BY Art Thiel 08:31PM 04/17/2013

Thiel: Will NBA owners break free of King David?

The NBA Wednesday pushed back the vote on relocating the Kings, leaving time to speculate about David Stern’s waning influence as commissioner.

The Sonics have been gone from Seattle nearly five years. Looking at it that way, what’s three more weeks?

Aggravating, in the view of the more impatient Sonics fans, who were told Wednesday by the NBA that a decision on whether to relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle will not be made until early May.

After a meeting of the combined relocation and finance committees, NBA Commissioner David Stern emerged from the gathering to tell a platoon of reporters that much is yet to be done.

“The committee still has additional questions as they go through this in great detail,” Stern said. “We’re not even close.

ā€œIā€™d be charitable to say the first week of May, but it could slide a bit.ā€

The questions with each bid include potential lawsuits, arena finance issues, real estate issues and environmental reviews.

It will take the committee until next week to meet for a third time, then make a report, and a week after that for review by the 30 NBA owners, 23 of whom must approve a relocation.

What did emerge were a couple of hints that seemed favorable to the Seattle cause led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. For the first time, there was not a dismissal of the option of expansion to solve the unprecedented pursuit of a free-agent franchise by rich guys in two cities.

While Stern said there are “no current plans to expand,” which was a re-statement of the obvious, Peter Holt, the owner of the San Antonio Spurs and new chair of the Board of Governors (owners), said “expansion was not off the table” although it was not discussed Wednesday.

“The world is growing,” he said. “We’re focused on China and India and those kind of places.”

The second had to do with the quality of the Sacramento bid. Finally delivered Tuesday night after weeks of delay, the bid, according to an unnamed source quoted by the Sacramento Bee, was a non-binding term sheet that “was less than ideal,” according to the source. The counter-offer included a requirement that the owners of the Kings, the Maloof family, terminate the deal with Hansen before the would-be Sacramento investors would sign a binding offer.

If true, it’s likely a tactic to keep Hansen from raising his offer again, as he did Friday by throwing down another $25 million for the Maloofs atop the original offer of a $525 million valuation, an NBA record. But the requirement is highly unlikely to be accepted by the Maloofs, and seems foolish to even be asked. Nor has the group put down a nonrefundable deposit, as did Hansen when gave the Maloofs $30 million, although Stern said “yes” to a question about whether one was forthcoming.

The weak term sheet would be indicative of a growing suspicion that the Sacramento bidders, some just joining the fray in the last week, are in some disarray after such hasty assembly.

But the continued delays provide an opportunity for the Sactown crowd to clean itself up. And it also brings to light some NBA in-house politics that may play into the decision.

It’s been clear since he first permitted Sacramento to make a counter-offer to the Hansen bid in January that Stern wants to give every chance to keep the Kings in town. And what Stern wants, he usually gets, because the tenure that began Feb, 1, 1984 has been successful in his No. 1 priority as commissioner — equity appreciation of each franchise. He has done well the bidding of his bosses.

Because he’s been in the job for nearly 30 years, he has given purchase approval to nearly every owner of every franchise, including the Maloofs. Only the two teams in Los Angeles (the Clippers owned by Donald Sterling and the Lakers owned by the Buss family) and the Chicago Bulls (Jerry Reinsdorf) pre-date his tenure.

That means there is a current of gratitude and deference that runs deeper for Stern than for any of his sports-overlord contemporaries. And without knowing any particulars, he probably has some dirt on all of them. So while Stern can entertain disagreement on some issues, an owner who crosses him does so at his peril.

When they publicly backed out of an arena deal in 2012 that required a lot of effort by Stern, an effort that would have secured the Kings, the Maloofs crossed him. That really burned Stern, and he is now partial to taking the side of the town at every opportunity in order to remove the Maloofs from the lodge.

But in the 15 months since Hansen emerged as the white knight in Seattle, Stern, 70, has announced his retirement (Feb. 1) and has become, in some respects, a lame duck. His hand-picked successor, Adam Silver, is now at his side in most public appearances, and often speaks on his behalf.

Silver has been with the NBA for 22 years in five jobs, and was appointed deputy commissioner by unanimous BOG vote in 2006. He knows everyone in the league too. But his style will be different because the league, having been pulled out of the ditch by Stern, does not need a messianic tyrant.

“It will be a lot quieter with Adam,” one current NBA executive told me recently. “He doesn’t need to be David. Adam is someone who prefers working with owners, using the committee system, and directing the media initiatives and globalization in a collegial way.”

How that plays regarding the pending vote on relocation is not known. Silver has kept his views to himself. But for those owners, particularly, the younger, newer crowd, there is an opportunity to break from the old fealty to King David without fear of some Old Testament pestilence visiting them in the night.



  • jafabian

    I’m wondering if the vote is being delayed so Stern can try and bring in some more investors to the Sacramento bid so as to match the Seattle bid? And has he been working behind the scenes for Sacramento all this time to the knowledge of NBA owners? Seems somewhat backhanded on Stern’s part to be working both sides of this deal and completely different from his actions during the Seattle/OKC transaction.

    Stern’s “yes” to the question on whether or not Sacramento has done or will do a down payment seemed hesitant to say the least. Wouldn’t surprise me if one hasn’t been done and he’s going to go to the Sacramento group and tell them they need to come up with a down payment ASAP. Again, the reason for extending the deadline to vote?

    So the NBA still claims they’re looking to go international and yet they can’t keep their house in order on US soil. I don’t think they can claim they’re ready to expand into cities like London, Beijing or Delhi when they can’t succeed in markets like Seattle, Vancouver and San Diego.

  • Michael Kaiser

    I am wondering whether the guys who made “SonicsGate” are now going to do one from Sacramento’s perspective? I know Seattle is the only perfect victim in the history of mankind–ie. thus SonicsGate–but I bet there are a couple things one could say on behalf of Sacramento.

    • Pixeldawg13

      In fact, they basically offered to do that; they were on KJR last week, and both of them said they slightly favor a (firmly committed) expansion team over getting the Kings–then went on to say that if Sacramento loses the team and wants them to, they’d do some film for the town.,

  • notaboomer

    stern’s a megadouchebag. keep the kings in cowtown and give seattle an expansion franchise. we don’t want the royals/kings baggage/stats.