NEW YORK -- In a decision that commissioner David Stern described as wrenching, NBA owners requested more information Friday before voting on dueling proposals to have the Kings stay in Sacramento or move to Seattle.
The next step will be another meeting late next week of a 12-owner committee, which will then vote on a recommendation. The full Board of Governors -- one ownership representative from each of the 30 teams -- will then have at least seven business days to review it and cast the deciding vote on the fate of the franchise.
"I think it's 50-50," one owner told CBSSports.com upon leaving the two-day meeting of the full board. "I think it could go either way."
Stern, in his final news conference following a spring board meeting, shed little light on what details the owners hope to attain before finally deciding the three-year saga of where the Kings will call home.
"Of course, we're most concerned about the critical path to arenas getting built," Stern said.
Based on the above timeline, the issue would be decided before the May 21 draft lottery, thus giving clarity to which city those players drafted by the Kings would be representing. The timeline Stern laid out actually would make the week of May 6 the earliest the full board could conduct a vote.
"It's the only time in the last ... 47 years that I haven't known the answer," Stern said. "This is one that's just been quite difficult and confusing for the owners as well."
Stern, who is retiring as commissioner on Feb. 1 next year, did reveal for the first time specifically what the owners will be voting on. The issue slated first, Stern said, will be the proposed relocation of the Kings. Relocation requires a majority vote of the 30 owners to pass.
"For us, the linchpin seems to be -- and I think the committee agrees or the committee directs -- that the first issue is whether we're prepared to authorize the team to move," Stern said. "That will be the first order of the day."
Similarly, if owners reject relocation, there would be no point in voting on the binding purchase agreement the Maloof family has with the Seattle-based group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. Under this scenario, the owners would at least officially be able to say they weren't rejecting Hansen and Ballmer, but rather the notion of relocation.
The chronological order is interesting and potentially significant. Since transfer of ownership requires a three-fourths majority of owners, the board will be voting first on the easier issue to pass. But a vote for relocation would signify that subsequent approval of the sale to the Hansen-Ballmer group would be a foregone conclusion. What would be the point of voting for the team to relocate, but rejecting the ownership group that would move it?
From Seattle's perspective, that would hardly ease the feeling of being burned by the NBA a second time after losing the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Part of what makes the decision so unprecedented is that, unlike past cities that lost their teams to relocation, Sacramento has formed a viable ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it there and has OK'd a plan for a publicly funded arena. One owner, upon exiting the meetings, told CBSSports.com that Sacramento's commitment to keeping the Kings is "going to be a very big issue" when the full board votes.
But according to a person familiar with the more than two-hour presentation made to the board on Friday, some owners remain skeptical about the viability of the Sacramento group's offer.
Hansen and Ballmer have pledged to buy 65 percent of the team from the Maloofs based on a $525 million valuation, with a recent increase in their offer of $25 million. Stern said Sacramento's offer would provide the same "net result to the selling family."
The Sacramento group, led by billionaire software magnate Vivek Ranadive, has made an offer that Stern described as "binding," including a down payment.
"It's not as complete as it probably is going to be by the close of business today or tomorrow," Stern said. "There is a down payment. It is binding. We have had assurances of funding support and that has been documented to something in the neighborhood of 80 percent to our satisfaction. When I say satisfaction, the committee's satisfaction. But it's in the ballpark, and it's there."
But one owner who is not on the combined relocation and advisory finance committees was less confident about the Sacramento group's offer.
"The question about Sacramento is, can they come up with the money?" the owner said. "It's kind of like, 'The check's in the mail.' That's not good enough. The check's got to arrive."
Assuming the check arrives by late next week, the owners will be staring at a decision that will greatly affect two cities and the entire business of the league for decades.
"Wrenching" doesn't even begin to describe it.