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Scott Howard-Cooper

A devoted fan base in Sacramento risks seeing the only major-league team in the city relocate.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Kings to Anaheim becoming more and more of a reality

Posted Mar 3 2011 9:56PM

Sacramento moved perilously closer Thursday to losing the Kings as Mayor Kevin Johnson, the most prominent figure working to keep the civic institution in town, conceded that it is "more likely they're going to be in Anaheim."

Johnson, the former All-Star point guard, used the word "extremely" when asked about the likelihood of the Kings becoming the third NBA team in Southern California, before stopping in mid-sentence in an apparent attempt to interject any measure of hope. But he also noted of his hometown: "I don't think Sacramento can influence the outcome of their decision."

He meant owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, and he's right. That the Kings zeroed in on Anaheim and considered Sacramento a Plan B has been apparent for some time, as the inability to secure a deal to replace the aging Sacramento arena dragged on. For all the reasons that is the wrong time for relocation, the message remains as it has been for weeks: the Maloofs only stay if they can't get an arrangement they like to share the Honda Center with the NHL Ducks, and even that might be a temporary reprieve. Without any movement toward a new building, the Kings would almost certainly leave in a year, after the lockout and when they would have had another season to improve on the court and become more attractive to a new fan base.

That it took the mayor of Sacramento three weeks to get a meeting with the Maloof brothers is the latest in loud statements that the Kings are simply waiting for the right deal in Orange County before making a decision. In their typical go-along, get-along, non-confrontational style, they didn't want to give Johnson bad news and they didn't want to hammer out plans for a new arena when Anaheim had moved into the lead.

KJ's impact, or lack thereof, was additionally underlined when the team did not tell him it had applied for an extension to the original March 1 deadline to file relocation papers with the NBA. Johnson and the Maloofs finally sat down Wednesday night, when the Kings played the Trail Blazers and the building formerly known as Arco Arena became Power Balance Pavilion in a naming rights deal and another sign of a franchise in major transition.

A day later, Johnson sounded resigned to defeat, or at least to having to wait on the sideline to find out whether the only major-league team in town would stay or go. But he did say the city would push forward with plans to build a new entertainment and sports facility -- though without any minor details like where the money was coming from.

Thursday, in Johnson's crushing blow to Sacramento, it officially became Anaheim's deal to close. That had been the unofficial standing already, even if few acknowledged it, and Sacramento's brightest hope remained not what it could offer but what Anaheim might not.

Major opportunities exist there -- a cable television deal from a network anxious for a replacement with the Lakers a season away from leaving for a new deal reportedly worth $3 billion, a region of considerable wealth for miles, an arena operation that would love to pair a tenant with the Ducks. But so do the very concerns that have the Maloofs hesitating. Moving during a lockout would be a major problem, along with entering a market where they would be the third-best NBA team and fighting countless other sports and activities for the entertainment dollar.

The wait, once scheduled to have ended March 1, could now reach all the way until after the regular season. The Board of Governors meeting, where an update will be given, is April 14-15. The April 13 date with the Lakers, in some bit of irony, is the final game for Sacramento, either for 2010-11 or for much, much longer.

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

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