The decision on where the Kings tip off their games next season will partially be decided in a Manhattan hotel conference on Wednesday.
Groups representing both the Seattle group that has a deal to purchase the Kings with plans to move them north, and the Sacramento group looking to keep the Kings in town, are making pitches to as many as a dozen current NBA owners, the members of the combined sale and relocation committees of the Board of Governors.
The final decision on the Kings sale — if the Maloof family can sell to the Seattle group and if the team can move — will be voted on by the full Board of Governors (the NBA owners) when they meet April 18. However, the recommendations of this joint committee looking into the details will go a long way in influencing the owners on that vote.
The Seattle Group is led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. They have an agreement to purchase 65 percent of the team, which is valued at $525 million, and have applied for relocation. The team would play in the Key Arena in Seattle for a few seasons while a new arena is constructed (it is in environmental review). David Stern has called this a very strong offer — a lot of money behind it, arena plans underway, a basketball-hungry market (44,000 people already pledged to buy season tickets) with great demographics, a bigger (and wealthier) media market, and a great NBA history.
But Sacramento, led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, has put together a strong counter offer. By bringing in billionaire Vivek Ranadive to go with 24-Hour Fitness owner to lead a group buying the team, and with Ron Burkle behind a deal to get a new arena done in downtown Sacramento, Johnson has put together a counter offer that they say matches the money and arena of Seattle. He also got the Sacramento City Council to agree to $258 million in investment in the arena plans (to be paid off through parking fees and other services).
Sacramento’s best card to play is simply this — other NBA owners of middle to small market teams will ask their cities for money and help getting a new arena built in the next decade, with the threat of losing the team as the leverage (something every pro sports league does). If Sacramento does everything right and still loses the team, what happens to that leverage?
Seattle’s group can say they have a sale agreement in place, that they are a strong ownership group and that the NBA brass has wanted to return to the Seattle market since the Sonics left to become the Thunder.
If you’re thinking expansion, David Stern has shot that down because a majority of owners are opposed. That idea is dead.
While we will get statements all around on Wednesday from both sides, what really matters is what leaks out of owners and that committee in the coming days and weeks leading up to the April 18 big votes. Look for this to be essentially decided before all the owners get in the same room together.