Tag: Think Big Sacramento

chris hansen seattle

Will Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen drastically overpay for the Sacramento Kings?


News of billionaire Chris Hansen striking a deal with the Seattle City Council hit the wire late Monday night, as the sides have agreed to a framework on an arena deal that moves them a few smaller hurdles away from becoming an NBA-ready city (courtesy of Chris Daniels of King 5 in Seattle).

In a bit of twisted irony, the city that had its team stolen away will now set its sights on any available team, and there is no team that is more available than the Sacramento Kings, who nowadays have a different rumored destination every week.

This most recent news solidifies Seattle’s place on the top of that list, though they still need the Maloofs to sell, and they still have to outdo Sacramento. Neither task should be considered a slam dunk, or even likely at this point.

The idea that Sacramento could lose its team, of course, is a black eye for the league as the city has supported its team in every conceivable way, including where it counts financially and at the ticket gate. The only reason we’re having this discussion is because the Maloof family, internal squabbles aside, doesn’t want to be there.

Their roots are in New Mexico, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, and being broke in relative NBA owner terms they’re looking for a short-term infusion of cash, which they hope to find by moving the team to another city that will both build them an arena and also let them keep the profits from it.

Cities such as Virginia Beach, Louisville, Vancouver, Kansas City, and the like are potential candidates if anything because they’re willing to pay to be on the NBA map. But the math starts to get fuzzy because the markets are smaller than Sacramento, and the Maloofs end up no better off than they were in Sacramento over the long haul.

That, and the NBA doesn’t really want those markets, at least not at the expense of Sacramento, where the league enjoys the No. 20 sized TV market without interference from other sports leagues. When you factor in the public relations hit of moving the team – it’s hard to see the league supporting a move and to date we have not.

Even when considering a larger market like Anaheim, the league isn’t falling all over itself to allow a move. The NBA blocked the Maloofs’ relocation attempt last year after Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson raised over $10 million in untapped sponsorships at the drop of a hat and promised a viable arena deal. Things seemed to be moving along reasonably well and a deal for a new arena was agreed to in principle during All Star weekend in Orlando.

But that was before George Maloof created a how-to-guide for burning bridges in Sacramento. He torched the deal live on public television in a tirade for the ages, and any goodwill that was leftover at the league offices was probably lost. Commissioner David Stern has used measured words in describing the arena situation since then, and none of them have painted the Maloofs in a flattering light.

In fact, the commissioner would probably like to see the family sell the team, but as usual the issue comes down to money, antitrust law, and the other 29 owners that one day will be negotiating with both the league office and their home city about something.

Aside from not wanting anybody to tell them what to do, owners want the right to move their teams to the cities they feel they can make the most money in. Leagues don’t like to allow this as it creates a number of problems, and the courts have found that the intersection of those opposing ideals lies in the concept of a relocation fee. Relocation fees are the amount that a league can charge to indemnify parties that are damaged by an owner’s decision to move.

The law is much more detailed than this, and the case law that has been favorable to relocating owners isn’t an exact match to the situation in Sac, but one thing is clear – neither party wants to land in court over this.

And that’s why the Kings arena situation has been allowed to play out, to the detriment of the league’s image, and as an affront to the other 29 owners that one day will have to negotiate with their municipalities.

While it’s unclear right now what impact the Maloofs’ apparent bad faith dealings in Sacramento will have on other team owners seeking public subsidies, a small shift in public sentiment could cost the league and its players tens of millions of dollars and a large scale shift could put the billion dollars the league has received in subsidy back on its balance sheet.

But even with the Maloofs’ name now toxic inside the league and out, to the point it’s being pulled off the signage at the Palms, the league cannot afford a bad ruling in an antitrust case. Aside from treble damages the Maloofs would seek, which are significant, a bad ruling would be held over all sports leagues’ heads by owners wanting to play franchise free agency.

The best hope for the league has always been to see the issue play out on its own, with the Maloofs realizing that they have no options besides going back to the city with its hat in its hand, or selling the team outright.

And with Seattle standing in the on-deck circle and doing what they need to do to land itself an NBA franchise, the question on everybody’s mind is whether or not Hansen will be able to drastically overpay for the Kings.

