Maloofs Move The NBA Cheese

The owners of the Sacramento Kings, citing “significant distance” with a group in the California city hoping to purchase the team, has asked the NBA to approve its tentative sale agreement with a buyers group in Seattle – and “voluntarily” raised the team’s valuation.

The league is expected to decide whether to allow the sale and relocation of the Kings to Seattle or approve a competing bid from a Sacramento group that would keep the team in Sacramento.

In a letter sent to the NBA’s relocation and finance committee April 12, the Maloof family said the Sacramento group originally matched the $525 million valuation for the franchise negotiated by Chris Hansen, who heads the Seattle group.  Hansen then increased the valuation offer to $550 million.

The Maloofs said the Sacramento group asked not to enter into a binding agreement until the Seattle deal is terminated.  The Maloofs said that would be a breach of contract and cost them the “leverage to aggressively renegotiate terms in the event the existing agreement is terminated.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern said the league committee assigned to make a recommendation on the issue hasn’t made a decision and no vote is expected until at least May.

Seattle and Sacramento each have new arena plans to lure the team, and one city  going to be left with blueprints and no anchor team – NBA expansion is not an option, according to Stern.

The commissioner has said the team’s sale would not become a bidding war, but the history of the Maloofs desire to get a new arena or get out of Sacramento – or both – might say otherwise.

Sacramento and AEG previously had a deal in place to build a new arena in the city, but the Maloof family backed out at the last minute over financing and fee details. In stepped Seattle with an offer, which was quickly accepted pending NBA approval.

A new buyers group was assembled in Sacramento which then made a matching bid, and announced plans for a new arena in the city’s downtown. Seattle released its own arena plan.

Hansen put down a $30 million deposit. The Sacramento group ponied up only $15 million. Investors have dropped out of the Sacramento group while new ones joined, leading to speculation that funding is still an issue.

But the Maloofs appear to have moved the cheese with the increased valuation, making Sacramento’s bid a longer shot, despite what Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson calls the city’s “home field advantage.”