Sacramento Kings To Seattle Move Appears Set As Maloofs Sell Ownership Stake To Washington Group

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Jan 21, 2013 10:44 AM EST
Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook shakes hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern after being selected as the fourth overall pick by the Seattle SuperSonics in the 2008 NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York, June 26, 2008.(Photo : Reuters) "

The Sacramento Kings were once one of the premier franchises in the NBA, but now it appears the team will be moving to Seattle in the near future.

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According to ESPN.com, the Maloof family that owns the franchise has agreed to sell a 65 percent controlling stake in the team to Seattle investor Chris Hansen and his group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, league sources told Marc Stein.

The sources said that the other NBA teams were notified on Sunday night about the move and that the Kings were valued at $525 million and that the parties have executed a purchase agreement, which still requires league approval. According to Stein, the percentages to Hansen's group came from the 53 percent owned by the Maloofs and an additional 12 percent from minority owner Bob Hernreich. According to the report, there is still not an an agreement submitted on the remaining 35 percent of the franchise, which is held by minority shareholders, not the Maloofs.

The ESPN report also says that one source told J.A. Adande that the Maloof family will retain a "small piece" of minority interest in the franchise after its expected relocation to Seattle. The team is likely to retake the SuperSonics name, which remained with the city when the franchise moved. Although the Maloofs will own an interest in the team, it is likely to be in a no decision-making position.

Hansen and his group previously passed a deal to build a new arena in Seattle that is expected to house an NBA and NHL franchise. Yahoo! Sports first reported the original discussions between the Kings and Hansen and said that the team could land in Seattle for the 2013-14 season if the deal is completed in time. The team has a temporary home in KeyArena, where the SuperSonics played, and will move into the new arena when construction is completed.

The sale of the Kings will be the largest for an NBA franchise, passing the $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in July 2010.

Hansen began the process of building a new arena last year and has said that he will personally guarantee the debt payments on the plan, which helped it gain approval by the city of Seattle. The new plan will involve $200 million in public financing that will be repaid by arena-related taxes. The arena also includes plans to hold a professional hockey team in the future. The ownership group of the Edmonton Oilers visited the city last year, but no deals have been made with any NHL teams yet.

Seattle has been without an NBA team since 2008 when the ownership moved the team to Oklahoma City. The franchise was renamed the Thunder and the team has been very successful, reaching the NBA finals last year behind superstar Kevin Durant.

Durant was drafted second overall by the SuperSonics in the 2007 NBA Draft and played one year in Seattle before the team moved. The franchise made a settlement as part of the move that allowed the SuperSonics name to stay in the city and that the team's history could be shared between Oklahoma City and any future NBA team in Seattle. The SuperSonics won the 1979 NBA Championship and won three conference titles before moving to Oklahoma City.

Hansen and his team have already acquired the property where the arena would be built, which is located near stadiums for the NFL's Seahawks and MLB's Mariners. The Mariners had previously been opposed to the move, citing scheduling, traffic and revenue issues.

Sacramento was one of the NBA's most consistent franchises for a time, going to the playoffs eight straight times from 1998 to 2006. The Kings made it to the conference finals in 2002, but lost to the Lakers in seven games. Since then however, the team has missed the playoffs in six straight seasons and hasn't finished better than fourth in the Pacific division. The best record for the team in that span was a 38-44 finish in fourth place in 2008.

The NBA has a March 1 deadline for teams to apply for relocation and it is expected that Hansen and the group will work towards that date. The city of Sacramento has tried to keep the franchise in the city, with Mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson asking NBA commissioner David Stern for a chance to bring in local investors to match the Hansen/Seattle offer.

"The mayor of Sacramento has asked me ... could I come in and address the board of governors or the relocation committee?'" Stern said last week before the New York Knicks played the Detroit Pistons in London. "And I said, 'Always.' ... Sacramento has been particularly supportive (as an NBA community since 1985 and is) always welcome to present."

The Kings have been dealing with arena issues and the possibility of moving for a few years. The franchise has plans to move Anaheim in 2011, but Johnson convinced the NBA to allow the city more time to figure out a plan for an arena. The Maloofs had a tentative $391 million deal for a new downtown arena with Sacramento last year, but decided to back out.

The Seattle sale option is a favorable move for the NBA, who wants to finally put an end to the uncertainty surrounding the Kings' franchise. The league also has wanted basketball to return to Seattle, where the team's nickname and logo still remain due to an agreement with the Thunder.

Miami Heat star LeBron James tweeted about the news: "So the Kings getting sold for 525M!! And the owners ain't making no money huh? What the hell we have a (lockout) for. Get the hell out of here."

The move will be a tough pill to swallow for Sacramento fans, who have been outspoken in their loyalty to the franchise despite the rumors of moving. Sacramento fans will be hurting hard from the move, but it's a feeling Seattle fans know all too well. The city was devastated when the Sonics moved from Washington, but there always was optimism that a franchise would return and now it has happened.

Although the Sonics won't have the man they originally drafted in Kevin Durant, the Kings still possess many talented stars, including DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans.

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