Tag: Maloofs


Steve Ballmer “on a rampage,” playing Russian Roulette with Seattle’s NBA future


It has been said throughout the Sacramento Kings saga that the presence of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Seattle’s ownership team has been a big plus as they seek to buy and relocate the team.

Worth $15 billion according to Forbes and ranked No. 51 on its billionaire list, he and Chris Hansen were called the “perfect prototype for an NBA owner” by David Stern shortly after the NBA relocation committee unanimously recommended to reject a move of the Kings to Seattle.

But now that Seattle’s advances have been rebuffed by the NBA, sources say it’s Ballmer that has taken on a larger role in decision-making for the Seattle ownership group. The polar opposite of the soft-spoken hedge fund manager in Hansen – Ballmer is known for being loud and outrageous. Vanity Fair ran a seething piece (Microsoft’s Lost Decade) last August detailing a violent incident and more.

Now that Ballmer has taken on a larger role with the Seattle group, league sources tell PBT that the same bravado he has employed with Microsoft is turning heads at the league office – and not in a good way. It’s no secret that Ballmer is a handful — but a well-connected and filthy rich handful that the NBA would love to have in its stable. At least that was the case. According to league sources speaking to PBT under condition of anonymity, the recent power plays made by Seattle and the Maloof family have “started to weigh on the NBA to the point where any Ballmer-led proposal now or in the future could fall on deaf ears if he doesn’t change course.”

When asked to clarify, the source said that should the Seattle group continue to pursue a scorched earth policy with the Sacramento marketplace, they would jeopardize the city’s ability to secure an NBA team down the road should an opportunity present itself.

When asked how Seattle got to that point, several sources with knowledge of the situation have told PBT that once they recognized the Sacramento bid was likely to meet league requirements, and ultimately secure the Kings, then decision-making for Seattle’s strategy and PR effort slowly shifted into Ballmer’s hands. That strategy has been at odds with the due process the NBA has been following, and recently it has been at odds with the NBA itself.

“He’s on a rampage,” said one source. “He assumed he could backdoor Sacramento with a willing partner in the Maloofs, but he underestimated Sacramento and now he thinks he can twist enough arms around the league to force his way into the association.”

As reported by multiple outlets, the Hansen-Ballmer group has chosen a curious route to team ownership by working primarily with the Maloof family and often with little-to-no communication with the league office. Conversely, the Sacramento group has worked directly with the league and had very little communication with the Maloof family, who have not ruled out selling to the Sacramento group but also have done everything possible to repel it.

Leading up to the NBA’s recommendation to deny relocation of the Kings to Seattle, the Seattle-Maloof group saw their first shift in public relations strategy. Leaks attacking the NBA, David Stern and the Sacramento group had been occurring with greater frequency, but the first shot across the bow at the NBA occurred when they ignored the league’s public and private statements and tried to force a bidding war.

They “voluntarily” raised their offer to buy the team by $16 million for a total of $357 million. This development was not seen as pivotal by the league, and the Sacramento group didn’t as much as blink when they stood pat with their originally matched offer of $341 million for the Maloof-controlled 65 percent stake.

The core of the Seattle-Maloof strategy was two-fold. First, they would seek to sell owners on the idea of a higher franchise valuation – a nebulous concept given the many intangibles of such measurements. Does an equal offer in both cities create better comps for owners if it’s accepted in a smaller market? Do the next purchasing owners even include this aberration of a situation in their valuations? Regardless of the merits of the strategy, throwing money at the issue has always been the Ballmer way.

The second and more important factor in increasing the bid, sources say, is that it raised the idea of a Maloof antitrust challenge should the family not be allowed by the NBA to sell to the highest bidder. League sources say that the NBA has planned for this contingency, and while the potential litigation would always play a role in their decision-making, the ammunition the league would have against the Maloof family in court has made this a mostly benign threat.

NBA.com’s David Aldridge reported this past week that Hansen is not interested in any legal challenges if his bid is rejected (no word on Ballmer). Nevertheless, the threat of a lawsuit would never come from a Seattle group that hopes to one day join the NBA. The antitrust threat, benign or not, starts with the Seattle group’s offer and draws a Family Circus style map for the Maloofs to posture with. Nothing more, nothing less.

