I’d say we are finally nearing the end of the Great I-5 War for the Sacramento Kings, but it seems quite possible that we may not be close to the end after all. We now refer you to this little gem from the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta Friday:
“Some (sources speaking on commissioner David Stern’s seemingly active interest in prodding Sacramento forward after initial big wallet Ron Burkle dropped out of the team and arena bidding) point to Stern's statement after each city met before the NBA last week in New York that the league may require more time to make a decision on the sale of the team to Seattle beyond next week's Board Of Governors meetings.”
[RELATED: KJ announces new investor in Kings bid]
Oh God, no. Not a delay. Not “more time.” We’re all pretty much wrung out on this already, are we not?
Of course, “we” aren’t getting a vote here. And a delay works to nobody’s tactical benefit, because it probably helps both sides in different ways. It allows Sacramento more time to continue its never-ending quest for investors, which was still going on today even as the Maloof family was setting a 5 p.m. deadline for a written memorandum by the Sacramento group that includes an additional $30 million to repay the Seattle investors for their “non-refundable” deposit to the Maloofs on an option to buy.
But it also allows Chris Hansen, the very eager Seattle front man, time to boost his offer yet again, despite Stern’s stated (yet probably mythical) desire for this not to become a bidding war. Sacramento’s ever-shifting ownership landscape means that all changes are being accepted, and there has never been an owner or league executive in the history of history who didn’t like a bidding war.
What, they’re going to turn down money no matter when it comes in? Are you crazy? Especially when the bidding war would not only benefit the Maloofs but the other 29 franchises as well? Are you completely nuts?
And therein lies another key to the ever-shifting sand painting that is this deal. According to Michael McCann, an on-air legal analyst for NBA.TV, Stern may not have the throw-weight he once had.
“That Stern has already announced his retirement as of next Feb. 1 could be a factor,” according to McCann. “Another potential factor is a willingness among owners to simply go with what may be perceived as the stronger financial bid, especially if Hansen is willing to increase his offer to combat a new Sacramento bid — Stern has indicated he does not want this to become a bidding war between the cities.
“If there is a rift between Stern and NBA owners, there seem to be at least two contributing reasons," McCann said. “One is that NBA owners may place a higher value on maximizing value. Another is that owners know Stern is retiring next year. In the twilight of his tenure, some owners may believe they have greater ability to challenge him. They may or may not be mistaken about that. It's hard to see Stern as a lame duck.”
In other words, for all the words that have been spread about the landscape over who promised what to whom and who wants whom to succeed, this is what it has always been – a fight for power, influence and post-Stern direction of the league among owners. The Seattle bid has always been the more stable one, and its advantages in market size and population are clear. Sacramento’s advantages are Stern’s influence and already having the team in place, which are not to be dismissed either.
But owners are always the wild card, as they were during the NBA lockout. They, and not Stern, determined the early parameters and held firm to control of the process throughout, though Stern was by no means a bystander. His retirement may well be, as McCann said, a turning point in whose influence is strongest.
“Since the meetings last week, there have been rumblings in league circles that Seattle's presentation was considered by some owners as having fewer loose ends. That has led to speculation that the owners who oppose the Maloofs' desire to sell to Seattle might not fall as easily in line as they have in the past if Stern attempts to sway them away from relocation. Only one time in Stern's tenure has the NBA not allowed a sale and relocation request: in 1994 when a group attempting to buy the Minnesota Timberwolves was found to not have the necessary financial backing.”
That’s not a problem here, on either side. But this is also unlike the other recent franchise moves in that it includes an ownership change.
Most intriguing of all, though, there has never been a reliable sense of where other owners are positioned on the I-5 War. They are either better at keeping their opinions on the down-low, or they are waiting to see who carries sway in the relocation committee. One can speculate that the Warriors, for example, would vote for relocation to colonize Sacramento, or vote against to keep from losing a geographical (though not actual) rival. The same guesstimate could be made in Portland, where having no competition to the north would have to be measure against the value of having a rival nearby, and the MLS experience of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver all benefiting from each others’ strengths to make all three markets viable is not lost on the Blazers.
And guessing where Clay Bennett, who owned the old Sonics before moving them to Oklahoma City, may feel about his experience in the Great Northwest is anyone’s guess. He might hate Seattle to its core and still vote for the city to be repatriated within the league.
Oh, and in case this is growing tedious to you and you need a laugh, the Maloofs are apparently expressing interest in taking its Kings sale money and a buying an NHL team with an eye toward moving it to Las Vegas, according to Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee. Not that her report is absurd; the idea of the Maloofs thinking an NHL team in Vegas is a better bet than an NBA team anywhere – now THAT’S absurd. The people who run Las Vegas want tourists in the casinos, not at the rink, and aren’t likely to be that keen on supporting any level of competition. Plus, haven’t the Phoenix Coyotes taught anyone anything at all?
In sum, we are less than a week away from the final vote, and all we have are more moving parts, meaning the likeliest outcome on the 18th is looking more and more like a delay. The perfect non-ending to the I-5 Saga, a tragicomic play in 15,388 acts.