By Sam Amick
April 28, 2011

The light bulb is on now, shining brightly above the head of the Maloof brothers who must now decide what to do with their newfound illumination.

The Kings are not necessarily their Kings at the moment, with the reasons for why their move to Anaheim continues to look dead ranging from the financial to the political to the strategic. That much was clear on Tuesday, when a meeting between Sacramento businesses, the NBA and the city's mayor, Kevin Johnson, showed how far the family that owns the team has fallen in the local landscape.

The 33 area business owners who put down 20 percent deposits on a combined $10 million in contributions took their cues from league officials, and sources who were in the room say the gathering quickly became an indirect indictment of the Maloofs and how they have handled their business in recent years. Corporate sponsors with six-figure commitments complained about how long it had been since the team they so loyally supported had contacted them.

Questions arose about why the Maloofs weren't involved in this effort. Various officials indicated they could have been there if they had so desired. The audience included Chris Granger, the executive vice president of the NBA's team marketing department, and a former Kings employee in NBA official Jeff David. The message sent to the league by way of the businessmen was clear and universal: There was much more the Maloofs could have done in recent years to make the most of this market.

It's more about the market than the Maloofs at this point, no matter what was said in a Wednesday conference call between Anaheim officials, the Maloofs and the NBA that was first reported by the Orange County Register. From the grassroots fan movements, to the teary-eyed goodbye of the team's commentators in the regular-season home finale, the emotional chords being struck appear to have synced with the economic influences in such a way that a Sacramento stay continues to look very likely.

Yes, this is all about business, but the innumerable elements in play genuinely include the part about passion. It is, however, just one of the many. There's the Lakers/Clippers component, the soon-to-be expired collective bargaining agreement and all the complicated agendas that a likely lockout inspires, and the financial picture being painted of the Maloofs that sparked skepticism about why they wanted to be in Anaheim in the first place among owners and league officials alike.

The Kings are, one could say, the very definition of a distressed property. And that, as anyone in the billionaire business world knows, is where Ron Burkle always seems to come into play.

While the Maloofs remain skeptical of Johnson's ability to ultimately get a new arena built in Sacramento, the mayor is getting no such pushback from the man who came on this scene so dramatically two weeks ago. The Los Angeles-based businessman and owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins made clear his desire to buy the Kings then, issuing a press release saying he hoped to buy the team from the Maloofs and keep it in California's capitol.

And according to two sources in the business meeting Tuesday, Johnson indicated that he met with Burkle in Los Angeles on Monday. The meeting was confirmed by a third source close to the situation, giving a clear indication that the league's dismissive public comments regarding his involvement should hardly set the tone of the conversation as it pertains to him.

Conspiracy theories abound about his involvement here, and it is indisputable that he has ties to the Lakers that certainly make it a curious situation considering the well-chronicled private protests from team owner Jerry Buss. Beyond being a Lakers season-ticket holder, it's a matter of public record that Burkle has done significant business deals with the most famous Lakers player of them all. Just two months ago, Magic Johnson and Burkle reportedly made an eight-figure investment into Vibe Holdings (the parent company of Vibe Magazine and television show Soul Train, according to the Wall Street Journal).

Burkle is the pressure that will continue to be applied. The inherent premise is that the Maloofs are so financially strapped that they'll ultimately buckle to his wishes once the price gets high enough. But only they know how they feel about being put in that kind of a position.

They privately insist they're amenable to a long-term tenure in Sacramento as long as an NBA-ready building is being constructed, but the combination of Johnson's multilayered approach and the complicated relationship with the locals won't be easy to overcome. That is, of course, assuming they're not considering moving the team against the possible will of the league's owners.

There is a natural inclination to have the feathers fly when anyone stands between you and your intended destination. And make no mistake, that's where this was heading.

The Maloofs wanted Anaheim to come to fruition, but they eventually realized the deal, which included significant contributions from Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli, simply became too complicated. The perceived pot of gold that was the television revenues hasn't been there. A source close to the situation continues to indicate that there is no deal with the Fox Sports West outlet that so many assumed would be cutting that check. A source close to the Maloofs says a final decision should come by Friday, but this Sacramento saga has had more than enough twists and turns already to teach us to be cautious with proclaiming absolutes. The original April 18 deadline to file for relocation was extended twice and now sits at May 2, with a majority vote by league owners needed to approve any move.

The light is on and burning brightly, aimed squarely at the family that wants so badly to hold on to these Kings in whichever form fits them best. Your move, Maloofs. Enlighten us.

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