(AP) – Sacramento will remain the home for the Kings for at least one more season as Mayor Kevin Johnson tries to follow through on his promise to build the team a new arena.
The Kings had been considering a move to Anaheim, Calif., after several failed efforts to build a new arena in Sacramento, but they decided to give Johnson one more shot.
“The mayor of Sacramento has told the NBA relocation committee that he will have a plan for a new arena within a year,” co-owner Joe Maloof told The Associated Press. “If not, the team will be relocated to another city.”
The Kings had until Monday to let the NBA know if they would seek permission to relocate. Johnson, a former NBA star, had spent the past few months doing his best to keep Sacramento’s only major sports team in town.
He arranged $10 million in sponsorship pledges from the corporate community, but it will be his ability to get a viable plan for a new arena that will likely determine the franchise’s long-term future.
A feasibility study for a new arena in Sacramento is scheduled to be completed later this month. There has always been a divide between Kings fans and the broader public on how to finance a facility.
Four California lawmakers, including the leader of the state Senate, sent a letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern last week pledging to work with local leaders over the next year to try to build a sports and performing arts complex to replace the Kings’ outdated arena.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said he would use his clout to make sure his district gets its share of state bond money that could go to build the complex.
“We spent 13 years and millions of dollars to try to get an arena built,” Maloof said. “We don’t have the answer. The mayor has the answers and we’re willing and able to listen. He’s got to have a plan. We never want to be untruthful to the fans of Sacramento. There is a sense of urgency, and that’s up to Mayor Johnson and his political team.”
The team said that if an arena plan is not finalized in a timely fashion, the NBA’s relocation committee has assured the Kings that it would support a move to another market for the 2012-13 season.
Sacramento was once a thriving NBA franchise that produced sellout streaks of 497 and 354 straight games. The building formerly known as Arco Arena provided one of the most notorious home-court advantages in the league, a place where fans clanked cowbells so loud opposing coaches and players pleaded to have the noisemakers banned.
The Kings won an NBA-best 61 games in the 2001-02 season behind Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, losing to the eventual champion Lakers in the Western Conference finals at home in a decisive Game 7.
Sacramento, with budget deficits and heavy job losses during the economic downturn, has turned down initiatives for years to contribute public dollars to replace or upgrade the aging arena. The Kings have steadily declined, and so has fan interest.
So the Maloofs began exploring other options.
Anaheim’s Honda Center in Orange County offers high-priced corporate sponsors the Central Valley can’t match and an NBA-ready arena with more luxury suites and improved sightlines, perhaps outweighing the downside of competing with the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in the same market.
Anaheim’s City Council already issued the bonds needed to entice the Kings to move, but the Maloofs decided to give Sacramento one more chance.
“I think it’s the fair thing to do,” Maloof said. “We’ve always said we think Sacramento has the best NBA fans in the world. Their overwhelming show of support was incredible. But now they realize that we’re giving them another opportunity and we’re anxious to play basketball.”
Maloof said he appreciated the support and encouragement from Anaheim officials and said he believed the city would get an NBA team in the future.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said his city proved it’s “NBA-ready” and should be considered it’s own market separate from Los Angeles.
“The final chapter has not been written,” Tait said in a statement. “Anaheim/Orange County is ripe for the NBA and we offer an incredibly attractive package to any team. As a world-class sports and entertainment destination, Anaheim will continue to move forward and we remain optimistic to one day welcoming professional basketball to Anaheim.”
The Kings are coming off their fifth straight losing season, finishing 24-58. With a core of young players led by 2009-10 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and big man DeMarcus Cousins, the team believes the future can be bright. The Kings should have another high draft pick and room in the salary cap to add key pieces necessary to get back to the postseason.
“Our future is very bright on the basketball court because of our young up-and-coming team,” Maloof said. “We’re going to have a top five pick and then we’re going to have a great amount of money to spend on free agents.”
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