In coordination with this threat, the Maloofs have made constant overtures that the league cannot force them to sell or tell them what to do. When asked about what the league would do if the Maloofs try to act against the league’s wishes, sources say the NBA has always reserved the right to use the ‘Best Interest of the League’ clause to remove the family from the league. Sources say this outcome is unlikely, however, because there is enough “natural leverage” to manage the situation without using it.

For one, the Maloofs cannot afford to run the Kings under normal conditions, let alone with an empty arena and no sponsors – something we’re told would not be held against the Sacramento market if the impossible scenario of them keeping the team came into play. The family is also indebted to the league to the tune of an estimated $150 million, and the family has done plenty of damage to the league’s reputation on the public subsidy front and in general.

“There are no shortage of claims to be made against the Maloofs should they stumble their way into court,” said a source speaking to PBT under conditions of anonymity.

Back in reality-land, Hansen’s announcement that he would “voluntarily” increase his bid was uncomfortable for the league, but because they had not gone public with a recommendation the strategy wasn’t seen as an affront to the league’s due process.

Any doubt about Seattle’s contempt for that process would eventually be erased once the league’s relocation committee unanimously recommended against a move to Seattle. Sources say it was at that point that Ballmer officially took control over the war room.

Immediately after the league’s announcement, an aggressive statement was put out by Hansen on the SonicsArena.com website stating that despite the NBA’s recommendation, they “fully committed to seeing (the) transaction through.”

“It was at that point that Ballmer put the league on notice,” said one league source. “Knowing that he could offer virtually anything with a decision on the Kings’ future all-but made, Ballmer has been dead-set on embarrassing the league by making them turn down a much higher offer.”

This past weekend the Seattle-Maloof group leaked news of an increased $406 million offer for the Maloof-controlled 65 percent stake of the team. They also leaked news that the Maloof family would not sell to the Sacramento group.

Lastly, they leaked a scenario in which 20 percent of the team would be sold to Hansen and Ballmer as a ‘backup’ bid in case their original bid for a majority stake was denied. The Seattle-Maloof group would supposedly work with the city of Sacramento on an arena deal in this impossible scenario – one that has drawn a collective eye-roll around the league. Sources with knowledge of the league’s thinking have called that scenario a “non-starter.”

In shades of past Maloofishness, the Sacramento Bee reported today that the family is still willing to consider the Sacramento offer. Whatever the case may be, league sources have consistently told PBT that not only do the Maloofs have practically no leverage in this situation, but they also have practically no chance of being NBA owners next season. Sources expect the family to accept Vivek Ranadive’s bid after the Seattle relocation bid is denied, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

With the NBA expected to eventually stand behind the Sacramento group, the larger issue being discussed in league circles is whether or not Ballmer and Seattle will follow the Maloofs off the NBA’s ledge. Their sneak attack attempt to procure Sacramento’s team was never well-received by the league, who would have rather seen the Maloofs conduct a good faith effort to sell the team locally. Even with Seattle holding Sacramento’s feet to the fire at every turn, sources say that there was never a point in time in which insiders thought Seattle had gone too far. After all, taking a team from a market that has done everything it needed to in order to keep the Kings is messy business.

Despite an all-out assault by Seattle to create an air of inevitability surrounding the relocation of the team, including reports that the NBA would quickly and overwhelmingly approve the move, and near daily leaks from Seattle-Maloof sources about make-believe problems with the Sacramento bid – the feeling around the league was that though the situation has been undesirable, once the ball was thrown in the air, all was fair in a basketball war.

As for Seattle, the strength of their ownership group, their oversold but actionable arena plan, and strong No. 12 TV market made them a shoo-in if the Sacramento group faltered. As we know now, Sacramento did not falter, but Seattle was certainly well-positioned for the future.

“(Seattle) was in the driver’s seat when it came to potential opportunities with the Bucks or whatever team might face arena or market troubles down the road,” said one league source. “If the league was going to consider expansion, you could have written Seattle’s name in ink to get a team.”