The Maloofs owe about $70 million to the city of Sacramento and well over $100 million to the NBA, and a sales price in excess of $400 million is needed to give the 43 percent stakeholders an easy way out of Dodge. Considering the franchise is valued at $300 million by Forbes, which is a generous valuation, Hansen would need to hope that the bump of moving to a larger market in Seattle and owning land near the arena would justify the Maloofs’ likely asking price.

But more importantly, when you factor in a relocation fee, which sources tell me will be assessed to give Sacramento buyers a fair shot at buying the team, Hansen could be looking at $500 million or more to buy the Kings. After paying $300 million and counting to build an arena, that’s approaching a billion dollars to get in the game.

It’s possible that the man known for his patience will wait for a less toxic situation to pop up, and it’s fair to wonder now if the league would reconsider expansion now that multiple cities have expressed interest in NBA clubs.

As for Hansen’s involvement with the Kings, he said weeks ago that he had not made an offer to purchase the Kings after a local report emerged saying otherwise. If he decides to make a play for the team, and assuming the Maloofs are ready to cry uncle, it probably puts Sacramento on notice that it’s time to formalize an offer to buy the team.

Sources on the city’s side have indicated that they have more than one buyer lined up, and ultimately Seattle’s progress could force some sort of endgame here. If the goal is to sell for the Maloofs, then they will likely have squeezed the best sales price out of Sacramento that is possible, and anything close to a Seattle offer (after the relocation fee) will likely be supported by the league.

If the Maloofs still don’t want to sell, they’ll continue to play the dating game with other cities and the league will continue to deal with a public relations nuisance. The family will not get a different arena deal in Sacramento, and any talk of renovating the unrenovatable Arco Arena with public funds has been met with collective laughter both inside and outside of the city.

Even if the Maloofs can find a sweetheart deal somewhere else, it’s unlikely that they’ll have the clout to force a move the league doesn’t want. Sure, they may have some antitrust law on their side, but they probably can’t afford the lawsuit and even if they win, they’re left in a place where they’re not wanted. They don’t have the fortitude of antitrust victor and deceased Raiders owner Al Davis. And other than George, they want to be wanted.

In Sacramento, the framework for a deal exists not just for the Maloofs but for any owner that wants to pick up the ball and run with it.

The deal that was struck between the city, arena giant AEG, and the NBA is still considered a good deal by each of those parties, and the only thing that would theoretically change are the owner contributions. In a concept the Maloofs cannot come to grips with, if a new owner wants to pay more for arena construction they can enjoy more of the profits.

Unlike anywhere else in the country, including Seattle, an agreement can be reached in Sacramento under the current terms and design could start within about a month according to sources.

As usual, though, the story goes right back to the Maloofs and whether or not they’re ready to face the music. They can’t do nothing, as Arco Arena is dilapidated and barely up to NBA code. They’ll eventually need to do more than polish the concourse floors.  Eventually, they’ll either need to take the Sacramento offer, try to make something out of nothing in an unlikely move out of town, or sell the team.

And when the music stops and the only thing left to do is sell, will Hansen or any other buyer want to drastically overpay for this particular franchise to the extent that Sacramento can’t match the offer?

Until these questions are answered or the Maloofs are nudged out the door with greater efficiency, Sacramento Kings fans have to endure the same fears that plagued Sonics fans before their team was ultimately ripped away.  And that’s just not right.

Have the Maloofs threatened the NBA’s billion dollar arena subsidy industry?

team maloof with stern

What do Faye Vincent, George Steinbrenner, and David Stern have in common?

They’re each relevant characters in the relocation saga of the Maloof family, owners of the Sacramento Kings, who are increasingly becoming a liability for the NBA.

That’s because Chris Lehane, executive director of arena group Think Big Sacramento and big-time political consultant to be played by Rob Lowe in the upcoming film Knife Fight – mashed those characters together when he sent a scathing letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday. In that letter, he described the Maloofs’ harassment of at least one Sacramento business owner using an ex-FBI agent and asks for a federal investigation into the matter.

On Friday night, CBS13, the local CBS News affiliate, reported that the Maloof Family is employing a former FBI Agent whose purported activities appear designed to intimidate citizens of the Sacramento region who in recent weeks have expressed their concerns about the Maloof Family’s ownership of the Sacramento Kings.

If accurate, the report that the Maloof Family is potentially party to such unscrupulous conduct shocks the conscience at any number of levels.

