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Scott Howard-Cooper

Kevin Johnson
Public sniping between Mayor Kevin Johnson and the owners of the Kings is not helping anyone's cause.
Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Leaders' spat over failed arena deal may be what sinks Kings

Posted Apr 17 2012 11:56AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- By the start of the new week, after the last one had ended so ka-booooom!, it is obvious. City leaders have not simply accepted the Kings' departure as inevitable. The mayor and his top advisers are now trying to drive the city's major-league franchise out of town. And won't that show the team's owners.

There can be no other conclusion after all the recent ego-driven fighting.

Kevin Johnson, the mayor who deserves much of the credit for nearly closing the deal, has suddenly lost his way. One of his aides compared the Kings' owners to a government that starves its citizens to death, a comment so over the top that, at best, it hurts the arena process and, at worst, says more about the people running the city's operation than it does about the target.

That said, the Maloof brothers leading the Kings -- Joe, Gavin and George -- are 100 percent at fault for the deal collapsing. If they don't like the terms, fine. Don't accept them. Protect the business.

But do not accept them, take a victory lap around town and come back and say it's a bad deal. The Maloofs did nothing legally wrong -- the term sheet with the city and the arena developer was non-binding -- but playing yo-yo with the emotions of a loyal fan base is unacceptable, and to many unforgivable.

Still, the deal had a better chance of being rescued before Johnson and Chris Lehane -- executive director of Think Big, a committee formed by Johnson to keep the Kings in Sacramento -- broke out the tough-guy act. And let's remember this: Rescuing the deal should be the only thing that matters.

No chance of that? That's probably the same thing many said a year ago, when the Maloofs were trying to close a deal with Anaheim and fans turned the final game of the season -- what might have been the final game in Sacramento -- into a loving wake at Power Balance Pavilion. Anaheim couldn't close the deal, Sacramento got more time put on the clock and Mayor KJ ran the offense to perfection.

This time, the city has added to the chasm when it once worked to close the gap. Feeling especially scorned has turned an acrimonious relationship between the mayor and the Maloofs into an ugly public discourse and an embarrassment for both sides. Johnson released an open letter that served no purpose other than show up the Maloofs. It may have felt good. It definitely was greeted with cheers from the constituents. But it was piling on. It does more harm than good at a time when solutions are needed.

And then there was Lehane, a man of immense credentials as a major player in the Democratic party -- of which Johnson is a member. "As their bizarre press conference laid bare for all to see, dealing with the Maloofs is like dealing with the North Koreans -- except they are less competent," Lahane said in a statement first released to USA Today and later other outlets. "In Maloof-world, facts are fiction; truths are half-truths; and promises are broken promises. The City of Sacramento deserves better."

North Korea. Yeah, that'll help find a solution.

The reaction so far has been swift and predictable. Good for KJ, he's sticking up for the city; the Maloofs started it; Johnson is speaking for his constituents. All very understandable.Fans are disgusted with the Kings' ownership. It's a cauldron here right now. The mayor drew a line where one was needed.

Yet if Johnson wins the perception game and loses the NBA, he has lost. Sacramento has lost.

At some point, this has to become about keeping the NBA and not about blasting away at the Maloofs. Sacramento deserves better. Lehane got that much right.

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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