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Originally published January 21, 2013 at 4:40 PM | Page modified January 22, 2013 at 2:16 PM

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Can Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson save the Kings again?

What's next for Sacramento? The Kings' sale to a group that will move the team to Seattle was announced Monday. The city is trying to save the team, one more time, by finding a potential buyer who could keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sacramento Kings fans have been through this before, perilously navigating a steady stream of rumors and reports of possible sales and relocations the past few years.

Monday's news, though, felt a little different.

The announcement of an agreement of a sale of the team from the Maloof family to a group led by Chris Hansen that would relocate the Kings to Seattle was the most ominous yet.

"I think right now the reaction is panic, even though people were prepared for it," said James Ham, who writes about the team for the website Cowbell Kingdom and also produced a documentary about the city's fight to keep the team from relocation to Anaheim in 2011.

Although fans have known for weeks that a sale was possible, Ham said there was hope that "eventually the Maloofs would come to their senses and at least have a conversation with Kevin Johnson before pushing forward with this. But while the fans are distraught at the potential of losing the team, there is still a major push to fight to keep this team."

Indeed, that's where Sacramento's hopes lie now, with the battle that Johnson, the city's mayor, promises to continue to keep the Kings.

The team is the only major sports pro franchise in Sacramento and has played there since moving from Kansas City in 1985.

Johnson, a Sacramento native, played in the NBA from 1987-2000, was a three-time All-Star and has a close relationship with league commissioner David Stern.

When the Maloofs attempted to move the team to Anaheim, Johnson's impassioned plea helped convince Stern to give the city one more year to get a new arena built. Although it didn't hurt that Jerry Buss, who as the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers is one of the most powerful in the league, also didn't want the Maloofs intruding on his territory.

Hopes of a permanent stay appeared to come to fruition last winter when the city and the Maloofs came to a tentative agreement for a new arena. But the Maloofs backed out a short time later, and the team had been in limbo since.

The Maloofs felt the team had no viable future in Sacramento and, unable to move the team themselves, came to the decision in recent weeks to sell to Hansen's group. There were reports the Maloofs talked to at least one owner who might have kept the team in Sacramento, but that those discussions did not get serious.

Johnson, though, has vowed that he will succeed in putting together an ownership group that can match Hansen's offer and also get an arena deal on track.

One potential member of the ownership group is Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness. And the entertainment group AEG has said it would again take a role in helping build and run the arena, as had been agreed in the plan scuttled last year by the Maloofs.

Johnson has been told he will have a chance to state the city's case in mid-April before the NBA Board of Governors in New York.

Late Monday afternoon, he tweeted, "I keep getting asked do we still have a shot? You better believe it."

Several media reports indicated that shot is a half-court heave at the buzzer, at best. Yahoo.com reported that the NBA's relocation committee "will overwhelmingly ratify the franchise's move to Seattle for the 2013-14 season."

Ham, though, said Kings fans are trying to stay buoyed by remembering the close call in 2011.

"With the Anaheim deal, a good portion of the community thought it was over then, and Kevin Johnson came to the rescue," Ham said. "I think they feel this is a very similar situation. ... Kevin Johnson has an amazing ability to pull a rabbit out of his hat again and again, and he fully intends on doing that, and the NBA has promised him a platform to do it."

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

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