First, in an era where professional sports organizations have been heavily punished for engaging in “spying” on opposing teams and putting “bounties” on opposing players – the idea that a professional sports team’s ownership group would target its own fans, including prominent and respected local business leaders who are financial supporters of the team, is simply unconscionable.

Lehane then goes in on what happened when Steinbrenner got caught paying Howie Spira, a man with an extremely questionable background, $40,000 to dig up dirt on then Yankee Dave Winfield.

Second, given the history of professional sports owners being severely sanctioned for the use of private detectives involved in comparable activities, it would appear that the Maloofs are possibly exposing themselves to sanctions. Former New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was permanently suspended by Major League Baseball for hiring a private detective to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield.

And for the cherry on top, Lehane asks for the federal investigation:

And, third, in deploying a former FBI Agent to engage in what was reported to be acts of intimidation and harassment, various federal criminal statutes are potentially implicated.

The complete text of the letter can be found here. It goes on to identify federal harassment statutes that could apply to the use of a private investigator, it poses the question of whether or not a federal law enforcement official was impersonated, and to tie a bow on things Lehane points out that the act occurred in Sacramento and the Maloofs reside in Las Vegas – creating a jurisdictional argument to be made in favor of federal prosecution.

Even though this seems jarring when taken at face value, unless there is a real smoking gun that could translate into serious charges against the Maloofs this is just a way to shine a light on their behavior. It’s more likely the audience here was really Stern and the other 29 NBA owners.

Furthermore, the real reason why Lehane brought the Steinbrenner incident into focus is the “best interest of the league” clause found in each of the major sports’ constitutions and by-laws. Vincent used the clause to give Steinbrenner a lifetime ban for the Spira incident (among other factors), though Steinbrenner later exerted enough pressure to be reinstated after two years of riding the pine.

There has already been some talk, some published and most of it unpublished, that Stern could or should use the NBA’s version of the best interest clause to force the sale of the team or nicely encourage ‘the boys’ to negotiate in good faith with Sacramento. The motivation is simple. The Maloofs don’t appear to have the money to run an NBA team, the NBA doesn’t need another Sonicsgate, and the NBA itself has gone to great lengths to preserve the Sacramento market.

The questions (in order) are, however, can he do it, will he do it, and at some point does he have to do it?

According to the Marquette Sports Law Review, the commissioner’s office is installed within the framework of a “monopolistic business association,” shielding the NBA from being bogged down by litigation so long as the commissioner’s office provides “due process” for disputes between players, owners, and the league itself. The office is supposed to act as a disinterested reviewing body with the power and independence to sanction players and owners alike. This body gives the owners the ability to ‘obviate judicial interference,’ which is a fancy way of saying the courts stay out of their business on a multitude of legal issues. From the league and owners’ perspectives, a commissioner can resolve certain conflicts faster and more effectively (read: cheaper) than the courts can.

This “due process” is also an important mechanism required for the league to avoid antitrust suits in relocation disputes. If you recall during Stern’s press conference just hours after George Maloof and his antitrust attorneys torched the Sacramento deal, he said “I am very sensitive of the rights of the Maloofs to do what they did.” That’s because in past relocation disputes, leagues have lost cases because they did not give owners, such as Al Davis and Donald Sterling, an appropriate forum and process to apply for their relocation requests. As distasteful as the Maloof’s actions were, honoring the application and due process of a relocation request is paramount and the likely motivation behind Stern’s comments.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the Maloofs get to unilaterally hurt other NBA owners or the league as it considers their relocation request. Moreover, the ‘best interest’ clause sits side by side with antitrust law to determine how much, if at all, the Maloofs can hurt the NBA and its other owners with their relocation activities. While all of this gets fleshed out inside of Stern’s due process, not to mention outside of the due process with all of the various arm-twisting that goes on behind the scenes, it’s the due process itself that upholds the commissioner’s office as a viable mechanism to obviate judicial interference.

And none of that interference may be as important to obviate as the monopolistic protection the NBA receives as it leverages limited supply (teams) against tremendous demand when it threatens to leave cities if public subsidies are not provided for owners.

These subsidies are a billion dollar item on the balance sheet over multiple years, and it is in the best interest of the league to ensure that it places its best foot forward in how it markets its product to municipalities and their taxpayers.

