NBA Commissioner David Stern said Saturday whether the Sacramento Kings franchise moves to Seattle for next season will be an emotional issue as well as an economic issue.
"I think the owners are going to have a tough issue to decide," said Stern in his "State of the League" speech one day before Sunday's All-Star Game in Houston. "But I don't want to get into it because we don't have the predicate for that tough decision yet.
"It's going to weigh upon Mayor (Kevin) Johnson making good on his statement that there's going to be an (counter) offer. And it's going to be upon the regional municipalities and various people in the Sacramento area to give the mayor the support that he needs. And we'll see. And then the owners are going to have to deal with it. This is a good time to be a commissioner and not an owner."
The Maloof family, which owns the Kings, has sold the team to a group in Seattle that already has applied to move the franchise to the Northwest. Johnson, the former All-Star guard turned Sacramento mayor, has promised a competitive bid for the Kings in order to keep the team in Sacramento as well as a plan for a new downtown arena by March 1.
The annual press conference was Stern's last as commissioner as he will retire next February. Besides the Kings' future, he discussed:
---The Collective Bargaining Agreement, worked out last season. "We think the collective bargaining agreement is good. It has yet to click into where it is working."
-- He said he is preparing to hand off the league's duties to Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.
---The league now has three offices in China pursuing business opportunities there.
---Social media is one of the biggest drivers in the growth of the league internationally.
---The league is planning to play more preseason games internationally next season, but he was not at liberty to announce the sites.
---He thinks the Developmental League is thriving and some of its teams could play internationally as well.
But the bulk of the press conference involved the issues surrouding the Kings' proposed move. Stern said he expected that process will be decided at the board of governors meeting April 18.
Stern said he has tried to avoid revisionist history in Seattle, reminding one reporter that the Sonics left for Oklahoma City only after they did not get the same subsidies that the NFL Seahawks and the MLB Mariners received.
He also said that he doesn't see a way that both Seattle and Sacramento will come out of this situation happy. In other words, the league doesn't plan to give either city an expansion franchise.
"Expansion is an economic issue," Stern said. "It doesn't make economic sense. Right now, given that we've got through an intriguing collective bargaining agreement and revenue sharing, sentiment is let it all settle."
Silver added that some owners believe the product would suffer with another team.
"Are there 15 more of the world's greatest players and will we dilute the talent?" he said.
The commissioner did a take a moment from the business of basketball to reminisce. After 37 All-Star Games, first as a league counsel and then since 1984 as commissioner, Stern said his favorite was the 1992 game in Orlando. That was when Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson came out of retirement after he had been diagnosed with HIV and was selected as the game's MVP.
"Giving a sweaty Magic Johnson a big hug right after he hit the last (3-pointer) and still being able to hug him each time I see him because he's alive," Stern said. "That one will resonate for the rest of my life."