Kings' future far from locked in Sacramento

Kings' future far from locked in Sacramento
February 29, 2012, 2:46 am
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The Sacramento Kings may have avoided the bullet for now, but if folks think this is absolutely the sure beginning of peace and stability for the plucky little team that can't sit still, well, you may want to give it another think.

Monday's announcement, designed mostly to make sure that Mayor Kevin Johnson got the credit and NBA commissioner David Stern got to be the dean of students, also had the additional component of perhaps beginning the slow process of selling the team by the Maloofs, Gavin and Joe, and George, even though they have consistently maintained they are not interested in selling the team.

Their financial setbacks are well known, the direness of their straits well documented.

NEWS: Deal in place to keep Kings in Sacramento

Even after cobbling out this deal, their position as owners of the basketball team may be no less tenuous than before. In fact, it might even be said that this may have hastened their departure rather than slowed it.

The Maloofs haven't been bad owners. When they were flush, they spent on the team. They are no longer, and their attempt to move to Anaheim last year, while seeming a slap in the face of their current fan base, would not have changed their generally parlous financial state.

In short, they own a team without the throw-weight to put behind it, and even a belated discovery of good intentions isn't the same as stability.

So the Kings may end up being for sale, perhaps sooner rather than later -- and that means that this shiny new arena hard by downtown Sactown has value if and only if the lease with the Kings is not only for a long time, but is ironclad and cannot be broken without the city being made financially whole, and then some.

The lesson of Seattle should be the lesson of Sacramento. Seattle made a run at the Kings because it lost the SuperSonics, because the team's owner, Howard Schultz, sold to a guy named Clay Bennett who lives in Oklahoma, and because there was wiggle room in the Key Arena situation,

Bennett could pick up the team and move it to Oklahoma City, which he did. Thus, Johnson's smile must be short-lived, because he is going to have to be hands-on with the sale of the team. Not because it's his team, but because if he isn't even more diligent than he has been, it might not be.

If they do decide to sell, the Maloofs are going to want sell to the highest bidder, and the league will approve it because the league is run by other owners who will want to do the same thing when their times come. That highest bidder could be like Bennett -- unmarried to the city where the team currently resides -- and without a lease and an agreement that is unlawyerable, the Kings might leave anyway.

That's the thing about building a place that relies on an irreplaceable tenant. The tenant ends up with the leverage, and the allegiance follows the leverage. In other words, the team owner can try to leave through any loophole the lease doesn't cover, and team owners usually have David Stern's allegiance, not mayors.

Thus, the issue for Kevin Johnson isn't over, even if the city council signs off on the arena plan that is supposed to keep the Kings. It is just starting, and that means his legal people need to be better than the legal people the unknown potential owner has. After all, nothing is over until the fine print says it's over.

And even then, you're never completely sure.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com