By Ben Golliver
David Stern announced on Thursday that he would step down as NBA commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014, giving himself 15 months to wrap up loose ends. Could that process involve killing two birds with one stone?
The NBA's most troublesome ownership group, the Maloof family, who owns the Kings, recently backed out of an agreement on a new arena with the city of Sacramento after it was dissuaded from pursuing a relocation effort to Anaheim. Meanwhile, the city of Seattle and interested third-parties are in the process of building a new arena with the specific purpose of housing an NBA team that would replace the SuperSonics, who departed to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008.
The theoretical dots aren't that hard to connect: match a troubled franchise with new ownership and a basketball-starved market and reduce two problems (the Maloofs and the NBA's tattered reputation in Seattle) into one (outrage in Sacramento).
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports Friday that the NBA is indeed leaning on the Maloofs to sell their franchise so that it could be relocated to Seattle.
Between now and his departure, Stern is determined to get a franchise back into Seattle, league sources said, and has become a strong ally of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's group to bring back the NBA there. Ballmer's group has been trying to get the Maloof family to sell the Sacramento Kings, so that the franchise can eventually play in a new arena in Seattle.
From the league office, pressure on the Maloofs to sell has been growing, sources said -- just as hopes for a new Sacramento arena have been fading. Seattle Sonics fans will never forgive Stern for his complicit role in Clay Bennett's deception to move that franchise to Oklahoma City, but make no mistake: Stern desperately wants to return the NBA to one of its great markets and wants it for his own measure of vindication before he leaves office.
As one source involved in the process said, "Stern has enough time to get a team back to Seattle, but he'll let Silver deal with the crowd [booing] on opening night."
During his annual preseason conference call on Thursday, Stern offered Kings fans no assurances, merely lip service.
“There are many people who appreciate the fact that Sacramento was, is, and can be a first class NBA city,” he said. “It is true that it needs a new building. We have our differences of opinions with all of our owners, and in this case with the Maloofs on some of the issues that have gone down here. But my advice to Sacramento is to continue the enormous support that you have shown for the team, and we’ll see what the next steps turn out to be.”
Back in February, Stern, the Maloofs and the city of Sacramento, represented by Mayor Kevin Johnson, announced a tentative agreement to finance a new stadium. That deal fell apart by April, though, and Stern appeared to wash his hands of the matter during a press conference at the 2012 NBA Finals in June, saying he wouldn't speculate about the future of the Kings other than the fact that a move to Anaheim wouldn't be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors.
"If there was a vote, there would be no support for a move, but I believe the ownership says they are planning to stay there. And on other situations I might hazard a guess for a prognostication. On this one, I'm out of the business for now."
On Thursday, Stern was asked if he had any regrets about his 28-year tenure as commissioner.
"It sounds like a Frank Sinatra song, 'Regrets, I have a few,' Stern joked, before avoiding the question.
But in a 2011 interview on an ESPN.com podcast, Stern mentioned the SuperSonics' departure from Seattle as one of his regrets, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“My regrets are that we didn’t do a – weren’t able to do a better job of getting a building moved along so that we could have kept a team there."
“I have regrets about both Vancouver and Seattle,” Stern said. “I think [Seattle is] a very prime city for an NBA franchise."
“But our goal here is to keep all of our teams where they are,” Stern said, “but recognizing that that hasn’t been a goal that we have successfully achieved in the past.”