Should any NBA owners be found to be negotiating in bad faith during arena discussions, as it appears the Maloofs may have, the association could be found liable for losses derived from a failed negotiation – in this case over $500,000 for Sacramento and thousands of hours of time by its city staff and representatives. And because of the tax dollars at play nationwide, both lawmakers and the courts will look to the commissioner’s office to see that due process is being carried out on behalf of all parties, from owner to taxpayer.

As if the overall issue of the Maloof’s relocation wasn’t enough, it was learned earlier this week that the proprietor of a Sacramento website called Ransacked Media both personally met with the Maloof’s private detective and later released confidential emails between NBA attorney Harvey Benjamin and George Maloof. While all leaks are not created equally, if it is found that the Maloofs materially harmed the league’s ability to negotiate with future municipalities because they leaked this information it is just more trouble for Stern and the 29 other owners to consider right now. And it can’t reflect well that discussion of the team’s television deal with Comcast was made available for the masses, as Benjamin put it “We agree regarding Comcast, but no one thought it would be wise as a public matter to put this in a public document.”

Well, it’s public now.

Clearly, there are questions surrounding the Maloofs’ end-game strategy and why they would want to own a basketball team amidst serious concerns about their finances. The NBA’s owners told us repeatedly over the summer that very few teams are making money. As the Kings have been among the league’s lowest spending teams for years, they’ve shown that they can’t or won’t spend the money needed to be a title contender. By some reports the Kings are enjoying an approximate $10 million revenue sharing stream and while ticket sales and sponsorships may hold steady for now, the chance for another PR blunder to destroy whatever goodwill is left in Sacramento remains high. As for that revenue sharing, Stern alluded to the fact that the owners could always vote to change their mind about the Maloofs’ continued receipt of their share.

Politically, the Maloofs have all-but destroyed any chance of getting a publicly-funded arena in Sacramento that would meet the needs of the NBA and the city. Their solution to renovate the current arena is an obvious attempt to produce evidence in an antitrust lawsuit, as they will likely seek public funds that will be denied because the current arena is nearing the end of its useful life. Putting any money into it, let alone public money, has been decried as ludicrous by every third-party that’s not a puppet for the Kings. But the family will say they did all they could to make a deal work in Sacramento and that everybody else let them down.

So after burning every bridge in California’s capitol, the only option on the table for the Maloofs that doesn’t include them financing their own facility is to move and/or sell the team. And none of the options to keep the team present the Maloofs with a tremendous financial advantage over this last deal that the NBA negotiated alongside them.

Moving a team to Anaheim, for example, will return at least a $300 million relocation fee as the result of infringing upon the Lakers and Clippers’ markets and render the family upside-down in their investment without some serious help. Seattle just reached a Memorandum of Understanding agreement on Wednesday with investor Chris Hansen that is pending, and the city’s investment of up to $120 million for an NBA-only arena will need to clear all the red tape that Sacramento’s did. Regardless, Hansen isn’t spending over $500 million to roll out the red carpet for the Maloofs. Otherwise, you can add Vancouver, Louisville, Columbus, and Kansas City to the list of cities whose names have landed on the radar, and none of them provide the Maloofs a path to improve their financial standing or support their entertainment holdings. All they provide is a lukewarm bidding war to raise the sales price of the team.

Talking with sources close to the negotiations, it’s clear that many of them are done trying to understand what the Maloofs are doing right now. Exasperated would be the appropriate word. Did the Maloofs threaten an antitrust suit and did the NBA respond by threatening a relocation fee in Orlando? Did the Maloofs leave Orlando with an agreement in principal only to decide days later to leverage their antitrust rights? Are they buying time in hopes that a game-changer comes through the pipeline? Has all of this simply been an exercise in selling the team? Does it even matter at this point? The damage is done. Sacramento has spun its wheels for a family with all questions and no answers, and could very well be left without a team if nothing is done about it.

Now, in their apparent pursuit of evidence for an antitrust case, it appears they may have crossed more lines and bitten off more than they can chew. Whatever their motives may be – they continue to encumber the league’s standing with customers, cities, its own owners, and eventually with lawmakers and the courts.

The appropriate question for the league and its owners is – at what point does the behavior become a recognized liability and at what point do they figure out that holding the line isn’t the smartest play.

Ultimately, it’s in the best interest of the league that they figure this out quickly. Billion dollar subsidies don’t grow on trees.

