When previewing the Sacramento Kings, we must first understand that they have a unique situation unlike any of the other NBA teams positioning themselves for position, be it playoff or draft.
In the Kings, their off-court drama is soooo much more interesting than their action between the baselines would seem to be. In looking to the '12-'13 campaign, the first question on anyones mind is simply this: will there be a '13-'14 campaign in Sacramento, or will it be Seattle, Virginia Beach, LouisvilleKansas CityAbileneJuneauBuenos AiresBedrock...
All signs point to the Maloof family wanting to keep ownership of the team. Ever since they sold the Houston Rockets in the wake of their fathers death, they did everything they could to get back into the NBA. Their Palms casino stakes have been whittled down to 2, and they sold off their cash cow beer distributorship. We now see new ventures, such as OMG phone cases and ZING vodka. Cant blame them for wanting to get back in the game, albeit with one or two questionable swings.
Yet with the Kings, the Maloofs are already in the game. Owning a professional sports franchise opens quite a few doors, and we arent just talking marketing. There is a certain standing that comes with rubbing elbows with the Busses and Cubans and Dolans and Jay-Zses, and the Maloofs would have to basically be offered the Hawaiian Islands to sell.
Dont think the fact that Larry Ellison just bought a Hawaiian Island didnt help me write that previous sentence. Yes, Uncle Larry is now in the fray. Lets get to that later.
The Kings are the only team -- of 30 in existence -- that are even remotely vulnerable. The vultures are circling.
Currently, of all the relocation possibilities, Seattle looms largest of all. The Emerald City, which was robbed years ago of its franchise and tradition. They have been forced to watch the bastardization of their beloved SonicsThunder get ever-so-close to a world title. There is no lack of motivation there.
Led by hedge-fund guru Chris Hansen, backed by money from Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) and the Nordstrom brothers, this is also not a crew that lacks resources.
Long have Sacramento types clung to the idea that their white knight comes in the form of grocery magnate Ron Burkle, who has a history of saving damsel franchises in distress (the Pittsburgh Penguins), and keeping them put in their small market homes. However, with the exception of Mayor Kevin Johnson dangling his name in front of NBA Commissioner David Stern during the make-or-break meetings in New York two years ago, no one has heard hide nor hair from Burkle or any of his lieutenants.
Although he may still have a part to play, the idea that Burkle would make the (perhaps) faulty business decision of overpaying for the Kings, as the other bidders are willing to do, would seem to be a faulty conclusion.
Reports continue to circle that the SeattleHansen group offered the Maloofs upwards of 400-425 million dollars for the Kings (a report Hansens people deny) and were turned down. Kings spokesman Troy Hanson, when asked about the existence of an offer, said, Our focus is solely on this team and the excitement for the upcoming NBA season. We are not going to comment on rumors involving relocation.
Not exactly a categorical denial, but to be fair, that statement has been consistent with just about every relocation question the media has posted to the Kings.
Consider that this is a franchise that valuates somewhere in the 300-325 million range, and we begin to realize that there will more than likely need to be a godfather type offer to budge the Maloof family off the throne.
Also keep in mind that Forbes-type valuations of teams on paper are one thing, but the Kings owners may be looking towards actual sale prices of teams like the Dodgers, Jaguars, and even the lowly Cleveland Browns that spell -illions with a B.
It is well understood that if the Hansens, Ballmers, Nordstroms, and Ellisons of the world do in fact overpay for the Sacramento team, it is ONLY to be conquering heroes in their own cities.
Hansen especially, being a Seattle native, is obsessed with erasing the wrongs done to his hometown. Ellison has long wanted to put a team down the road in San Jose, and also has endless funds to do it.
So that brings us to one logical conclusion, and one conclusion only. A conclusion that will certainly have many Kings fans shaking their heads and reaching for an Advil.
The Maloof family, once revered and now absent from many a Christmas card list in the Capital City, the clan that walked out on two ballot measures years ago meant to build a new facility, the group that refused to sign a term sheet jointly drafted by the city and NBA to build new digs, the people that have touched off more passion in the city of Sacramento than a midnight group reading of 50 Shades of Grey...
