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Kings to Seattle? NBA musical franchises takes another cruel twist

Sacramento Kings owners Phil, George and Gavin Maloof have made a mess of things in Sacramento. (US Presswire)

RENO, Nev. -- As the Maloof family reportedly closed in Wednesday on a deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle group that wants to move the team to Key Arena as early as next season, the NBA's shameful game of musical franchises took perhaps its cruelest twist yet.

Cruel, because stakeholders in the two cities involved and NBA executives of the highest order still were unable to say -- hours after the report surfaced on Yahoo Sports -- that a deal was in place or even close. Cruel, because Sacramento and some of the best fans in the NBA deserved better than this.

Better than having their team shipped to Seattle, even if it somehow would represent some cosmic justice for a city that lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in much the same way. Better than being used as a collective negotiating pawn for the bumbling Maloofs to get the best deal for themselves.

The Yahoo report pointed out that no deal has been signed, and given the Maloofs' chronic waffling, no deal is done until it's signed. So as the city of Sacramento -- and fans who've inexplicably remained loyal to a team that's been run straight into the scorched Earth -- once again began the early stages of mourning, the unspoken backlash of a deal not yet finalized was this: It ain't over til it's over. Don't give up.

With all due respect and a keen understanding of what an NBA team means to a one-sport city, here's some tough-love advice for Sacramento: Give up. Bid the Kings and the Maloofs and the NBA good riddance. Empower your city officials to lawyer up and sue anyone who's breathing. But do not invest another dime of your money or ounce of your passion in a team that is, at the end of the day, little more than a dilapidated storefront for owners who could not get out of their own way -- who could not sell lemonade if spotted 100 acres of lemon trees and an endless supply of 100-degree days.

Sacramento, led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, stepped up with an arena deal that was more than fair, under which it would've been more than feasible for a competent owner to run a successful basketball franchise. The Maloofs embraced the deal, shed their tears, raised their arms in celebration with the mayor, and then decided it wasn't the best they could do. Local ownership groups stepped forward with credible offers to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento, and the Maloofs steadfastly refused to sell -- and even, unconscionably, proclaimed that they weren't selling or moving because they were "all about Sacramento."

Alas, an NBA team located in Sacramento is not worth nearly what an NBA team is worth in Seattle. Thus, the $500 million that Yahoo reported is the price the Seattle group of Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer is discussing represents the price of an NBA team located in Seattle. It's what they call a "win-win" in sports, as in the owners win and the owners win.

The Maloofs, evidently, don't share the league's confidence that the new collective bargaining agreement and revenue-sharing plan will level the playing field for small markets. So in the end, the Maloofs served their purpose: losing ungodly sums of money on purpose for years to help bolster the league's case that a massive financial reset in their agreement with the players was needed, only to prove the other side's point by cashing in on all that equity when the dust settled.

If and when this deal to send the Kings to Seattle is finalized, the people of Sacramento should consider the Kings extinct as of today. Enough money and loyalty and sweat and emotion have been invested, spent and lost. No more.

It should surprise no one that this is where we are. Absent an arena deal they backed out of, the Maloofs basically had a two-year commitment from dwindling sponsors and partners to stay in Sacramento, and that commitment expires after this season. According to league sources familiar with the dynamics of the situation, the Maloofs knew that they could not keep the team in Sacramento and still own it beyond this season. The charade was over.

So the options were simple:

1) Move the team. But there were no viable options, given the family's suffering financial position and the debilitating expense of a relocation fee. One league source told CBSSports.com Wednesday that NBA officials viewed the Maloofs' flirtation with Virginia Beach as a "laughable" alternative.

2) Sell the team to investors committed to keeping it in Sacramento: The Maloofs were "all about Sacramento," after all), or ...

3) Sell it to someone who would move it somewhere else.

In the end, you simply have to follow the money. The Hansen-Ballmer group is proposing to pay a premium for an NBA team that will do business in Seattle. The $500 million figure represents a substantial premium to whatever the team was worth if it stayed in Sacramento, no matter who owned it or where it played. So it goes.

"If money mattered to them," a league source said of the Maloofs, "the team was always going to go to Seattle. And money mattered to them."

As for Sacramento, money should matter to you now. So should your civic pride, and all you have invested emotionally in a team that should have given you a better outcome.

You should read the articles and listen to the commentators and feel awful for a while. You should feel cheated. You should be angry. But you should not invest another dime of your money or ounce of your passion in a team that, in the end, only represents two words on a term sheet.

You deserve better. But the Maloofs, the Kings and the NBA do not deserve you anymore. Move on with your heads high, and don't look back at the empty seats.

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