Now that Ballmer is leading Seattle down the path of conflict with the NBA, sources aren’t so sure.

“You don’t get into a knife fight with the NBA and then ask if you can come hang out in the clubhouse,” said one high-level source. “Ballmer is playing a game of Russian Roulette with SEA’s NBA future. He can’t throw money at the problem like this is Microsoft.”

Perhaps this is an unsolvable problem for the Seattle group – a zero-sum game and all participants have nothing to lose by going all-in. Perhaps they know that expansion is off the table.

With the way the local media has demonized David Stern and the NBA the average fan in Seattle is being told that they’re being screwed if Stern doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul. Perhaps the Hansen-Ballmer group believes that the only thing that can satisfy the masses is the Sacramento Kings, or an iron-clad promise of expansion down the road. If you listen to the most strident voices in Seattle, they believe it’s time to spill blood in one gigantic last stand.

Sources say these realities are understood by the league, as is playing hard through the final whistle. “The league is more than willing to support Seattle in its bid for NBA basketball, but when they choose to trash an existing, supportive market in Sacramento and then set their sights on the logo, all bets are off.”

The NBA’s Board of Governors conducted a conference call on Monday and no changes were made to the relocation committee’s recommendation. The owners will see presentations by both groups on Wednesday with Jon Humbert of KOMO in Seattle reporting that a full vote will indeed take place.

David Stern sets the stage for final leg of the Sacramento Kings saga

NBA Commissioner David Stern listens at a news conference before the All Star slam dunk competition during the NBA basketball All-Star weekend in Houston

There is a lot to understand when it comes to the potential sale of Sacramento Kings.  As NBA commissioner David Stern laid out Saturday, the 29 owners deciding the Kings’ future home face a complex story involving a great ownership group in Seattle and a compelling story out of Sacramento.

Seattle’s ownership group already has executed a contract to buy the Kings from the Maloof family. If Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson produces a “fair and competitive” offer – including a significant public subsidy for a new arena – it would potentially give the owners two viable options.

A sale agreement would need to be approved by a three-quarters vote of NBA owners. A relocation approval must pass with a majority vote. Both issues are intertwined, as Stern has combined both relocation and finance committees to review the matter with a vote likely occurring at the Board of Governors meeting in mid-April.

The Maloofs have already filed for relocation to Seattle, and despite reports out of Seattle that the deal has already been vetted Stern said on Saturday that the committees are still reviewing the sale and relocation bid.

Early reports mirrored the efforts of the Seattle group to portray an NBA decision to allow the Kings to move to Seattle as a done deal.  Sources have told PBT that Sacramento would be given a real chance to produce a ‘fair and competitive’ offer to keep the team in California’s capitol.

Stern’s comments have echoed that sentiment leading up to this week, and on Saturday he said it was “plausible” that the Kings remain in Sacramento, and that a decision would be made on a number of criteria but that “economics” would not be the lone factor. Stern’s comments are rooted in the multitude of issues that will play a role in the BOG’s decision-making that aren’t tied to franchise price, but overlook the “economics” factor.

“I don’t think it’s a bidding war….” Stern said last week. “There’s a series of issues that are defined by our constitution that have to be considered. One of the things that our board is mandated to consider is the support for the team in the prior city. So there are real issues for the board to consider, about the buildings, about the likelihood they will be built, about the support from the cities.”

Stern also addressed the idea of expansion on Saturday, an idea that would give the league a potential out to keep both cities and potential ownership groups happy.

“I don’t see any scenario where both cities are happy….” Stern said. “There’s a large group of owners who believe that expansion as an economic matter; is a neutral thing. At least the way we’ve done it to date, you get a lot of money in and in return for that you cut the new team in for a large and growing source of revenue from national TV, national licensing, and all things international and digital. And then it doesn’t really seem to make that much additional sense as the increased revenue that demands to the gross (basketball-related income) and increased each player costs and the like.

“So it has to be parsed and analyzed but right now given that we’ve just come through an intriguing collective bargaining negotiation and coupled it with specific revenue sharing, over $200 million, I think the sentiment is to let it all settle and assess how we are doing and what the projections are for how we’ll do.”

