Sacramento wins battle, but war may not be over

Stern: 'The real winner here is Sacramento'

Sacramento wins battle, but war may not be over
May 15, 2013, 5:30 pm
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Mayor Kevin Johnson succesfully kept the Kings in Sacramento for next season at least, but the mischief-making Maloofs might not give up yet. (AP)

So, does this count as a two-game winning streak for the Sacramento Kings? An extension of the Maloofs’ six-game losing streak? Kevin Johnson’s ticket to the state house?

Or is it just one more skirmish en route to a king-hell I-5 Armageddon after David Stern has shuffled into retirement?

Logically, the 22-8 vote reinforcing the NBA relocation committee’s intent to keep the Kings in Sacramento would seem to be pretty damned dispositive. The Kings aren’t going to Seattle next year – this much is indisputable.

[RELATED: NBA Board of Governors rejects Kings move to Seattle]

But the matter of whether the Maloofsters can sell a chunk of their team to Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen to thwart Part 2 of the grand Sactown plan – the sale of the team to Sacramento’s based investors – remains an open question, at least for the moment.

And as long as the Maloofs own the team, there is the possibility of mischief afoot. And once David Stern, who helped shepherd the team from its present location to its present location, leaves, this argument may rise again.

But for the moment, Stern and Johnson convinced 22 owners to take less money and roll the dice on the smaller market with the dicier arena plan. Victory laps all around.

There were a number of explanations from Stern about “this wasn’t anti-Seattle, it was pro-Sacramento,” but nobody is buying that. Stern didn’t like the end runs. Seattle and the Maloofs tried to gain the team, in much the same way that the NHL fought so hard to keep Blackberry owner Jim Balsillie from buying the Phoenix Coyotes and moving them to Ontario.

Stern fought for process more than Sacramento, and he fought for Johnson and a billionaire (Ranadive) the league has already vetted more than a new billionaire he doesn’t really know.

He also fought for precedent, and the league didn’t want to find itself in a place where the general membership was ignoring the recommendation of its own relocation committee. It’s a bit like the old Jack Woltz line from The Godfather: “A man in my position cannot be made to look ridiculous.”

And all those arguments piled atop each other still don’t matter to Sacramento, though. Through Johnson and a rotating group of investors, it fought a rearguard action with the right kind of weaponry. The Wednesday vote was a victory for Johnson, who did the work, and it was a victory for the town that frankly needed one.

But it wasn’t the total victory they all hoped it would be. The Maloofs are still in play, and as long as that is true, Ballmer and Hansen and still in play, and if they’re in play . . . well the Kings are not Sacramento’s in perpetuity.

And that’s the lesson here. Sacramento fought desperately to win today’s battle, but there will be others before anyone will be allowed to rest.

Anyone except David Stern, anyway.

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