|Fans protesting the Maloofs' recent moves were scattered throughout Sunday's game crowd. (AP)|
Kings co-owner George Maloof said Monday the family wants to continue arena negotiations directly with the city of Sacramento, cutting out the NBA as the middle man in an effort to resurrect the deal that fell apart last week in New York.
"I know that the NBA is very busy and they have a lot going on," Maloof told CBSSports.com in a phone interview from his office in Las Vegas. "I think they would prefer if we just work directly with the city and we would prefer that too. It doesn't take anything from what they've done or what the commissioner's done. But maybe at this point, we just try and work it out with the city and go back to the league with something definitive versus something that's non-binding."
But Maloof said Monday his focus in re-engaging the city in talks would be to explore renovating the existing arena in Natomas, about six miles north of downtown Sacramento, or building a new arena there because it would be cheaper. Mayor Kevin Johnson on Friday rejected both ideas.
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"I'm under the impression that maybe downtown's not the right place," George Maloof said. "There's a lot of pressure from outside interests that want it downtown for money reasons, and maybe that's not the best place for it. Maybe it's better to look in Natomas, which would be a lot less expensive to maybe redo our existing facility or rebuild at that site, which has all the infrastructure already there."
Johnson publicly ridiculed the Maloofs on Friday for suddenly shifting their focus to renovation after insisting for years on a new arena. But when asked about the family's longtime opposition to renovating the existing building, George Maloof said the owners "don't believe that the incremental revenues would be enough to take care of a brand new building."
Among the many complaints from the Maloofs that wound up killing the arena financing deal at the Board of Governors' meeting Friday in New York, the family believed that unresolved issues with the term sheet agreed to during All-Star weekend in Orlando were either not addressed by the city or not communicated by the NBA to city officials. The deal, which called for Sacramento to pay approximately $255 million toward the $400 million downtown arena, collapsed when the Maloofs met with Johnson Friday in an attempt to address their concerns and Johnson indicated he had no more room to negotiate.
"We can't do more than we've done," Johnson said Friday. "It's impossible."
The he-said, he-said over who walked away from the deal was the latest disruption in efforts to find a suitable arena solution that would keep the Kings in Sacramento. Johnson on Friday accused the Maloofs of failing to honor the agreement that was reached in principle during All-Star weekend. George Maloof reiterated Monday to CBSSports.com that it was a non-binding agreement and suggested that it had been railroaded through City Council with as many as 15 items added, changed or otherwise not fully negotiated.
"We've been pretty diligent about our position," he said. "We have a paper trail. We've shown our concerns throughout the whole process and they've never been addressed, which I think has been very frustrating for us. ... I would say the city was rushing the process."
Responding to Johnson's accusation that the Maloofs backed away from the deal because they want to move the team, George Maloof said, "Our intention is to stay in Sacramento." But when pressed for a commitment that the family would not file a relocation petition with the NBA, he said, "Ask me in a year."
"We're not even thinking beyond that, and we have no desire to relocate, really, to be honest with you," George Maloof said. "No desire. We feel we have great fans and we want to work something out."
But the year-long arena funding negotiation came after the Maloofs agreed to put on hold their exploration of Anaheim as a new home for the team through relocation. Their opponents simply view the latest developments as another stall tactic as the team heads on its way out of town. George Maloof said Monday that one city had reached out to the family over the weekend in an effort to persuade them to move the team. He declined to name the city.
"I have not returned their email yet," George Maloof said. "But I will and explain to them we are committed to the process of staying in Sacramento. I just want to make that real clear. There's no alternative motive."
The Maloofs have yet to formally propose to city officials the possibility of restarting the negotiations without the NBA as the Kings' negotiating agent.
Johnson said Friday he would proceed with caution into any further negotiations with the Maloofs and that if he did engage the family again in arena talks, "There would have to be a binding agreement pretty quick."
"This is about trust and credibility from my standpoint," Johnson said. "I think I've learned that they can change their minds."
Also on Friday, commissioner David Stern seemed to give tacit approval for the city and the Maloofs to proceed with reopening arena talks.
"This is a situation that the Maloofs will have to make judgments on and the city will have to make judgments on, because I think we have done as much as we can do," Stern said.
The NBA got involved in the negotiations in the first place because the Maloofs asked the league for help.
In reiterating many of the concerns expressed in a Friday news conference in midtown Manhattan, George Maloof said Monday the owners' objections to certain deal terms were not addressed prior to the term sheet going to the Sacramento city council, where it was approved by a 7-2 vote March 6.
"There were 15 items on that term sheet that we had never seen before or that were changed going into the city vote," he said. "And that's all documented; I can show it to you. If anybody argues with that point, they're lying. That's the truth."
Among the concerns, Maloof said, was an addition to the term sheet stipulating the team would have to pay for parking spaces for premium seat holders to a private developer, who would keep all the game-day parking revenues. Also, he denied the financially troubled family lacks the ability to put up collateral to refinance a $65 million loan from the city as part of the proposed downtown development project.
"We wanted to keep the same collateral," George Maloof said. "We didn't think that it was reasonable for the city to ask for more. And that was one point of many that we didn't agree on."
As for why co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof celebrated hand-in-hand with Johnson on the court at Power Balance Pavilion on Feb. 28 if there were so many problems with the non-binding agreement, George Maloof suggested his brothers had been coerced by the mayor.
"The mayor came over to my brothers and took them to center court and raised their hands and that was just a moment," George Maloof said. "But we all knew and everybody knew that there were unresolved issues coming out of Orlando. I made it very clear when I received the followup to the original term sheet, which came right after Orlando. And I made it very clear -- it's written, it's documented -- on my concerns."
Despite his use of legal buzzwords -- pointing out several times that concerns were documented "in writing" and saying the family acted "in good faith" -- George Maloof denied the owners are planning legal action over the negotiation gone bad.
"No, we're not," he said. "There's no lawsuit."
In addition, Maloof said his family has "no intention of selling the team."
George Maloof also disputed the notion fellow owners are infuriated by the Maloofs' refusal to consummate the arena deal. Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the chairman of the Board of Governors, told CBSSports.com Friday that he wished the Maloofs "had stayed and worked with the city" but that an arena deal in Sacramento "may be impossible" due to a "gap in trust."
"I have all the respect in the world for Glen; he's a very good friend of mine and I respect the man," George Maloof said. "But at the same time, we were intimately involved in this deal. We know the numbers. And why do a deal that's going to put the city under a tremendous amount of pressure when you can look at doing something at the existing location?"
Unless and until the Maloofs and the city go back to the negotiating table, the gap in trust that Taylor spoke of will overshadow any hope the Kings can get a new arena in Sacramento any time soon.
"I know that they've taken a lot of shots at my family -- the mayor and his political people -- which is fine," George Maloof said. "I don't think that shows much class, because we've done nothing wrong other than trying to do what's best for us and for the city. Just because we don't like a deal doesn't mean we should be vilified for it.
"But today's a new day," he said. "So we'd be happy to sit down and talk with the city."
To what end, nobody can be sure.