Sacramento City Council has votes for arena if reachable criteria is met

Inside Kings Arena

The Sacramento Kings and their fans will hold their breath on Tuesday night, as the Sacramento City Council holds the first of at least two critical votes that will determine whether or not the team leaves town.

Let me be the first to tell you that tonight’s vote will pass.  Sources close to the situation report that the council is all but certain to have the votes necessary to move the process forward.

Specifically, the vote will allow the council to finalize proposals with ten competing private parking operators that will provide upwards of $200 million toward the cost of the estimated $387 million Entertainment and Sports Complex.

This will setup a vote on February 28 that will decide the Kings’ future.  It is at this time that the council, in cooperation with mayor Kevin Johnson’s Think Big Sacramento coalition, will vote to approve a term sheet that will signal to the NBA that Sacramento can indeed fund an arena.

I’m also told by sources with knowledge of the situation that as long as a laundry list of criteria is met, the council will have at least the four votes necessary (not counting Johnson’s tie-breaking vote) to approve the term sheet.

This laundry list includes guarantees that the city’s general fund will be replenished by the approximate $9 million annual revenue stream currently provided by city-owned parking operations, a plan for some or all of the city’s employees to be transferred into the new parking company’s operation, a mechanism to cap rate hikes for parking in the future, an option for an agreement shorter than 50 years, and a mechanism to provide kickbacks to the city if parking revenues exceed certain benchmarks.

It is believed that within that framework, the city can meet or exceed their $200 million target.

The last major item on the laundry list is who will be responsible for cost overruns if the $387 million project goes over its budget.  I’m told the city will approach the developer, David Taylor, to potentially provide that guarantee.  While it is unclear whether or not Taylor would shoulder such responsibility, he will likely be given incentive to do so by an offer of development rights near the arena.

Taylor has been working on the arena deal for years and has evaluated the project for Sacramento at a significant cost to himself, and it would be surprising if he told the council that he would not be responsible for cost overruns on a project he evaluated and promoted – particularly if there is further incentive in the form of development rights.

Adding the estimated $200 million or more from parking, an estimated $30 million from local hotels, an estimated $50 million from an arena operator (AEG), and an estimated $80 million from the NBA and the Maloofs — sources tell me that the city is well in the ballpark of securing the financing necessary for the arena.

In other words, the city of Sacramento has both the will and the way to secure a ‘yes’ vote for an arena.

As far as the timing goes, while February 28 is potentially the date for a deciding vote, it is likely that the NBA will allow for an extension on the March 1 deadline so they can properly evaluate Sacramento’s findings.  That announcement could come during All Star weekend.  The NBA and the Maloofs could theoretically act on the city’s proposal quickly and provide their terms in time for a February 28 vote, but sources stress the important part is that the city will have communicated that it is ready to vote on a deal.

From there it is on David Stern and the Maloofs to pull the trigger on the estimated $80 million price tag, which amounts to about $3 million per year in rental payments for 30 years, all paid up front.

As for any talk of selling the team, The Maloofs have been consistent with their message that it’s not an option, and their sale of the Palms can be seen as either a sign that the ship is sinking or a sign that they were moving money for the purposes of an arena.  In the unlikely event they do want to sell, Think Big Sacramento executive director Jeremiah Johnson told Seattle’s King 5 News that the city has “a number of ownership groups willing to keep the Kings in Sacramento.”

It’s not going to come to that.

The Maloofs and/or the NBA could try leverage the city of Anaheim against Sacramento, who recently made improvements on their NBA-ready facility, but after Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling just agreed to revenue sharing with small market clubs it’s less likely that the NBA will place another team in their backyard.

As for Seattle, despite their clear efforts to bring an NBA team back home, they are well behind Sacramento in their pursuit of an arena.  They too would have to approve public funds for a new building, and Stern and the Maloofs will have to weigh the $80 million cost of a sure thing given a ‘yes’ vote, and a nebulous offering in Seattle that is 1-2 years away while Key Arena is a stop-gap solution at best.

With all of the support David Stern and the NBA has given Sacramento in its fight to keep the Kings – from manpower in the front office to people on the ground helping make the arena deal a reality – it just doesn’t make sense for them to pass up a viable option for two that have problems.

