With conflicting emotions, I watched as news began to pour in about Seattle's advanced plans to construct an arena and, hopefully, lure an NBA and NHL team to the city. We've known a hockey team was a realistic possibility for quite some time -- the Phoenix Coyotes seem destined to be sold and shuttled off to a new city -- but until now, the NBA's return to Seattle seemed like a pipe dream. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, which is great for the city, but it comes at a price.
In a lengthy Seattle Times report updating the status of an arena plan, headed by wealthy hedge fun investor Christopher Hansen, the Sacramento Kings are thrown into the mix as a potential relocation candidate. That Seattle is keeping an eye on the Kings' efforts to build an arena and stay in Sacramento is not a surprise, but it just doesn't feel right.
Sacramento's fight to keep the Kings over the past few years draws many parallels to Seattle's with a few important differences. The ownership in Sacramento -- the Maloof brothers -- want a new arena in an effort to enhance the Kings' revenue streams. They came inches from moving the team to Anaheim, only to see the city of Sacramento find a way to stay the execution while working to find a long-term solution. If a financing deal is not in place by March 1, all bets are off.
And yet, this isn't a situation where the team was sold to an ownership group with no ties to the city. The Maloofs are still running the show and still have control over what the Kings do and don't do, and, at least partially, where the team moves or doesn't. In short, in order for the Kings to relocate to Seattle, the cash-strapped Maloofs would have to sell to Hansen and a group of investors. Even with the Maloofs' well-documented money struggles, this still doesn't seem likely as things stand now.
To be clear, the NBA isn't expanding any time soon. In fact, the league is more likely to contract than add, though neither is incredibly likely at this point. If the NBA is going to return to Seattle, it will be by way of relocation. We've known this all along and understand how complicated the twists and turns in this story could end up being.
With the knowledge that the NBA won't be adding teams anytime soon, we're at a bit of a crossroads. Seattle will have to take a team, similar to the way the Sonics were taken, in order to bring the NBA back. However, we've learned lessons from Clay Bennett's bungled mess of a move to Oklahoma City, and the process could, and should, be much more smooth when it comes time for Seattle to make a serious push to bring the NBA back.
Which is why it bothers me to see the Kings' name floated in the arena discussions. I know many Kings' fans and can empathize with their situation -- fans in Seattle as a whole should be able to empathize as well. Instead of letting the team walk, to Anaheim or elsewhere, the city has turned and fought tooth-and-nail to keep the Kings. The divorce would be messy in more ways than one.
If Seattle is serious about building an arena and making this happen, why target the Kings? Why not look to a team that is on the market: The New Orleans Hornets? Yes, the league would like to keep the Hornets in New Orleans, but when compared to any other potential relocation target, this is the cleanest of breaks. The league owns the Hornets and is looking for a buyer. The Hornets are struggling in their own market and the NBA already fire-sale'd the team into oblivion. The connections between players and the city are dwindling, and the connections between the ownership and community are non-existent.
It is my hope that Sacramento does get its arena deal done and keeps the Kings. Discussions and plans continue to move forward ahead of the March 1 deadline, with an engaged group of citizens and politicians leading the way. There are a lot of good people fighting the good fight and trying to keep the team, and rooting for them to fail is something I can't come to grips with, even if that failure means Seattle's chances of bringing the NBA back are improved.
To further complicate matters and add a twist of irony to the whole ordeal, recall who heads the relocation committee and is presiding over the Kings' situation at the moment. If nothing changes, Clay Bennett would be the one approving a team's move back to Seattle, if an arena deal is made and a relocation candidate is found. The same Clay Bennett who took a team from Seattle, by hook or crook, and moved it to Oklahoma City.
This is the NBA we're dealing with: Nothing is simple or clean, and loyalties mean little in the end. But Seattle doesn't necessarily have to be the bad guy when it does finally come time to strike. Learn lessons from the past and find a way to relocate a current team with as little mess as possible.