David Stern was accurate — the NBA will not be voting Friday on whether to keep the Kings in Sacramento or move them to Seattle. The NBA commissioner said after presentations April 3 in New York by both cities that the choice was so “weighty” that the league might need more time. Mayor Mike McGinn disclosed the postponement Tuesday at a press conference.
McGinn talked about a completed deal to upgrade KeyArena agreed to by Chris Hansen, who needs the old building for a couple of seasons before his new building is ready. He then told reporters of the delay.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed the postponement, indicating the vote may wait a week or two after the discussions set for Wednesday with a committee of owners, followed by meetings Thursday and Friday for the full Board of Governors (owners). A vote may be done by email.
Besides Stern’s early warning, the likely delay was known to other NBA executives, including one who told Sportspress Northwest over the weekend there was “no way” a vote would happen Friday.
Beyond the need for more study time, does the delay represent anything else?
Two possibilities loom:
At nearly the same time as McGinn’s press conference, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson was having one of his now-traditional pep rallies to introduce publicly the ownership group he has hastily assembled for a counter-offer to Hansen’s proposal valued at $550 million, as well as creation of a plan to build a $447 million arena downtown.
But Johnson did not definitively say whether his group matched the Seattle offer, including an additional $25 million Hansen put down Friday to buy the team from the Maloof family.
Asked by the Sacramento Bee whether the offer will match the Seattle increase, Johnson said, “I don’t think that was our focus. The last-ditch effort by the Chris Hansen group — he has his prerogative to do that. We felt we made good on what we said we are going to do. I think the NBA and the Maloofs are comfortable with that.
“We’ve done what we said we’re going to do. It’s in their hands.”
Stern’s willingness to give more time has been seen by a number of NBA writers and executives as not only based on his relationship with Johnson, but his strong desire to avoid relocating another team in the final year on the job. He will retire Feb. 1. A move now would represent a partial failure of the collective bargaining agreement Stern worked so hard to achieve. He believes that in a couple of years all teams would be in a position to break even in every market.
But there are owners who recognize that Seattle is a better, if busier, market, that Hansen’s arena plan is farther down the road, and that the $30 million deposit paid to the Maloofs represents a commitment that the Maloofs want to keep. If it is an either/or decision, those owners would vote to approve a relocation and tell Stern his legacy is intact and unbruised by another relocation.
But if the owners seek to split the baby by keeping the Kings in Sacramento and awarding an expansion franchise in Seattle, that will require considerable debate about diluting future revenues as well as the basketball talent pool in exchange for a one-time expansion payment probably north of $500 million to be share equally among 30 teams.
The contrasting views apparently will get an airing starting Wednesday with the meeting of the combined relocation/finance committees, which are supposed to have a report for the board to consider Thursday. No presentations will be made by the cities.
The NBA has some urgency for a decision because Hansen has applied to start this fall. If he is awarded the team, has to move quickly — although the Sonics were moved successfully to Oklahoma City after a trial that ended in July.
In the KeyArena deal announced by McGinn, Hansen has the right to find a naming-rights sponsor — Key Bank’s agreement expired in 2010 — and sell sponsorships. He has guaranteed the rent as well as city jobs at the same salaries and benefits for the length of the Sonics stay — at least two years.
The agreement with ArenaCo will guarantee the city at least $2 million in use fees annually with additional income based on ticket sales and the unlikely event of an NHL team being acquired.
At least $3 million in upgrades must remain behind when the team leaves, including upgrades in seating, technical and security systems and improvements to locker rooms and the concourse.