SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- With momentum building to secure a downtown arena with the Kings as anchor tenants, Sacramento needs to know:
How can the current Kings owners retain control of the team and be successful?
Everyone knows that the Maloof brothers want to remain NBA owners more than anything.
But, in the long run, how can they? The Kings have been a relative bargain-basement operation for years. Team payroll is roughly $48 million, just above the league minimum and dwarfed even by small-market teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies, who have a $71 million payroll.
That the Kings are the youngest team in the NBA -- and therefore likely to have lower salaries for inexperienced talent -- is beside the point.
The key question is: Will Maloof Sports and Entertainment ever again have the financial resources to field a competitive team?
The Maloofs may be personally wealthy. They may have shed substantial debt when ceding majority control of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas to their lenders.
But it's one thing to be rich, and quite another to be NBA-owner rich.
The simple economics of the Kings' future seem to point toward a sale of the team no matter where it goes.
If the Kings attempted a move to Anaheim, as was threatened last year, it's hard to imagine how the Maloofs could afford the massive relocation fee imposed by the NBA.
Meanwhile, the numbers seem to work against the Maloofs in Sacramento's arena deal.
They owe the city of Sacramento roughly $70 million. They've borrowed substantially from the NBA, perhaps to the tune of $100 million.
The NBA and the Kings may be asked to cover $80 million to $100 million needed to build a $400 million arena in downtown Sacramento.
Kings ownership is on record that its wallet is light. No one in Sacramento believes it has the money to put into an arena here.
Would the NBA front the Maloofs even more millions to get it done? And how would a new loan from the NBA be reconciled with what the Maloofs already owe?
Worlds are colliding in this saga of a financially strapped city straining to keep its one major sports franchise while attempting to energize its downtown and spur urban development with a new arena.
At the former Arco Arena, plans are being made to begin selling season tickets for next season in a big campaign that would kick off next month. Corporate sponsors are already being approached.
These efforts are not connected to negotiations for a new arena, but they do point toward the Kings playing in Sacramento next season.
Meanwhile, by the end of this month, Sacramento must commit to selling off its city parking revenues to fund the largest piece of the arena to meet the NBA-imposed deadline of March 1 to secure the framework of a deal.
Unlike Seattle, which told the NBA to take a hike, Sacramento's forces have aligned and worked endless hours to reach this point.
City cops have been laid off in Sacramento in the past year, but the cops union is for an arena. Labor is on board. A majority of the City Council seems poised to vote yes. Sacramento city staff has been consumed by making all the pieces fit. And Kings fans have kept going to games to watch an often-horrible product that the Maloofs let go to pot while their personal fortunes dwindled and they lost the Palms and sold their once-lucrative beer distributorship.
It's a tough situation for the owners whose identities seem as tethered to courtside seats as a hoop is tethered to a backboard.
You feel for them, but quite frankly, the overall performance of the Kings has too often been an insult to the massive community effort supporting the team.
Sacramento is moving a mountain right now just for the prize of securing a cellar-dwelling team with a cellar-dwelling payroll?
I have no doubts about Kings basketball people or employees. But the Kings owners are a different story.
That's unacceptable given how Sacramento has stepped up for the Kings and the NBA. Sacramento deserves better.
As of this writing, no one has any idea what the NBA intends to do about any of this.
Before Sacramento and potential private partners commit millions to an arena venture, they need to know from the NBA:
What are they going to do about the long-term future of the Kings in Sacramento and about owners whose future success seems as remote as the Kings reaching the playoffs?