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Maloofs may be undecided, but signs point to Kings staying put

There's the feel of the room, and then there are the facts.

First, the room:

It's dimly lit and covered in Sacramento Kings paraphernalia, with NBA Commissioner David Stern quietly hanging "Here We Stay" banners while a conga line of owners led by the Lakers' Jerry Buss team up with Mayor Kevin Johnson to play with the Anaheim dartboard in the corner. The Maloof family that owns the Kings is still just outside the door, peering in with the hopes of seeing an arena blueprint amid the piles of purple while glancing longingly at the Royals Room next door that is so painfully empty.

Now, the facts:

The Maloofs haven't made a decision on whether to file for relocation by the May 2 deadline, a stance they reiterated after a Los Angeles Times report published Friday afternoon claimed the team was "expected to remain in Sacramento." Only they know whether they will still file if and when word comes their way that the relocation committee is recommending a Sacramento stay and a majority vote among the owners on their behalf just isn't there, a development that now looks likely so long as no last-minute holes are found in Johnson's pitch. A relocation block would be unprecedented and would almost certainly take this Sacramento saga to the courts if they proceeded in that fashion.

The NBA continues to be impressed with Johnson, the former All-Star point guard who vowed to the league's owners in New York during last week's Board of Governors meetings, and did the same this week. Relocation committee chairman/Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett and league attorney Harvey Benjamin came to town for an investigation on Thursday and Friday, digging into Johnson's many detailed assertions as to why the Sacramento situation was salvageable.

The NBA is expected to return on Monday, with one source close to the situation claiming it's a matter of "crossing the Ts and dotting the Is" when it comes to finalizing their findings. There are, it should be noted, no NBA trips currently scheduled for Anaheim despite the fact that Stern made it clear last week that the owners intended to investigate that plan further.

Will the Kings remain in Sacramento next season? It's sure looking that way. But that likelihood was more of a news flash to the Maloofs than anyone else on Friday, and their reaction spoke volumes about the disconnect between the owners and the very league that is so intimately involved here.

Only the flies on the wall at the Board of Governors meetings know how the totem pole of concerns looks, but the pushback of the Kings' intended move to the nation's second-largest media market is as real as advertised. And the few flies that have been buzzing since then have had nothing but negative things to say about the Maloofs' motives.

The significant concern about their financial standing and long-term viability continues to grow, with Lakers coach Phil Jackson pouring salt in that wound on Wednesday when he compared the Maloofs to the McCourt couple that had its Dodgers franchise overtaken by Major League Baseball this week because of financial mayhem. There is, according to both ownership and front-office sources who spoke to SI.com, very little incentive to help an ownership group that's in such perceived disarray while simultaneously hurting two teams that are so much more vital to the overall cause.

Go to Kansas City? Fine. Get something done in Seattle? Unlikely, but best of luck. But jumping in the Lakers' and Clippers' backyard? They simply must, in the eyes of so many, do better than that.

Stern has insisted the Lakers-Clippers factor isn't playing a part, but that's precisely what someone who doesn't want to face an antitrust lawsuit would need to say whether they meant it or not. That notwithstanding, it stands to reason that the commissioner would rather not infuriate these particular owners.

Buss reportedly stands to lose 10 percent of his team's Time Warner television deal that sources have indicated is potentially worth $5 billion over 25 years, meaning as much as $500 million in losses. It's not the sort of tone you'd think Stern wants to set going into this most pivotal of summers, with a likely lockout on the horizon and a push for improved revenue sharing that would be easier to execute with Buss' support and access to his coffer. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, meanwhile, doesn't garner the same (or any) respect but is always ready and willing to sue when someone goes for his wallet.

There are dots that are fair to connect starting at the Staples Center in which both teams play as well, as the AEG group which owns the building, owns part of the Lakers and charges the Clippers monthly rent is a major partner of the ICON Venue Group that was chosen by Sacramento city officials to head the latest charge for a new arena. The Denver-based group officially came on board in early February, with Sacramento city officials making it clear at the time that these industry leaders who had built 17 arenas in all were waiving their sizable consulting fees to assist in this dire situation. Awfully charitable, huh? And certainly appreciated by the likes of Buss and Sterling.

As if there was any doubt which side AEG was on -- and there wasn't -- company president Tim Leiweke went public with his feelings this week during an interview on Los Angeles radio station KSPN in which he advocated against the move. That's the same Leiweke whose name is featured on the list of ICON endorsements on the company's website -- third down from the left.

Scroll up two spots, and that's where it really gets interesting. Bennett's endorsement was given top billing on the page, their relationship rooting from the Seattle situation that had some of the same components in place as the current one (the main difference being there has been no change in ownership, with the Maloofs continuing to say they will never sell despite significant pressure to do so).

After buying the Sonics from Seattle/Starbucks man Howard Schultz in 2006, the Oklahoma City born and bred Bennett teamed with ICON with the intention of building a new arena just outside of the Emerald City in Renton, Wash. But $500 million in taxpayer contributions wasn't approved in early 2007, and Bennett would become Public Enemy No. 1 when the team moved a year later and e-mails obtained by Seattle city officials suggested that Bennett had intended to move the team to his hometown much earlier than had been believed. Bennett eventually did the deal with ICON in Oklahoma City, with the Ford Center that was already in place getting a $100 million renovation and a $21 million practice facility being built by the company.

Despite the venom spewed by Kings fans and media alike when Bennett was named relocation committee chairman, he is looking like a sheep in wolf's clothing at the moment. He even wore a purple tie on his first day in Sacramento, apparently joining a fan movement that called on all locals to wear Kings colors so as to impress the NBA officials who were in town.

If Johnson and regional leaders can eventually deliver the financing for a new arena, then it's likely the team stays. Fail on that front, though, and two sources close to the situation say there will be even more pressure applied for the Maloofs to sell the team and have it moved back to Kansas City for the 2012 season. The city that lost the Kings in 1985 has no NBA team for its fancy Sprint Center, a venue that was built by ICON in 2007.

As was the case in these past few weeks, that's a challenge Johnson would love take head on. For now, though, he'll hold off on the celebration until the more official word comes down.

"I haven't heard that [the team is staying] out of David Stern's mouth, or Clay Bennett's, or anybody that was here yesterday," Johnson told reporters in Sacramento on Friday afternoon. "It'd be great if that was the outcome, but I surely, from an emotional standpoint, do not want our community to go through this emotional high and start celebrating something that hasn't been decided yet."

Some say it already has. The room sure feels that way.

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