Multiple sources told PBT that even if expansion were a possibility that it would be extremely unlikely for the league to express support for it.

This will continue as a two-city race for one team to be decided by the Board of Governors in the coming months.

Kings ownership documents reveal major potential stumbling blocks for Seattle


CORRECTION:  February 8, 2013

An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to a May 2003 document as an addendum to the Kings’ 1992 ownership agreement.  The May 2003 document is self-described as a proposal, which, if approved, would constitute a basis for an amendment of the Kings’ partnership agreement.  The version of the May 2003 document viewed by PBT was unsigned.

This item was co-written by Aaron Bruski and James Ham

The fight over the Sacramento Kings is building to a fever pitch.

In one corner, Seattle-based investors led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer have entered into an agreement to purchase the Kings from the Maloof family with the intention of moving to Seattle.

In the other corner, former NBA All-Star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is moving comfortably toward an announcement of his equity partners, which will come at some time this week. Sources close to the situation have said that these owners will more than meet NBA criteria and be able to compete with or beat Seattle’s offer. Additionally, these owners will come to the table willing to pay their portion in an arena deal that was previously approved by the NBA, and sources say will be approved by the Sacramento City Council, as well.

USA Today and the Sacramento Bee reported that big money guys Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov were in serious talks with the city, and USA Today reported that Burkle met with David Stern in New York on Thursday, January 24th. PBT can confirm each of those reports.

Since the Sacramento Bee’s report on the issue January 24, there has been speculation whether Kings minority owners have the “Right of First Opportunity” to purchase the team from the Maloofs.

They well may.

NBC ProBasketballTalk has acquired a copy of the Kings’ 1992 ownership agreement and an unsigned May 2003 proposal to amend the ownership agreement.

Article VII of the 1992 ownership agreement, “Transfer of Partnership Interests” starts off in Section 7.1 “Restrictions on Transfer” with the basic tenet that, “…no sale, assignment, transfer, encumbrance or hypothecation (herein referred to as a “Transfer”) shall be made by a Partner of the whole or any part of its or his Partnership interest (including, but not limited to, its or his interest in the capital or profits of the Partnership).” Section 7.2 permits certain specified sales to “Affiliates,” which in theory covers sales to essentially the same ownership (more on “Affiliates” below).

A little further down in Article VII, Section 7.3 spells out the right of first refusal in plain legalese.

“Section 7.3. Right of First Opportunity.

Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 7.1 hereof, if a Partner desires to assign all or part of his or its interest in the Partnership and such assignment is not specifically permitted under Sections 7.2A or 7.2B above, then the assignment shall be subject to the right of first opportunity hereinafter described in this Section 7.3. Before a Partner (the “Selling Partner”) actually concludes a sale of its interest in the Partnership subject to this Section 7.3, the Selling Partner shall give notice to (a) the General Partner and each other Limited Partner if he Selling Partner is a Limited Partner, and (b) to each Limited Partner if the Selling Partner is the General Partner (such Partner or Partners other than the Selling Partner being individually and collectively herein called “Non-Selling Partner”) setting forth the purchase price for which it will offer such Partnership interest for sale (which purchase price must be payable entirely in cash or part in cash and the balance pursuant to one or more promissory notes).

Section 7.3 further adds that a “non-selling partner” must step forward with its right to match within 30-days notice of the team’s sale. When that authority is exercised, the minority owner would have a 45-day window to complete a purchase.

The language is clear, but perhaps the Maloof family is counting on an earlier clause:

“Section 5.3. Limitations on Authority of the General Partner.

Notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 5.1 and 5.2 hereof:

A. The following decisions shall require the approval of Partners then holding Partnership Percentages aggregating at least 65%:

(1) The moving of the Team from the Sacramento area to another City prior to February 1, 2002;

(2) The sale of all or substantially all of the Partnership Property

Section 5.1 details the “Authority of the General Partner.” It includes language giving the majority owner “exclusive authority to manage the operations and affairs and to make all decisions regarding the Partnership and its business…”

Section 5.2 addresses the “Sale or Financing of Partnership Property.” It includes clear language stating “the General Partner shall have the sole and unrestricted right to and discretion to determine all matters in connection with any sale of the partnership Property or any part thereof…”

In layman’s terms, sections 5.1 through 5.3 establish the potential for a super-majority in the franchise’s decision-making authority. By reaching a 65-percent threshold of controlling interest, the Maloof family and partner Bob Hernreich have accomplished that by purchasing minority shares during the last decade.