This is a complex situation and it is not a done deal, but the once half-court shot turned 3-pointer doesn’t even seem like a free throw at this point – it seems like a layup.  The Party of Five that voted down a public vote that would have sent the Kings packing are interested in a deal that addresses the aforementioned criteria.  That criteria reportedly can be met and still provide the project with the money that it needs to be green-lighted, assuming the private parties each put in amounts that seem reasonable, achievable, and already written in pencil.

Kings fans will probably wait until the shovels hit the dirt before they celebrate.  Let this prediction be the first bottle of Dom Perignon.

The Kings aren’t going anywhere.

Kings Arena Update: Critical Sac City Council meeting postponed at last minute


It’s been a while since we checked into the Sacramento Kings’ arena situation, which almost faced another crucial moment on Tuesday when the Sac City Council meeting was set to turn into a shootout at the Cowbell Corral.

On one side, arena opponent and council member Sandy Sheedy was ready to force debate on whether or not the city should hold a public vote on the issue in June. On the other side sits a city council that I’ve profiled in the past as being receptive toward approving the approximate $400 million Entertainment and Sports Complex. Only one other council member, Darrell Fong, has joined Sheedy in voting against a handful of critical procedural issues so far. If a new arena deal is not finalized by March 1, the NBA and Maloofs are going to move the Kings to Anaheim.

By the way the city charter in Sacramento is set up, the elected representatives of the city council are supposed to vote on matters like these. Sheedy wants to depart from that history and bring the vote to the public, knowing full well that a vote in June would be pointless because the Kings would already be gone.

Why is she anti-arena?  It’s certainly not to save money for the city or to stand for economic principals. Sheedy is widely believed to be seeking political revenge against Kevin Johnson after she supported his run for mayor, but did not get a seat in his inner circle. Her seat is also up for grabs in the next council election, and with her district in economic chaos many of the city insiders I have spoken with don’t like her chances to repeat. This is her Hail Mary attempt at taking a position that is different from the pro-arena stance of her challengers, while trying to capitalize on an anti-arena sentiment that may or may not exist. It’s a gamble, but it’s also Sacramento politics at its finest.

More importantly to the reporting of whether or not it will be the Sacramento Kings or Anaheim Royals, Tuesday was going to force city council members to speak on the record about the arena once again. Specifically, they would have to either support or defend Sheedy’s obstructionist play. And just like the past meetings where council members were mostly transparent about their goals, we were going to get a real good read on where folks stood.

That is, until Ryan Lillis of the Sacramento Bee reported that Sheedy called a timeout.

Apparently known arena proponent and councilman Rob Fong couldn’t make Tuesday’s meeting and Sheedy wanted the entire council to be present. Maybe this is a simple coincidence, but with the clock ticking it also wouldn’t be surprising if the absence is related to her opposition. If we’re going down that road, it won’t be surprising to see her gain something in relation to the arena issue as well as her campaign, with the delay setting the stage for her to gracefully back off.

Then again, maybe Fong had business to attend to and Sheedy is going to both reschedule and show up dressed as a purple Grinch.

Either way, we’ll find out soon if Sacramento has the money and votes to pull off one of the bigger saves in modern civic history.

NBA doing the Maloofs’ talking for them

Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings
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The Maloofs’ relationship with Sacramento is decidedly love-hate. When the Kings were winning and Joe and Gavin were plastered on TV during games, Sacramentans were ready to propose.

But it’s funny how life works — the team started losing and (gulp) started asking the city of Sacramento for money, and everything has been downhill since. Their 2006 ill-fated measure to finance an arena was a PR disaster. Now the relationship they have with fans after a failed attempt to get out of Dodge in April is well, think Elin Nordegren and Tiger Woods having dinner at Thanksgiving with their children.

It’s all about the Kings, so I won’t throw this turkey leg at your head.

In all fairness, the Maloofs have dealt with a city that has acted like NBA franchises grow on trees and that people will gladly pay property taxes absent the consideration of amenities.  But let’s not get into details, because who cares about those?  After all, more than half of the basketball public believes the players are ‘on strike’ because Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson ran away with all of the dollar bills to make it rain with.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t surprising in the least to read Rob McAllister’s latest report on KFBK.com about the big meeting in Dallas between arena-related parties. McAllister reports that yesterday the city of Sacramento, NBA representative Clay Bennett, AEG, and others met to lay out parameters, timelines, etc. You know, arena stuff.

