A Sacramento Kings fan holds a sign during a game against the Lakers. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)
NBA officials now expect the Kings to play next season in Sacramento, league executives told The Times on Friday.
Whether the team, which was about to seek permission to move to Honda Center in Anaheim, stays in Sacramento beyond next season is yet to be decided.
Officials say it will depend on Sacramento-area governing bodies and businesses fulfilling Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's pledges to the NBA relocation committee last week in New York, including construction of a downtown arena for the Kings.
Commissioner David Stern declined to compare the Sacramento and Anaheim packages — "That's for the committee to decide," he said — but confirmed the NBA's continuing interest in Sacramento's offer.
"Mayor Johnson made certain representations about community support that he had secured," Stern said from New York. "The committee thought it would be prudent to send an NBA task force out to Sacramento to verify those commitments.
"And that is now what's being done."
League officials agree that if Sacramento lives up to its pledges, committee members and NBA officials want the team to stay there long-term.
Kings co-owner Joe Maloof told the Associated Press that he is "as anxious as anybody" to see if Johnson can deliver.
"There's been no decision made," Maloof said. "As far as we're concerned, we're still looking at our options."
After a decade of failed negotiations for a new arena — with Stern washing his hands of the matter afterward — Sacramento politicians had lost credibility with the Maloofs and the NBA.
However, Johnson's new presentation with the I's dotted, the Ts crossed, the timetable specific and the funding appearing to be credible, things changed.
A league official called Johnson's presentation "amazing."
NBA officials agree that there is no problem with Anaheim's offer, or the area's suitability.
The problem is Sacramento's bid, which was big and, as far as the committee has found to date, solid. At that point, Anaheim became, as one league official put it, "immaterial."
Suggesting he remains skeptical, Maloof told the AP:
"I don't know that Kevin Johnson's meeting in New York swayed the NBA one way or another, but I think that the NBA next week is going to go into Sacramento to verify a lot of the promises Kevin Johnson made to the board.
"There were various sponsorship promises and a promise to show the board once and for all how a new arena not only will be planned, but financed."
Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, a member of the relocation committee, and NBA attorney Harvey Benjamin spent two days in Sacramento this week.
Local politicians received them like royalty, including Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the State Senate, as well as Johnson, a former NBA star.
Bennett's initial report noted that Johnson's pledge of $9.2 million in purchases of luxury suites and Kings season tickets by local businesses has been met and exceeded, league officials say.
The NBA "task force" is expected to visit next week to pore over the details.
With the new May 2 deadline, the relocation committee is then expected to convene late next week.
If Sacramento's offer stands up, the committee is expected to recommend that the Kings remain there next season.
At that point, if the Maloofs wanted to move, they would have petition the same committee and league officials for approval. If the committee bars the Maloofs' path, their only other option would be an antitrust suit.
The Maloofs, strapped for cash — with the family business, the Palms casino in Las Vegas in dire financial straits — are thought to be out of patience with Sacramento officials, and the Maloofs were intrigued by Anaheim's possibilities.
Nevertheless, there was no missing how inopportune the timing was.
Moving next season would mean making their debut with a young Kings team that finished 14th in the Western Conference at 24-58, in a season that could be shortened, or cancelled, by an NBA lockout.
"As we have said all along, Anaheim is an NBA-ready city," Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said in a statement.
"We put forth a great presentation at the NBA Board of Governors meetings in New York, and we are confident that we have established this region as a standalone market and that the NBA looks favorably on our city, our arena and our fans."
Anaheim has approved $75 million in bonds backed by companies of Henry Samueli, the Honda Center operator and owner of the NHL's Ducks, for NBA relocation fees and arena improvements. Sameuli declined to comment Friday.
Officials with the Lakers and Clippers declined to comment.
Previously, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called putting a third NBA team in the area "ridiculous."
Nevertheless, officials with the Lakers and Clippers are privately aghast, since their cable TV partners might cut their rights fees 5% to 10% if the Kings moved to Anaheim.
In the Lakers' case, with their new $3-billion deal with Time Warner that is set to begin in the 2012-13 season, that could be as much as $300 million.
Suggesting the importance of Sacramento's presentation and last week's welcome, NBA officials pointed out the contrast with Seattle, where political support never materialized and the owner of the SuperSonics bolted for Oklahoma City in 2008.
That owner was Bennett.