While this all seems alarming for the Kings’ minority owners, it is not the end of the story. Nowhere in Sections 7.1 through 7.3 is an exception carved out protecting Section 5.3 and the Maloofs super-majority clause from the right of first opportunity. This means that while the Maloofs’ have the right to sell and/or relocate without minority approval, it doesn’t appear they have the right to sell any portion of their interest in the club without first giving the limited partners a chance to match.

As attorneys do, how an attorney may interpret the document may depend on who is paying their bills. And a judge may get to make the final call.

A May 2003 proposal to amend the ownership agreement proposed to strip the “Affiliate” language that sources tell PBT may have provided a small loophole for a transfer of the team’s majority share while circumventing the rights of the minority owners. The proposal included the following language:

“2. Partners Right of First Refusal

To clarify the issue of First Right of Refusal on purchase of partnership shares, the following is a proposed amendment to the Partnership Agreements:

A. Partner’s Proposal to Transfer. If a Partner proposes to sell, assign, or otherwise dispose of all or any part of the Partner’s Interest, however it is held, i.e. whether or not the interest is owned directly by it, or through another entity, individual, etc. (Hereafter “Such Interest”), then the Partner (“Selling Partner”) shall first make a written offer to sell such Interest to the remaining Partners, pro rata (as not all of the other Partners are required to participate in the purchase) based on their then ownership positions in the Partnership. The price, terms and conditions shall be as mutually agreed by the parties.

The following section goes on to propose that in the case of a third-party offer, the minority owners retain their right of first refusal for 60 days after receiving the selling Partner’s written notice and it finishes with this definitive statement:

“No Partner shall sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of their Interest, even if owned through a different entity and it is the purported different entity selling all or a portion of itself within the holder of the Interest, except in accordance with the provisions of this Article.”

There is one more note of interest in Section 3 of the proposal titled “Sale of an Interest in the General Partner”:

“Any offer received by the General Partners to purchase a portion, or all, of their interest, which was not purchased by the Limited Partners pursuant to their Right of First Refusal, would be considered an offer to purchase that percentage of the total entity.”

Meaning, that if the Maloofs sell their interest to the Hansen-Ballmer group for the reported $525 million and the minority owners do not take up the Right of First Refusal, Hansen and Ballmer would be required to purchase a proportional stake of the minority share as well.

We aren’t looking at $341 million (the Maloof and Hernreich 65-percent share), we would be looking at the entire $525 million. Although whether that sum would make the Seattle group even blink is up for debate.

The proposal language states that if the proposal is approved by the partners, it will constitute a basis for an amendment of the ownership agreement to be drafted and executed by all partners.  The version of the May 2003 proposal viewed by PBT was unsigned but according to a source with intimate knowledge of the situation, the proposal was signed in May of 2003.  PBT is not aware of an amendment to the ownership agreement that was later drafted and executed by all partners.

So the question now becomes, is there a Right of First Opportunity/Refusal and if so, is there a minority owner who is willing to step up and invoke that right? If so, can that owner come up with the financial backing to match the deal from the Hansen-Ballmer group?  What is the backstory of the May 2003 proposal and what became of it?  And lastly, will the NBA continue to back a Seattle deal that may have ignored the rights of minority owners?

It would be surprising if the NBA didn’t have some serious questions for the Maloofs and the Seattle group.

Sources: “Mega-Whales” Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov in serious talks with Sacramento

Ron Burkle2

There aren’t a lot of people willing to give Sacramento much of a fighting chance to hold on to the Kings, but they’re not going down without a big money fight.

Sources familiar with the situation tell ProBasketballTalk that “mega whales” Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov are in serious talks with the city of Sacramento to collaborate on a bid to buy the Kings and keep them in California’s capitol.

