The Seattle group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer has made significant progress in negotiations to buy the Sacramento Kings and is confident a deal will get done, according to a person who was briefed on the negotiations.
The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks between the Hansen-Ballmer group and the Maloof family that owns the team. If the deal is completed, the Maloofs -- who have a history of backing out of deals that appeared to be done before -- may retain a small percentage of ownership and it's expected that the team would again be called the SuperSonics. It would be cruel irony for a city that saw the original Seattle SuperSonics turn into the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008 to get the team that has been in Sacramento since 1985.
Negotiations are ongoing, however, and there are no immediate indications of a timeline for possible completion. March 1 is the NBA's deadline by which teams must file for relocation, and any move must be approved by the Board of Governors.
Yahoo Sports first reported Wednesday morning that the Hansen-Ballmer group was working on a deal to buy the team for $500 million, and that the first two seasons would be played in Seattle's Key Arena before a new arena is built.
Despite all the signs that the team is likely headed for Seattle, Sacramento mayor and former NBA point guard Kevin Johnson said during a surprisingly upbeat Wednesday news conference he was "going to make every effort to identify a potential buyer to ensure the Kings remain in Sacramento." Johnson has always promised he'd be prepared to present potential buyers who would keep the team in Sacramento should the Maloofs show a willingness to sell the team, and he indicated that he is currently coordinating that effort with more than one such person or group.
The Maloofs released a statement via family spokesman Eric Rose: "As we have said for nearly a year, we have been contacted by several cities and parties interested in the Sacramento Kings organization. The announcement (Tuesday) from Virginia Beach does not change our long-held position that we will not comment on rumors or speculation about the franchise."
The Kings nearly moved to Anaheim in March 2011 before the deal fell apart at the 11th hour. Less than a year ago, the Maloofs agreed to the framework of an arena deal in Sacramento, and co-owner Gavin Maloof even cried tears of joy in an Orlando hotel room lobby at All-Star Weekend when it seemed the deal was done. Weeks later, however, the Maloofs backed out of the deal after deciding it wasn't financially feasible for their family.
The Hansen-Ballmer group is motivated to get this deal done, with the hopes that the Sonics would be playing in a new building soon. In October, Seattle and King County government officials approved a deal to build a $490 million arena in Seattle with $200 million coming from taxpayers. According to the deal, the public funds will be paid back through rent and admission taxes from the arena. If tax revenues fall below projections, "teams using the arena will make up the shortfall by paying additional rent," according to an arena FAQ on its website.
Hansen's group wants to build the arena in the stadium district near where the Seahawks and Mariners play. There is opposition to the arena deal, especially from a local longshore workers union, which filed a lawsuit in October arguing another arena south of downtown -- an area called SoDo and just blocks from Puget Sound -- will impact "great working-class jobs."
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