Sacramento Kings preview: Where the games are only subplots

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Sacramento Kings should be better this season, but it'll be hard to notice for fans, who have their eyes glued to the loading docks.

We're breaking the mold for this preview. I looked at the Sacramento Kings' 2012-13 season hopes, dreams and curses over at Sactown Royalty. Instead of rehashing that -- the short version is that their offense pretty good if they can shoot, defense bad unless they make turn it all the way around, which is unlikely -- I wanted to stretch my legs on a topic that vexes me completely.

How can I even root for this team right now?

The people of Sacramento and the owners of the Kings are pretty much at war right now. Two years ago, at the end of the 2010-11 season, the Maloofs were on the verge of filing for relocation. Kevin Johnson, Sacramento's mayor and a retired All-Star NBA point guard who grew up in the city's worst neighborhood, convinced the league (specifically David Stern and chief of the owners' relocation committee Clay Bennett) to hear Sactown's case before judging the Maloofs' plans to move to Anaheim. The Maloofs, who'd already had a deal with Anaheim drawn up, quietly let it play out, though there was an evident distaste about the process. (The Maloofs ditched Sacramento ahead of Fan Appreciation Night, the season finale against the hated Lakers. Somehow, some bros wearing forum blue and gold ended up in the Maloofs' courtside seats. In New York, after Johnson dropped his bomb on the league, the Maloofs started running from the TV cameras and pretty much refused to engage Sacramento in meaningful dialogue.)

Eventually, on May 2, 2011, the Maloofs announced that they would remain in Sacramento for the 2011-12 season (provided the lockout didn't wipe it out). There was one condition: if a suitable arena plan wasn't in place by March 2012, the Kings had the freedom to relocate. That threat was actually written into the Maloofs' press release on staying. It was a fantastically awful way to endear themselves to fans. But hey, they were staying.

The rest of the gore is pretty well-known: the city and the league came up with a viable plan, Johnson got his feisty City Council to approve it, AEG was brought in to do a lot of the heavy lifting and Stern agreed to basically give the Maloofs $7 million for the project and loan them the other $63 million. The Maloofs agreed to the deal on the day after the All-Star Game in 2012, a week before their own deadline. Then it all fell apart as the Maloofs' L.A.-based lawyers started quibbling over tiny fees (like the $3 million pre-development fee basically every team with a new arena covers) and apparently onerous details like "providing collateral for a loan." (Mon dieu!) Eventually, in a magnificent press conference in New York, the Maloofs killed the deal, ripping the viability of the Sacramento market to shreds in the process. It was the most stunning day in Sacramento Kings history. It made it totally obvious that the Maloofs would soon carry out their threat and attempt to move the team.

And now, we're supposed to buy tickets, get our gear and root for the Kings. It's a bizarre situation.

No one knows if fans will show up this season. The team claims that 80 percent of season ticket holders have renewed, but that doesn't mean much: the season ticket levels seem to be fairly low, and as all keen NBA observers know, a substantial portion of season tickets go unused, especially for bad teams. Some fans have instituted one-man boycotts. Others are vowing to go as cheaply as possible. (SB Nation's Kings blog is holding FTM Night, a sarcastic rendition of Maloof Appreciation Night. Our decision to ask fans to attend as cheaply as possible has gotten our credentials revoked, probably fairly.) We all saw what happened to Seattle, and how the shell-shocked fans largely avoided KeyArena when it was clear that the Sonics were gone. We don't want to follow that same path ... but who wants to line the pockets of traitors? Who wants to toss cash at the moving van driver?

Complicating matters is the real possibility that this team could be good. The jury remains out on Keith Smart, but the work he put into improving this club from the inside has been incredible. Every sports fan gets a little over-excited before the first game, but knowing this team has been awful for six years, I can actually see a light at the end of the tunnel. DeMarcus Cousins is a legit star, Tyreke Evans at his worst is pretty darned good, and Isaiah Thomas is simply to joy to watch. Add in Thomas Robinson and maybe a touch of Jimmer magic and ... this is, at the very worst, a fun little team. That's all we've wanted for six freaking years. A fun little team. Now we have it.

And we may not get to enjoy it unless we -- each and every one of us, solely and singularly -- can get past the off-court politics of the whole rancid situation. Does that mean ignoring the threat of relocation? It can't. The Maloofs have proven to us that when you let your guard down for just a second, they strike. We can't root for the Kings without rooting against the Maloofs. It won't work.

So, we begin a long march toward internal conflict, raging headaches and the sweet mixture of bile and joy. Sports, man. Sports.

***

The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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