Additionally, sources report that there is no shortage of bidders as at least five groups have approached the city and have NBA-level credentials.

Burkle famously was interested in buying the Kings from the Maloofs when they filed for relocation in 2011, but was rebuffed by the family in an emotional response.

From Sacramento’s perspective, the combination of Burkle and Mastrov would be an extremely compelling group to present to the NBA’s Board of Governors, and is being called a “dream team” by those close to the negotiations. Burkle, a billionaire, has transformed the Pittsburgh Penguins into a model NHL franchise and was coveted by Commissioner David Stern, who excitedly told Kevin Johnson last year, “You’ve got Burkle?” Mastrov founded the 24 Hour Fitness chain and finished second in a recent bid to purchase the Warriors, ahead of billionaire Larry Ellison.

Both owners would work with the city of Sacramento using a model of last year’s arena plan that was negotiated and agreed upon by David Stern and AEG. Sources say that their interest is derived from Sacramento’s burgeoning basketball marketplace, a market they has been evaluated in talks to be a top-5 NBA market when one factors in the lack of other sports competition.

Hanging over the situation is the fact that the NBA has received over $3 billion in public subsidy money for arenas since 1990, and sources with knowledge of the situation maintain that Sacramento’s current “model offer” of public funds will not go unrecognized by the NBA’s Board of Governors. Aside from a public relations nightmare similar to that of Sonicsgate, the league’s ability to secure future funds from cities could be threatened if Sacramento is abandoned for Seattle. Yahoo! Sports and CSN Bay Area have reported that the Board of Governors has already made up their minds to support a move to Seattle, but sources speaking to PBT on the condition of anonymity don’t see it that way.

The Sacramento Bee and USA Today were first to report these developments.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson lays out framework for Kings to stay put

anderson kj romani

With reports swirling that the Kings’ move to Seattle is a mere formality at this point, the story on the ground in Sacramento is much, much different.

In the end, this story comes down to three things:

1. Can Seattle’s Chris Hansen close a deal with the Maloofs to buy the Kings? (According to reports, it was first and goal at the one-yard line about a week ago)
2. Can Kevin Johnson secure the opportunity to meet or beat that offer?
3. What will the NBA’s Board of Governors decide to do?

As we reported in September, in order for Seattle to be able to beat Sacramento’s offer financially they would have to drastically overpay for the team. This is because Sacramento owners do not have to worry about the Maloofs’ loan to the city, relocation fees, or moving costs.

The offer in Seattle has been reported to be $525 million based on the overall valuation of the franchise, so Sacramento can pay $425-$450 million based on the overall valuation of the franchise and still end up providing more money to the Maloofs than Seattle can.

With sources speaking to PBT on the condition of anonymity saying Sacramento has multiple buyers that meet both the city and NBA’s criteria for owning a franchise, the pertinent question has been whether or not David Stern and the other owners would allow Sacramento to present their offer.

We got that confirmation today at the State of Downtown Sacramento Breakfast when mayor Johnson announced that Stern had indeed approved Sacramento’s request to speak at the Board of Governors meeting in April.

This is an extremely significant development in this story. First, it displays the trust that has grown between Stern and Johnson, as well as between Stern and the city of Sacramento, who has met every deliverable that has been asked of them in the Maloof debacle.

Second, it shows that Stern and the other owners are willing to let this relocation issue play out at a more visible level. If they had no intention of giving Sacramento a chance, then it would be a curious decision to give the critical voices blasting the NBA for its relocation practices the oxygen to continue bashing them.

Indeed, the city of Sacramento has presented a “model offer of public funds” according to one league source, and for a complete rundown of what a decision to move the team from Sacramento would look like, you can check out previous write-ups about the NBA’s billion dollar subsidy industry and how that plays into the league’s decision-making here.

In short, the league has leveraged cities into providing $3 billion of public money since 1990 for the creation of state-of-the-art arenas – all predicated on the assumption that a long-term partnership would be honored so long as both parties are acting in reasonable good faith.

If Sacramento has done everything it can to keep their team, a fact that is not in dispute, then leaving them at the altar because the Maloof family ran their own finances into the ground is going to be a major problem the next time they go to ask a city for money.

