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Scott Howard-Cooper

Despite a passionate fan base, the lack of a new arena could spell doom for the Kings in Sacramento.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

Sacramento holding onto the Kings ... at least for now

Posted Mar 1 2011 2:38PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- On a night of contrasts -- fans cheering for the future of a team clad in throwback uniforms, in an old gymnasium about to get a new name, with the point-guard mayor embracing the moment just days after misplaying opportunity into antagonism -- the right move for the Kings would be to stay in Sacramento.

Strip away the emotions of Monday at for-one-last-time Arco Arena. Ignore the political reality that hizzoner Kevin Johnson and other city officials have been reduced to bystander status. Eliminate the agony of the indecision.

What remains are tangible reasons to postpone a move to Anaheim.

Joe and Gavin Maloof, owners of the team in eternal transition, know the reasons. More importantly, they believe in a lot of them. It's why the original deadline to file relocation papers passed with an extension on Tuesday, not a decision. They want to stay and can't get a new arena, but they can't get a choice deal anywhere else. Staying for at least one more season is a real possibility.

In the bad news for Sacramento, any reason for the Maloofs to stay would be driven by an inability to get the arrangement they want in Anaheim, not by a naïve belief that they are sure to get something done here. The rationale will be anti-move as opposed to pro-stay.

In the good news for Sacramento, that's better than no hope at all.

Either way, the Maloofs know they need finality one way or another. They clearly recognize that making a move just to make a move, to solve the arena problem that isn't going away in Sacramento, would lead to other problems in Anaheim.

Chances are still very strong the Kings will relocate, as has been the case since the NBA announced early in the season it was pulling out of negotiations. But a temporary reprieve is possible. The Kings could decline to file now and still go for relocation by next March 1, when circumstances may have shifted.

Until then, the landscape is all wrong for a move to Anaheim.

Issue No. 1: To put hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, perhaps the entire family fortune centered on a Las Vegas casino and a basketball franchise, and move during a lockout would be more than risky. It would be reckless. What owner could possibly think it makes sense to declare a new home soon after the regular season, spend time promoting the team there ... and then not play, possibly for weeks, possibly for months?

Good luck getting people to buy tickets for a bad team in a bad economy when no one can even say when the season starts.

Issue No. 2: The Kings are bad now and will be bad next season. They could be better, depending on the health of Tyreke Evans, the maturity of DeMarcus Cousins and the 2011 lottery pick. But it's hard to imagine spending big for a free agent or taking on weighty contracts in a trade. They're 4 games behind the Clippers now, even after Sacramento's 105-99 victory Monday, but the Clippers are in much better position for a big jump in 2011-12.

That means the Kings would be trying to win fans in Anaheim as the third-best team in the market and -- with the impact of Clippers rookie Blake Griffin -- the third-most popular. Move 30, 35 miles from Staples Center just as the Kings head to the lottery and the Clippers are riding a rocket ship of popularity? The timing is so, so wrong.

And, yes, all three teams would be in the same market. Anaheim, in Orange County, may like to think of itself as separate from L.A., but the Lakers and Clippers both draw a large portion of fans from behind the Orange Curtain. The important TV ratings, which help set advertising rates, include that area. There is serious money in the OC, but some of it is already spoken for among pro basketball, baseball's Angels and hockey's Ducks.

Can the Kings afford to stay in Sacramento? The better question may be whether they can afford to move.

An operation that by all indications is cash strapped would have to front insane amounts to move, from closing the books in Sacramento to forking over the NBA's relocation fee to the likelihood of handing over an additional massive payout to the Lakers and Clippers just to be allowed to move into their market.

Every indication is that the Kings would win if the relocation committee signs off on the change -- "the rest of the league would love it," one insider predicts, noting owners would see too many positives in trading a small market for the potential riches of Southern California.

Still, it could be difficult to face down the Lakers and Clippers.

"Give me one good reason why either team would vote yes," said one person close to the situation. "[Lakers owner] Jerry Buss just made a $3-billion TV deal. You think he's going to jump up and down [with excitement] over $10-15 million?"

While several more years in town remain a long shot, playing the 2011-12 season in Sacramento remains very possible. Sacramento mayor Johnson, the former All-Star point guard, threw cold water on that notion by saying at a press conference last Thursday that the attempt to slow the process only means the Kings are looking for a deal elsewhere and want more time to consider options.

But an extension should have been viewed as a good thing for Sacramento. A delay is buying time, and the city more than anything needs to buy time.

By Monday, fans who once made Arco one of the best home courts in the league filled the old barn in hopes of showing the Maloofs how much the Kings still mean to the community. It would have come across a lot better if the franchise didn't register the second-lowest attendance in the league (13,494) in the previous 28 home games.

The announced capacity crowd of 17,317 -- tickets distributed, not actual attendance -- didn't change anything in the final hours before the name of the arena was changed to Power Balance Pavilion. The Kings wore the jerseys of the 1950s Rochester Royals as fans chanted and cheered for a future.

It's not much of a voice. But it's all they have left.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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