ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was as if the NBA lockout never ended.
Commissioner David Stern and league officials engaged in long and spirited negotiating sessions, then emerged with vague reports that the continued dialogue is, itself, a sign of progress. A throng of reporters who were staked out in the hotel lobby, then hounded each relevant figure for a quick comment as they took a break in the talks.
But with All-Star festivities continuing across town, the league is clearly up and running again. It's the city of Sacramento whose NBA future is in question.
The arena talks between Sacramento officials, Mayor and former NBA point guard Kevin Johnson, the Maloof family that owns the Kings and an NBA group headed by Stern began in the Waldorf hotel Sunday afternoon and are continuing into the night. The city that saved its team last May has a March 1 deadline by which it must have a finalized term sheet on a new arena, and all involved are pushing for resolution that could come Sunday night or early Monday.
Stern left the negotiations at around 5 p.m. ET because, well, he's typically expected to attend his league's grandest in-season party. He said he planned to return after the All-Star Game for talks that could go well into the morning hours, and even told an aide to book rooms for the Maloofs since they weren't originally planning to stay.
"Either we're going to get this thing done by March 1 or we're not, and that's why I agreed not to lock the door [on the negotiating room], but it was tempting," Stern said. "And they're here -- us, the city and the Maloofs -- and we hope that there'll be something good to report, but I make no promises or guarantees."
Not long after Stern spoke, a surreal scene unfolded as the Maloof brothers -- from oldest brother Joe to the younger Gavin and George -- were followed into a gift shop and eventually relented for a short chat with media. But while Joe and Gavin took it all in stride, smiling for the cameras and promising to talk later, a glum-looking George floated by himself on the outside of the chaos.
As the two sides attempt to resolve the portion of the $387 million pie that would be paid for by the Maloofs, a source close to the negotiations said it is abundantly clear that George remains an obstacle to a possible deal. After Johnson told reporters that both he and the Maloofs agreed that the "city has done its part" in this equation, George told SI.com that he didn't agree.
"I'm not convinced yet," George said when told of Johnson's comment. "I'm not 100 percent convinced. I think they're trying. We just got their deal today.
"It's a lot of different things [being discussed], a lot of different areas. You know, we just got it Sunday, so we're still trying to figure it out."
The Maloof family has taken serious financial hits in recent years, having sold their beer distributorship in New Mexico and lost controlling interest in their Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. George, who is based in Vegas and led the effort to move to Anaheim, has long been interested in moving the team to a bigger market. Joe and Gavin, meanwhile, are based in Sacramento and have re-engaged with the community since last year.
After the decision was made by the Maloofs to not file for relocation 10 months ago, the NBA took over the negotiations on behalf of the team. The Maloofs have been kept apprised of the situation throughout, and the hours ahead will likely decide whether there is a deal to be done here.
On Saturday night, Johnson said he had "
"You think somebody will go out with you on a date but you've got to ask and wait for them to say yes or no," Johnson said. "I felt that whether they wanted to be here or not, I needed to be able to ask them in the room. Because if you have a [financial] gap, and we're all trying to figure out the gap, and that gap is just an excuse to go somewhere else, then let's figure that out now and let's move on. And that wasn't the case. They all said they want to be here.
"They said clearly they wanted to be in Sacramento, and that should be reassuring for our community. All three of them [said it]. I can't remember who went first. I think it was probably Joe and then Gavin, and then George, so all three of them -- maybe not quite in unison, but all three were unanimous."
We'll know soon enough if there's a unanimous decision to be had here.