Most importantly, with sources close to the situation confident that they will have an actionable offer that will reasonably meet or beat the amount of money that Hansen can put into the Maloofs’ pockets — assuming he and partner/Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer don’t turn into the drunk guys at an auction — then Stern and the other owners are going to have to make an unprecedented decision to move the team out of Sacramento.

Not only would a Sacramento offer likely break the NBA record purchase price of a franchise, and include an actionable plan to build a brand new arena with a league vetted public-private partnership, but a decision to move the team would mark the first time a mid-market city had been poached for a larger market when the original city had everything the league could ever ask for in place at the time of the move.

Looking at the Maloof side of the equation, they are both driving this discussion but are also operating at an extremely weakened position in this debacle. Owing as much as $200 million by various reports and facing a financial crisis of their own (they just made a cash call to minority investors according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge), it would be a shocking move if they did not sell the team at this stage of the game.

Furthermore, both the family and the NBA could be in for a messy breakup should Sacramento not be given a fair chance to buy the team.

Any lawsuit filed by the city to stall the deal for what legal sources say could be any number of criteria relating to the improper moving of the franchise, including but not limited to union workers’ rights and the lack of a local bidding process, would necessarily put the Maloofs into a lame duck season in Sacramento.

When considering the Maloofs’ messy financial situation and considering the league’s likely desire not to get into a protracted battle over the Kings, all signs point to Sacramento getting a chance to present their offer with everybody at the table willing to vote their way should the deal points pan out as Sacramento sources say they will.

For all of the talk about the Maloofs not wanting to sell to a Sacramento buyer, and confirming Sam Amick’s must-read report about the situation, the talk of Ron Burkle appears to be overstated at this point.

There are sources in Sacramento that believe he could still be a party to these talks, but that the KJ camp is not relying on any one white knight at this time. It has been reported here and elsewhere that the Maloofs don’t want to sell to him because of their dislike for the billionaire, who they believe ruined their chances to move to Anaheim in March of 2011.

The reality here is that they are going to have to fall in line with what the NBA’s BOG decides or face the prospect of a lame duck season going heads up against both the NBA and Sacramento, and in their financial situation that is a non-starter according to most sources with knowledge of the situation.

These sources aren’t going to predict what the Maloofs will try to do, but most believe that the family will take a financially favorable offer in Sacramento and also that if the league decides to back Sacramento in a relatively close deal that they family will back down and take the offer.

With the decision to have Kevin Johnson out to the BOG meetings already made, the focus of this story shifts to the work at hand for Sacramento. They have to get their ownership group finalized and ready for presentation.

Those following the situation should not be surprised if a deal is announced in Seattle, but like the San Francisco Giants’ eventually blocked sale to Tampa Bay in August of 1992 this will be decided by the owners once Johnson’s deal is finalized should Hansen come to an agreement with the Maloofs.

And for those handicapping the action, Kevin Johnson is not going to make that presentation without having owners in place that meet the shared criteria of both his camp and the NBA office. He will come boasting a ravenous No. 20 television marketplace with some advantages and disadvantages compared to Seattle, but nobody will deny Sacramento’s appetite for NBA basketball.

In 24 hours since announcing their grassroots effort, Here We Buy has received pledges totaling nearly $10 million from local individuals and businesses toward season tickets under the new ownership group.

Johnson will come armed with the ability to force the Maloofs into a lame duck season if he has to, but mostly he will arrive at that meeting with yet another stirring example of his city stepping up with all odds against it.

The images of the Sign Lady, Carmichael Dave on a ladder telling crying Kings fans that ‘this is not over by a long shot,’ and the 600-1000 arena workers that are going to lose their jobs are not going to be lost on the proceedings, and for the owners without tear ducts in their eyes they will look at the financial risk of a decision against Sacramento side by side to the incremental benefit of a very qualified Seattle offer.

That decision to rip out Sacramento’s heart is all risk and marginal gain, assuming Kevin Johnson has one more career-defining slam dunk left in him.

And since he hasn’t missed a shot yet, it seems silly to bet that he’s going to fall apart in the fourth quarter.