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Will frustrated Kings owners take NBA to court over relocation fight?

There is a gut-check going on as these words are being written, a proud family in distress. It is disappointed and disgusted and can't stomach the idea of losing control like this.

The Maloofs and their Kings franchise will not be bullied into staying in Sacramento and out of Anaheim. Or will they? They will not ignore the evidence they have collected about the NBA and its possible motivations in this relocation saga. Or might they? They are prepared to take on Commissioner David Stern in the sort of way that much bolder owners have never dreamed of. Or are they?

They want to fight back. We'll know soon enough whether they're willing to take a swing.

The recommendation from the NBA to stay in Sacramento came on Wednesday, and the Maloofs were telling people privately soon thereafter that a decision would come within "the next couple of days" even though the deadline isn't until Monday. But then the anger came back, along with the frustration, all of it rising as the walls continued to close in.

It's not merely a question of whether they will file for relocation, although the fact that the Anaheim option is still being considered despite the opposition is a remarkable revelation on its own considering the widely-held belief that Stern would not only win in court should it ever get there but that he would never forget being challenged in such a way. There are continued whispers from sources close to the Maloofs that a possible antitrust lawsuit might be on the horizon, with the Maloofs' fact-finding mission on that front coming to light Friday by way of a report in the Orange County Register.

According to the story, an attorney representing the Maloofs went to the home of reporter Janis Carr to retrieve an audio tape of comments made by Lakers coach Phil Jackson on April 20. Jackson, who made comments criticizing the possible move both before and after the one in question, had compared the Maloofs to the McCourt couple who owned the Los Angeles Dodgers until their financial downfall led to Major League Baseball taking over the team recently.

The attorney's home visit was roundly criticized in the world of the Web, but there was a bigger picture in play. This was simply one of many dots the Kings had been connecting, their suspicions growing that the NBA and the Lakers just might be working off the same agenda. Lakers owner Jerry Buss is an obvious opponent of the deal for a number of reasons, none more obvious than the $500 million he could stand to lose by way of his diminished television contract with Time Warner if a third team enters his market.

While it remains unclear whether the Maloofs will act on these frustrations, it's clear they are more than curious as to about the way in which they believe they're being strong-armed out of Anaheim and whether it qualifies as legal business practice. And while they were slow to notice the many ways in which the league so brazenly took these relocation reins in recent weeks, questions are now being raised about whether they are being forced to stay in a financially-challenged market as a way of pressuring them to sell the team. The Maloofs have repeatedly said they have no interest in selling, but Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has continued discussions with the man who has made his desire clear to buy the team, Los Angeles-based billionaire businessman Ron Burkle.

Meanwhile, there is hardly any room between this rock and the hard place that the Maloofs believe they're stuck between. The family's intense skepticism about whether a new arena can be built in Sacramento anytime soon is at the root of why they would want to leave, while the Anaheim deal that was recently sweetened by Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli has only increased their already-strong desire to head for Southern California. If the Maloofs filed for relocation, the Board of Governors would then have up to 120 days to vote on the matter.

Gut-check time indeed.

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