Brian Windhorst | Brian Windhorst |

Kings staying in Sacramento…not so fast!


By Brian Windhorst |

The group trying to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle is continuing to be relentless in its pursuit.

And the NBA could be listening.

Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, the deep-pocketed Seattle-based investors trying to acquire the team, have struck a new deal with the Kings’ current owners, the Maloofs, that may create more drama in Sacramento and the league office.

Two sources told the Maloofs have informed their fellow owners that if their deal to sell and relocate the Kings to Seattle is not approved by league owners next week, they will not sell the team to a Sacramento-based group that promises to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Instead, the cash-strapped Maloofs have made a “backup” agreement with the Hansen-Ballmer group to sell it 20 percent of the team for $125 million to allow the Maloofs to continue to operate the franchise.

That new “backup” plan comes on the heels of Hansen’s announcement on Friday that he had upped his offer to buy the Maloofs’ 65 percent of the Kings to $409 million (from $358 million) for a total valuation of $625 million.

Sources said that new proposal also included a $115 million offer to owners as a relocation fee, which would amount to about $4 million per team. By comparison, in 2008 when the Oklahoma City Thunder moved from Seattle, they paid a $30 million total fee to the other owners.

To consider these incredible new figures, the NBA relocation committee is planning to re-evaluate the Hansen-Ballmer offer and has scheduled another meeting ahead of next Tuesday’s full owners meeting in Dallas, sources said.

Two weeks ago, that same committee voted unanimously to reject the relocation request to Seattle, and the full body of owners was expected to follow that recommendation. It appeared a prospective ownership group based in Sacramento had won and the team would stay long term.

Now, the Hansen-Baller’s super-aggressive, cash-laden increased offer is apparently causing at least some reconsideration.

A league spokesman did not reply to a request for comment.

Just as with relocation, teams cannot sell minority shares without approval from league owners. It’s questionable whether the owners would approve of a group that clearly wants the team to end up in Seattle to buy a large stake in a team they voted to be kept in Sacramento. But they also cannot compel the Maloofs to sell the team.In the last three months, the NBA has negotiated its own backup plan for the Kings with a group led by Silicon Valley billionaire Vivek Ranadive. That group, which has changed its leadership several times, ultimately offered a valuation of $525 million for the Kings and brokered a deal with local governments to building a new arena with more than $250 million in public funds.

After studying the offers closely, the relocation committee ultimately decided that Ranadive and the city of Sacramento’s offer was suitable. Ranadive, who has put 50 percent of the purchase into escrow, was hoping the owners also will green light his purchase when they settle the matter next week.

A source familiar with Ranadive strategy told the move was not surprising and was anticipated. The group does not feel NBA owners will respond well to threats and ultimatums.

The position of Ranadive’s group during the process has been not to compete with Seattle but keep the franchise in Sacramento.

But the Maloofs’ latest move with the Hansen-Ballmer group’s new promises could throw all that into question again. The Maloofs have favored the Hansen deal the entire time and did not negotiate with Ranadive or the city of Sacramento involving the new arena.

The strategy is rather transparent. If the relocation bid is officially blocked, Hansen and Ballmer want a piece of the Kings so they could apply pressure on the city of Sacramento to execute an arena deal with them. The city and the Maloofs have failed to come to an agreement on a new arena several times in the past decade. If the Maloofs keep the team and an arena deal can’t be reached, the franchise could apply for relocation again.

Several ownership sources told that there was some concern that Ranadive and the city of Sacramento could close and execute the deal for the new arena. Those concerns could be driving this last round of fighting by the Seattle group as it tries to sway owners who may not have fully made up their minds.

Throughout this tedious process, the Maloofs and the Hansen-Ballmer group have worked without involving the league office and powerful NBA commissioner David Stern. Meanwhile, the Sacramento group and Mayor Kevin Johnson have worked with Stern every step of the way. That partnership seems to have helped the city and Ranadive get into favorable position with other owners.

That trend has not stopped the Seattle group from pressing forward with these plans.