Conflicting reports are now emerging about a reported sale of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to the investment group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski started a furor Wednesday when he reported a deal had been reached and the NBA would be returning to Seattle.
“The Seattle group’s plans, with support of the NBA, is to play two seasons in Key Arena before moving into a new Seattle arena, sources say,” Wojnarowski tweeted.
Hansen has proposed building a $490 million arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood south of Safeco Field, with taxpayers financing nearly $200 million of the deal.
Longtime Sonics announcer and 710 ESPN Seattle host Kevin Calabro says very reliable sources tell him the Maloof family, owners of the Kings, and Hansen’s group are locked in “intense negotiations.” But he says until the deal is sealed, he’s not certain of anything.
“Until you get it in writing, I don’t think it’s a done deal. But I’ll tell you this: I just don’t see any way you’re going to keep Hansen and his group from getting an NBA team,” Calabro says.
Rumors began swirling Tuesday night after a noted Sacramento blogger tweeted “So I hear that the Seattle Kings is officially a done deal! The Maloofs finally sold the ailing Sacramento team.” It was written by Daina Falk, a cookbook writer and foodie, who has since removed the Tweet from her page.
She is also a sports insider of sorts. Her father is David Falk, the pro sports super agent.
Falk followed up her first tweet with another saying she heard it from a friend.
A spokesman for Hansen and the Kings both refused to comment.
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson vowed to fight to keep the Kings and told a late afternoon news conference he’s been in talks with investors who could form a local group to purchase the team.
“I want the community to know that we’re going to fight like crazy to get to where we need to be,” he said.
Johnson said while past deals with the Maloof’s for a new arena have ultimately failed, he’s cautiously optimistic because for the first time the owners are clearly willing to sell the team.
Steven Large, a reporter for Sacramento TV station CBS 13, also disputed the report on his Twitter feed: “Source: Seattle groups offer was rejected by Maloofs. Hmmm. Plot thickening by the minute.”
The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday afternoon the Kings were in fact holding talks with Hansen’s group, but several sources denied a deal is imminent.
One source told the Bee “the talks have been “conceptual,” while another told the paper news of a pending sale “is premature.” That source also reportedly said Hansen’s group has not made a formal offer.
USA Today reported Wednesday afternoon Hansen’s group had “made ‘significant progress’ in negotiations to buy the Kings and is confident a deal will eventually get done, according to a person who was briefed on the status of the negotiations.”
But USA Today’s Sam Amick reiterated no deal had been reached there were no signs of a timeline of when it might be completed.
Wojnarowski says the Maloof brothers would retain an “extremely small percentage of team, but will have no real input or say in franchise, sources say.”
While all signs indicate a deal is in the works, several insiders are urging caution until an agreement is finalized.
Jason Reid, director of the award-winning documentary “Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team,” which chronicled the team’s sale and move to Oklahoma, warns the Maloof brothers have a history of broken promises and agreements throughout their ownership tenure in Sacramento.
“They had a deal done to keep the Kings in Sacramento earlier this year. They even went on a victory lap including standing at center court with Kevin Johnson proclaiming victory. Well, that deal fell apart a week or two later,” Reid told KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.
KING 5’s Chris Daniels, who’s broken a number of stories on Hansen’s efforts and has developed a number of inside sources, says the deal is very close and progressing well “but is not done.”
“Obviously we’ve seen the Maloof’s track record here down in Sacramento and how they’ve backed away from deals in the past so I would caution listeners that are amped up right now that is not a done deal,” he told 710 ESPN’s Bob and Groz Show.
Even Wojnarowski sounded a cautionary note in a followup tweet. “No agreement signed, but one source describes deal as “1st and goal at 1.” Maloofs history of changing course late still makes many uneasy.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who helped broker the deal with Hansen for a new Seattle arena, denied any knowledge of an agreement to bring the NBA back to town.
“I know as much as you know. But if it’s true, ain’t it cool?” he said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon announcing his re-election campaign.
The sale would need the approval of the NBA and an ownership committee led by Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett, who purchased the Sonics and moved them from Seattle.
The deadline for asking the NBA to relocate in time for next season is March 1. But Calabro says fans shouldn’t worry about the deadline.
“The owners make the rules, they can set the rules. March, to me, is not a hard and fast date for a relocation committee to meet. Clay Bennett could rally the relocation committee […] He could do that at any point he wanted to in the summertime and probably get this done,” Calabro says.
The arena project also still needs to go through an environmental review, and the Longshore Union is suing to stop it, saying Hansen’s preferred site near the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums would cripple the flow of cargo and hurt jobs at nearby Port of Seattle terminals.