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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sacramento may lose Kings after deal nixed


NEW YORK — The Kings' future in Sacramento is uncertain again.

A tentative deal for a new arena has fallen apart, leaving open the possibility the team's owners could again try to move from California's capital.

"Is the deal dead? As we know it, absolutely," Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said Friday.

The Maloof family has balked at terms of the agreement reached last month, and though they say they want to remain in Sacramento, Johnson isn't so sure after meeting with them Friday and hearing their list of concerns he said hadn't previously been disclosed.

"It just feels like they were coming up with reasons of why not to do the deal," Johnson said.

So a year after Johnson came to New York to begin his fight to save the team, his city is in jeopardy of losing it all over again.

Admitting he was angry and questioning the Maloofs' trustworthiness, Johnson praised his city's efforts but said he doesn't know what will happen now.

"They are now saying they don't want to do the deal, which essentially means they don't want to be in Sacramento, and that's very, very disappointing," he said.

The Kings say otherwise.

"We are committed to remaining the Sacramento Kings," the team said in a statement.

But they stressed — as did NBA commissioner David Stern — that the deal was "always nonbinding," and the Maloofs always had the right to decide they were no longer comfortable with the terms.

"The negotiations that have occurred surrounding, as Commissioner Stern said repeatedly today during his news conference, a 'non-binding framework,' never resulted in a deal that was good for the city or good for the team," the Kings said.

It was a stunningly swift and disappointing result for Sacramento officials who thought they were on their way to holding onto the team just weeks ago.

They had met with the Maloofs and league officials during the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Orlando in February, celebrating a tentative deal to fund the estimated $391 million arena that would open for the 2015-16 season in the downtown Sacramento rail yards.

Co-owner Gavin Maloof was in tears then in a joint announcement of the deal, which the Sacramento City Council passed its end of in early March. The deal was brokered by the league — with the Maloofs' permission, according to Johnson — and tentatively agreed to by the Kings.

But Joe, Gavin and George Maloof had since taken issue with some of the terms — particularly environmental and pre-development costs that Johnson said made up less than 1 percent of the project's cost. Under the agreement, the Kings and arena operator AEG each agreed to pay about $3.25 million in pre-development costs with the city paying the remaining $6.5 million.

"I think it's fair for the Maloofs to say they don't want to do that," Stern said during a news conference after two days of owners meetings. "If they had done it simpler, earlier or more directly, it could have saved a lot of angst and trouble."

Benson to buy Hornets


NEW YORK — The NBA has agreed to sell the New Orleans Hornets to Saints owner Tom Benson for $338 million, said a person familiar with the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press Friday on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced. The sale of the team to Benson has to be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors, which is meeting in New York on Friday.

The NBA has been trying to sell the Hornets since making the unprecedented move to buy the club from founder George Shinn in December 2010.

While preparing the team for sale, the league negotiated a new lease for the Hornets to remain in the state-owned New Orleans Arena through 2024. The lease agreement also called for $50 million in improvements to the basketball venue, which sits right across the street from the Superdome.

The framework of ownership negotiations were handled in a way that a new Hornets owner would have to accept the lease worked out between the NBA and Gov. Bobby Jindal. Once the NBA approves the sale of the team to Benson, the next step is for the state Legislature to approve the arena lease deal because of the funding needed for stadium improvements. But legislative leaders already have publicly voiced support for the proposed lease deal, which would take effect in July.

The 84-year-old Benson, a New Orleans native, has owned the Saints since 1985.

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