Kings Sale, Move May Be Formality Without Counter Offer, Arena

The approvals needed by the group seeking to buy the Sacramento Kings and move the franchise to Seattle may be a formality without a concrete counter offer and arena deal in California’s capital city.

The National Basketball Association’s board of governors first has to approve the sale agreement reached two days ago between the Maloof family, which has owned the Kings since 1999, and a group that’s headed by Valiant Capital Management founder Chris Hansen and includes Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.

While Hansen has said he won’t discuss plans for the franchise, the new ownership group needs to apply to the league for relocation by March 3 to play in Seattle for the 2013-14 season. That request also would have to be approved by the board of governors, which is made up of league owners.

“In Seattle you’ve got a legitimate offer at a very significant number with a legitimate arena deal in place and the land in place,” said Steve Patterson, former president of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and founder of Lake Oswego, Oregon-based Pro Sports Consulting LLC. “Given that they’ve been trying to get an arena deal done in Sacramento for most of a decade, it would be awful hard to vote against a transfer.”

Seattle has been without an NBA team since 2008, when the SuperSonics ended their 41-year stay by moving to Oklahoma City and becoming the Thunder. That move followed a lack of public support for a new venue in Seattle to replace KeyArena, where the Sonics had played since their inception in 1967.

Arena Deal

Seattle and King County officials have tentatively backed a new $490 million arena in the city, the Sacramento Bee reported. Hansen’s group plans to move the Kings to Seattle after the NBA season ends in April and have the team play at KeyArena while a new facility is built, the paper said.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star with the Phoenix Suns, said he’s still confident of keeping the Kings from moving. Johnson yesterday assembled 19 local business owners and developers who each committed $1 million toward buying the Kings and keeping them in Sacramento. That group would join an extremely wealthy investor or investors, whom Johnson called “whales,” to make a counter-offer for the Kings.

“These folks realize that the Kings are a civic asset for our community,” Johnson said at a news conference.

The Maloofs and the Seattle group will probably make their pitch to league owners at the NBA board of governors’ meeting in New York in mid-April, the Sacramento Bee said. Johnson has been given permission to bring a counter offer to the meeting, the paper said.

Prior Moves

NBA owners in 1994 blocked the Minnesota Timberwolves from moving to New Orleans. Since then, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002, the SuperSonics went to Oklahoma City in 2008 and the New Jersey Nets this year relocated to Brooklyn, New York.

“No commissioner or league in general wants to see teams move,” Patterson said in a telephone interview. “It connotes a lack of permanence or a lack of success in a particular market. But for the most part, the owners as a group will look at whatever the relocation committee’s recommendation on a franchise is. Those are the owners that have spent the most amount of time involved in the situation and examined the details most closely. You put a pretty fair amount of faith in the committee.”

Deal Fails

A preliminary deal reached in February to build a new arena in Sacramento and keep the Kings from relocating fell through. Johnson said yesterday he plans to present a new arena financing plan to NBA owners along with the counter offer in an effort to have the team’s move to Seattle rejected.

“Unless the community in Sacramento comes up with a great arena option, I’d guess the owners for the most part would vote to accept the offer and move the franchise,” Patterson said. “They don’t seem to get the question answered in Sacramento. A market that size has a hard time doing battle with the other markets unless they’ve got a favorable arena deal.”

The purchase agreement between the Maloofs and Hansen’s group puts the Kings’ value at $525 million, according to a person with first-hand knowledge of the deal who requested anonymity because financial details remained confidential. It would be the highest sale price for an NBA team, surpassing the $450 million paid for the Golden State Warriors in 2010.

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