to stay.

Stern has consistently said in recent years that the NBA is not interested in expanding, and it's unclear if the NBA's stance on that has changed.

The USA Today story said league insiders would "be eager to approve a move to Seattle." But it also reported that Sacramento is beginning a fight "that could turn ugly here."

Hansen is believed to want to complete the sale in time to meet the NBA's deadline of March 1 to apply for relocation for the 2013-14 season.

A Yahoo.com report Monday said the NBA's relocation committee was briefed last week on the outline of a deal between Hansen and the Maloofs.

Hansen has a tentative deal with the City of Seattle and King County to build a new arena in the Sodo District once he and his investment group secure a team.

Plans to build a $490 million arena were approved by the Seattle City Council and the Metropolitan King County Council last October, though the city remains in the environmental-review process to evaluate locations.

City council member Tim Burgess said Tuesday that the council hasn't been informed of any possible sale. He said the council's Central Staff, in meetings it has held in recent weeks related to issues resulting from the arena deal, had gotten "hints that something might be happening. But there were no specifics shared."

Seattle has been without an NBA team since 2008, when the Sonics were relocated to Oklahoma City by new owner Clay Bennett.

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

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