ORLANDO, Fla. -- Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof sat in the stands at the Amway Center on Saturday night, taking in the festivities just as he has so many times since his family bought into the team in 1998.
An intense day of negotiations awaited the Maloofs on Sunday, when they would sit with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA officials to determine whether a deal can be struck to keep the team from relocating. You'd never know the high stakes that were in play by the relaxed tone of his voice, how the NBA is on the verge of having either a wildly entertaining comeback tale or another sad story in which a city loses its team.
"No, the time's not right to say anything yet," Maloof said by phone. "We'll talk tomorrow."
Indeed, statements will be made on Sunday.
Johnson, Stern, league officials and Sacramento city officials spent Saturday making progress during negotiations that were broken into two meetings and lasted more than three hours at an Orlando hotel. And now, the Maloofs re-enter the talks for the first time since their attempt to move to Anaheim fell apart last May.
But while those Kings fans who are reading all the signs these days might take comfort in the symbolic fact that he was watching the slam dunk contest, this is anything but that. Unless we're talking about Chase Budinger's blind-folded slam, of course.
While Johnson has lined up the city's portion of the financing plan for a $387 million arena, the question of how much the Maloofs pitch in will finally be answered soon. And with the league-issued deadline of March 1 looming and a March 6 date for a city council vote in Sacramento to finalize a term sheet coming thereafter, the mystery here all relates to the Maloofs.
Despite the loss of majority interest in their Las Vegas casino and hotel and the selling of their lucrative beer distributorship in New Mexico, could the endless reports of their financial demise be overstated? Are they prepared to provide the "fair share" they've often been quoted as promising? Can Johnson, who earned his hometown an extra year to solve this problem last May, bridge the financial gap that remains with yet another creative pitch at this late hour?
Johnson is hoping the Maloofs and/or the NBA can contribute approximately $85 million, and a source close to the situation said there are plenty of unconventional ideas in play to help make that happen. With an arena plan in place, the Maloofs could sell the land at their current arena location (Power Balance Pavilion) for approximately $25 million. Another $15 million (approximately) could be raised by refinancing the $77 million loan that was given to previous ownership and absorbed by the Maloofs. There are other such mechanisms that could provide more answers and more cash, but clearly a gap between the two sides still has to be bridged. And, of course, there are aggressive pitches from Anaheim and Seattle in the background should this attempt fall short.
The latest signs of any real substance were tough to decipher, none moreso than the conflicting tones taken by the Johnson and David Stern.
There was caution from the commissioner ...
"We have several remaining points that will not necessarily be guaranteed to be bridged," Stern said. "We're having very intense conversations. Sometimes the best-intentioned and most fervent workers don't quite get to the finish line because there are things that separate them. "Write this down, 'Life is a negotiation.' And in fairness to the Maloofs, if there's a deal, they are making a very substantial contribution."
And then there was confidence from Johnson ...
"We met every benchmark along the way, every milestone, every yard-marker ... and that's why I'm so excited to sit down with [the Maloofs] and say, 'Look, we've made good on our promise,'" Johnson said. "What can we do to close the gap and hopefully put this to bed? All parties are locked in right now, and everybody is doing everything they can and making a sincere effort to make this deal work.
"If there's a way for a deal to happen, we're all going to find a way to make it happen."
Even Johnson has been left to read the relocation tea leaves. The truth, however, is that even he doesn't know what to expect on Sunday.
"Over the past year, [the Maloofs] have been very engaged in Sacramento, which has been great for us," Johnson said. "They've never missed a loan payment. There's all this talk about their ability to deliver financially but they've never not delivered on their loan payment, so I have the utmost confidence in our meeting tomorrow that we can make some significant [progress].
"I'd be very surprised if there's not enough progress made tomorrow that everyone doesn't feel at least optimistic enough to move forward into Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so we can adhere to the deadline as far as March 1. No one is fudging or trying to negotiate that deadline."
Yes, statements will be made. It's finally time to hear what the Maloofs have to say.