The Maloof family is the best chance at keeping the Kings in Sacramento.
It's quite simple. As stated above, any other potential suitors are buying the team solely to move it. Ron Burkle seems to have left the building, and even if he is still in the game, one would assume he is not leading with his heart. He will not likely grossly overpay for a franchise simply to keep it in a town he has no real ties to. He didnt become rich by being stupid.
And quite frankly, Sacramento isnt filled with billionaires. There are ZERO Fortune 500 companies there, no old (or even new) school wealth. The thought that Sacramento bidders can compete with giants like the Microsofts and Nordstroms is foolish.
Is the conclusion that the city and the Maloofs somehow kiss and make up?
So much vitriol has been spit, the fact that both sides took a summer break is nothing but good. Contrary to many reports, there is not a ton of animosity between the two sides. There were never screaming matches in negotiation halls, in fact both sides have been highly cordial. Also contrary to many reports, there actually HAS been communication between the two sides over the last few months. They are simply at an impasse.
For the Sacramento fan, they may end up having to rely on the two ownership faces they are used to most, brothers Joe and Gavin. Ever since other brother from the same mother George stepped in, the other two have been mostly silent, and semi-reclusive in Sacramento. With the season about to get under way, that should change. Both Joe and Gavin are historically emotional, and deeply tied to the wonloss record of their team. More Cuban-esque than George, who is the business mind of the group.
Should the team start off on the right foot, it may in fact make a difference. The recent multi-year signing of Sleep Train to take over naming rights for their home building (from now bankrupt Power Balance) is also a good sign, although there is an out-clause.
RELATED: Kings to play in newly-minted Sleep Train Arena
If the Kings begin to turn a few heads locally, put together a few unexpected wins, and allow the city to experience some of the excitement they felt in the early part of this millennium, dont think it wont get back to Joe and Gavin. These guys are notoriously sensitive to the pulse of their reputation in Sacramento, and would love nothing more than to go out in public again without fear of dirty looks and pleading fans.
Its eerily similar to the plot of the baseball classic Major League. In that instance, a showgirl inherits the lowly Cleveland Indians, and tries to tank the team to exercise an out in their lease allowing them to relocate (to sunny Miami). In the classic Hollywood ending, the group of reject baseball players show unexpected ability, and the city rallies around them, selling out games, and making it impossible to relocate.
Sure its a stretch, but it could be possible that this group of Las Vegas-based owners, surprised by a city rallying around their business, could get the kick in the pants necessary to come back to the drawing board with the Mayor?
No one wants to be around people that dont like them, and whether youre a Maloof fan or not, we can all agree they arent winning many popularity contests in the state capital.
But wins heal wounds, and there are some big scars that need repair. Unless Kings ownership gets an unheard of deal, combining money AND the ability to retain control of the team, the Maloofs understand that going elsewhere is a financial catastrophe on their own.
Consider their ownership stake stands at anywhere from 51-60 percent. If you take the high end, and go by Forbes most recent (Jan 2012) valuation at 300 million, youre looking at 180 million in the Maloof war chest.
The SonicsThunder paid 30 million in 2008 to the NBA to move to Oklahoma City, and that figure would certainly go up based on the market size being relocated to, plus NBA inflation.
The Kings also owe the City of Sacramento around 77 million stemming from a loan previous owner Jim Thomas took out years ago.
The Maloofs also owe the NBA an unknown amount of money received through loans from the Association, and it is yet unclear as to what, if any, amount the NBA would require to be repaid should a move be consummated.
When you add the numbers together, plus the actual hard costs of moving (vans, supplies, etc.) the math is a tough road to hoe.
If they hold fast and refuse to sell, they put themselves in a potential no-win situation, checkmated between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.
Its a rock and a hard place, if NBA ownership can be considered as such. So much off-court drama has been present as of late in Sacramento, it may be the best thing for Kings fans to have some of that same drama spill out onto the paint of Sleep Train Arena. In the meantime, the fan base will take its recent and customary position of children caught in divorce, simply waiting to see what decision the parents will make.
Should be a mighty interesting season.