Sacramento Kings’ new arena may be in trouble, despite $200K NBA loan

Just one month ago, Joe and Gavin Maloof stood hand-in-hand with Kevin Johnson at center court of the Power Balance Pavilion, all wide smiles and exultation. Cheers rained down on the owners of the Sacramento Kings and the city's mayor, as Kings fans gave them a hero's welcome to celebrate a tentative deal to fund a new downtown sports and entertainment complex that would include a new arena for the Kings. It was one of relatively few good nights in the drama-filled relocation saga that has surrounded the franchise in recent years, and the Maloofs were eager to be lauded as benevolent rulers — when they took the floor to thank the fans for their support, the Kings game operations staff played "My Hero" by the Foo Fighters.

Well, the Maloof family probably looks considerably less heroic to Kings fans today. One month after agreeing to the framework of a deal, the owners now reportedly have serious concerns about Sacramento's ability to get the arena built in time for the start of the 2015 NBA season, are "disputing that they have a firm agreement" to aid in the building of the complex, and have not taken the nuclear option — packing up the Kings and moving them out of Sacramento — off the table.

At issue are "a slew of pre-development and construction costs" that must be covered to get the ball rolling on the project. The Maloofs' share of the bill weighs in at about $3.26 million, the first $200,000 of which must be paid quickly. Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that the Maloofs — who had previously asked for clarification on which element of the arena partnership (the Kings, arena operator AEG or the city of Sacramento) would be responsible for picking up the pre-dev tab — don't want to pay their end. In fact, they don't acknowledge that it's "their end" at all.

"The long-standing position has been that the Sacramento Kings would be a tenant in an arena owned by the city and managed by an outside company ... Pre-development costs are not the responsibility of the tenant," according to a statement from family spokesman Eric Rose.

That statement seems to fly in the face of a preliminary accord reached on the payment split that was discussed at a March 6 hearing. During that session, according to Tony Bizjak and Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee, the city of Sacramento's arena consultant said the project's term sheet stipulates pre-development costs are to be "funded 50 percent by the city, 25 percent by the Kings and 25 percent by AEG." Johnson issued a statement saying that, "in light of the Maloofs' promise, we fully expect all parties to live up to their commitments." The Maloofs' attorney, though, has emphasized that the term sheet is non-binding and that, handshakes aside, "there was never an agreement reached."

In the short term, the NBA has agreed to float that first $200,000 payment, with NBA Commissioner David Stern telling the Bee via email that he has "advised Mayor Johnson that the NBA will advance pre-development expenses on behalf of the Kings pending our report to the NBA Board of Governors at its meeting on April 12-13." So, for now, things will proceed apace.

But as Tom Ziller wrote at go-to Kings blog Sactown Royalty — which, as you'd expect, has a detailed rundown of the newly broiling beef and an incisive take on where the Maloofs and NBA will go from here — the issue isn't this $200,000, or even the full $3.26 million ("chump change" to a $4 billion business like the NBA). It's that paying the Maloofs' tab when they cry poor sets "a horrible precedent."

[...] I have a feeling that Stern will ask the Board to cover the full $3.2 million on behalf of the Kings in order to allow the project to move forward in a timely fashion. But even if he does, it's not going to happen again. And there is a lot of rope left in hammering out the deal. If the Maloofs are willing to caterwaul on something explicitly in the term sheet they agreed to, you can guarantee they'll complain about other items that legitimately remain unanswered. Uncle Dave isn't cracking out his wallet every time. He can't.

And, taking it a step further, if the Maloofs are going to fight and claw on every outlay that comes up throughout the three-year process of building a $400 million sports and entertainment complex, then how long will it be before some party — the league, Johnson, AEG, whomever — just throws its hands up and says to hell with the whole thing? Without trust that commitments will be honored and obligations will be met, can an agreement this long in coming and this tenuously held together actually hold?

It's very easy to count and spend other people's money and to deride multimillionaires for refusing to part with multiple millions like we'd give the pizza delivery guy an extra buck, just because they have it. I'm trying to be mindful of that.

But even being mindful and nice and calm, it's hard to feel much in the way of sympathy for an ownership group that refuses to pay $200,000 toward the cost of a new arena of which they will be the primary beneficiaries after doing stuff like giving Francisco Garcia $6 million a year, taking on $11 million in salary to ship out Beno Udrih for John Salmons and bidding $12 million to claim amnestied sinkhole Travis Outlaw off waivers to be largely putrid. Throw good money after bad again and again, as your fans suffer through year after year of bad product, and then bow your back at the prospect of paying a price that you agreed to pay, non-binding term sheet or not, to save a couple hundred grand? I mean, what's the defense for it?

One month ago, the Maloofs returned from Orlando as conquering victors, trumpeting the agreement and promising "a beacon of light, shining bright, in 2015 — a brand new arena." Now, after having gotten that outpouring of love and good PR, they once again look to be very willing to turn their backs on the whole thing unless somebody, anybody, resumes the business of bailing them out. It's a bracing bummer of a reminder of how the Kings' situation got this bad in the first place, and how little owners tend to value fans and their love.