Sacramento-Seattle fight over Kings can get messier still

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, local efforts to keep the Kings in Sacramento surfaced. Yep, this is going to get ugly.

This isn't going to quite reach a McCourt Divorce level that Major League Baseball saw in the bizarre sale or the L.A. Dodgers, but it's going to be messy. Last week, reports surfaced tying the Sacramento Kings -- a team whose owners have emphatically denied has ever been on the market -- to the well-financed Seattle group. What you may have missed on Friday and over the weekend was the swift reaction by Sacramento, which included a declaration from Mayor Kevin Johnson that the team is apparently for sale and included public declarations of interest by several, including 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov.

Mastrov finished second in the bidding for the Golden State Warriors a couple years ago. That was a blind bid situation; Mastrov apparently has no qualms getting together a group that will put up $425 million on the Kings. (The Seattle group is reportedly offering $500-525 million, but the Maloofs would have to pay off a $77 million loan buy-out with Sacramento if the team moves. So right about $450 million would be a comparable local offer.)

There are also rumors that billionaire Ron Burkle, who publicly announced he would be interested in buying the Kings and keeping them in Sacramento back in 2011 (which basically made the Maloofs spit on camera) is involved with a second group looking to redevelop a downtown Sacramento retail center, plopping an arena in the area that needs it most.

This is all to say: this isn't over yet. Seattle has gobs of money to throw at the Maloofs, and that's where this is going to get messy. Is this going to turn into a full-fledged bidding war? Will more big-pocket Sacramento bidders (like Larry Ellison, who has an estate near Sacramento) step up? Are we all comfortable with the Maloofs cashing out big after the way they've run this franchise into the ground?

An endgame looks miles away. This may come down to the NBA Board of Governors meeting in April; Johnson has already said he'll ask the league to be given another chance to address the owners before any decision to approve a sale to Seattle or relocation is made. This would mark the third straight year that KJ has talked to NBA owners about his city's fight for the Kings. In 2011, he begged for a chance to prove Sacramento could get a viable plan together. In 2012, he ceded the spotlight to a surreal performance from George Maloof, who melted down in denying that viable plan (one that he'd already called "a good deal" in front of cameras). Now, he'll make the case for Sacramento again, if he's given the opportunity.

All the while the Kings still have lots of home games to go. It's a weird situation: no one in Sacramento wants to see the Maloofs get a dime, and there's no questioning the fans' support of the team. It'd behoove the Maloofs to let uncertainty ride until April; if only there wasn't that pesky relocation application deadline in March. The NBA would no doubt grant an extension; requesting as much would paint the Maloofs in a horrible light, though.

Again, this situation is already sticky, and it's poised to get much more so over the next four months. Stay tuned.

***

In the 2008-09 season, six teams finished with 24 wins or less. Three of those teams -- the Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies -- are among the top four seeds in the West this season. Another is the Minnesota Timberwolves, sitting at 16-18 despite a crazy battle with injuries. The final two, the Kings and the Wizards, are among the league's very worst teams.

The funny thing (it's not funny) is that the teams have tried to rebuild differently, to a degree. The Wizards have looked to add youth, but also spent decent coin on veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. The Kings have gone almost strictly youth -- they haven't been outside the bottom five in payroll since 2009. Neither has worked: the Kings have too few productive players and a totally mismatched roster, and the Wizards have very little offensive talent and absolutely no backcourt depth. Neither has a whizzbang star like the Thunder, Clippers or Wolves or anything close to the depth of the Grizzlies.

And amazingly, both teams have retained the general manager from that 2008-09 season. In D.C., that's about fealty to the plan and loyalty. In Sactown, it's about affordability. But it's amazing all the same given the other GMs that have been canned since then.

***

Speaking of the Wizards, with John Wall's glorious return comes a time to reset expectations. Clearly, the Wizards are not going to meet their preseason goal of a playoff berth. Even in the soft-at-the-bottom East, Washington is not making a run at that. So what's the objective now? Go above .500 starting from Wall's return on Saturday? Finish above the bottom-five in the league? (Right now, Charlotte and Cleveland are well within reach; New Orleans, Phoenix, Sacramento and Toronto are the next candidates.)

In my view, since the salary situation is what it is -- there's no climbing out of Okafor-Nene-Ariza without taking on other bad deals, so damn the lifeboats -- gunning for a finish that can bring real hope again seems like the right move. If that comes with another top-five draft pick, even in a soft draft, so be it. The only thing the Wizards can hope for right now is that Wall gets healthy and productive, that Bradley Beal comes around and that the pieces start to fit together on defense. Defensively, this is a team that can compete. They just need to learn to score effectively. Wall and Beal are the keys there.

Playoffs next season? Betting on the Wizards to do anything well is a fool's gamble, but it could happen.

***

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

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