But is he forgetting somebody? I’ll let McAllister take it from here:

The Maloof family was not at the meeting in Dallas and there is no time table that currently details when the Kings’ owners will join the negotiations. (Sac City Councilman Rob) Fong said he expects the “Maloofs to be a part of the talks,” even though the city has been dealing directly with the NBA.

If you recall, the NBA kindly told the Maloofs to give Sacramento one more year to get an arena, after Kevin Johnson came up with $10 million in corporate sponsorships and an eleventh hour plan – while simultaneously fans pulled a ‘hell no, we won’t go.’

Make no mistake, it’s not typically the NBA’s protocol to block a team from moving, particularly if the old city has balked at building a new arena. As long as the supply for NBA teams is restricted, and the demand for teams remains high, then the NBA will always have that leverage (see antitrust: reasons why the NBA wants never to speak of it).

So telling the Maloofs to get back in the negotiating seat would normally mean that they, ya know, sit at the table, right? Wrong.

This time Ron Burkle and prospective buyers lurk in the background behind Kevin Johnson’s promise that Sacramento can be an NBA city. The Maloofs, hit hard by the economy, have sold all but two percent of the Palms, and what had once been rumors was finally put into print when NBA insider Jonathan Abrams wrote at Grantland that they “would have likely been forced to sell had they relocated to Anaheim, which remains a distinct possibility.”

Even at city council meetings, where opponents of the arena initiative would normally rail against giving money to rich people, they’re now talking about the various uses of public funds rather than making it about the Maloofs. And arena proponents barely even talk about the Kings these days. Instead, they talk about the A-list acts that will go to the Bay Area if an ‘Entertainment and Sports Complex’ isn’t built, and the millions being lost in Sacramento property tax revenue that a new ‘Entertainment and Sports Complex’ would address according to top economists.

The Maloofs have made just a handful of public comments regarding the process since it was decided that they would stay, and nothing that would make the 10 o’clock news.

For a family that doesn’t exactly lay low, it’s almost like they’re not there, complicit with the idea that their presence could somehow derail things in Sacramento.

It’s a pretty simple decision to hide the Maloofs, given their past history with arena initiatives, the threat of moving, and the like, but as Abrams alluded to there is more at play here.

As much as you would like to hide the Maloofs if you’re Sacramento and the NBA, any owner would be expected to be involved in a process like this, and their representatives would certainly be at meetings of this type. In this case, Bennett is there instead to keep things on track.

The NBA has invested a ton of time in getting an arena deal in Sacramento, and frankly, had they wanted to be in Anaheim they would have simply let the Kings go. But there were too many reasons not to go at the time.

Henry Samueli rolled out the red carpet for the Kings and really, really, really wants to take over for the Maloofs if they can’t afford to play with the other billionaires, but he has an image problem. Convicted of lying to regulators in a stock option scandal years ago, he was suspended as an owner in the NHL. He has a history of philanthropy and Donald Sterling is obviously tolerated, but still, it’s a blemish.

Compared to David Stern’s drooling over Ron Burkle, it’s quite clear who the NBA would prefer to pick up wherever the Maloofs leave off, assuming of course Burkle or the other suitors are still interested.

And then there’s the small issue of the lockout. Back in April the NBA was preparing to ask the Jerry Busses of the world to dish out some pie in the form of revenue sharing – not exactly the right time to plunk a team in his back yard. In fact, there may be no right time to do that if the NBA quadruples revenue sharing – at least not for a while. Don’t tell that to Sacramento, though, since Anaheim is still being dangled over their head (not like a carrot, like a guillotine).

Besides, can the NBA really uproot another franchise — after a lockout — when Sacramento has so publicly been supported by just about everybody in the NBA?  And financially, do they really want to abandon the 20th largest market in the United States, just to overlap what they already have in L.A.?

No. Not now. Not under these circumstances. Not if Kevin Johnson can deliver an arena.

So Clay Bennett will show up and lay out the parameters that have likely already been communicated to Kevin Johnson, AEG, and the rest of the team. Johnson and Sacramento city councilman Rob Fong will be there to discuss what they believe can and cannot pass in the council, which ultimately controls Sacramento’s checkbook. The NBA will negotiate on behalf of the Maloofs, but as long as a reasonable plan gets presented by Sacramento, they’ll turn to the Maloofs and say, ‘here it is.’

And they will take it.  Whatever they choose to do with it from there is anybody’s guess.