The most powerful team owners in the NBA met again Monday to discuss the fate of the Kings, and apparently left unchanged their earlier recommendation to keep the team in Sacramento.
The NBA's relocation and finance/advisory committees, consisting of 12 of the league's owners, met by conference call ahead of a crucial meeting Wednesday at which the NBA intends to finally resolve whether the team stays put or moves to Seattle.
A source with knowledge of the situation said Monday's meeting was "really a conversation" that ended with no new recommendations.
That suggests the relocation committee's 7-0 vote in late April against moving the team is still in effect, despite a flurry of aggressive moves over the weekend by the group trying to move the Kings to Seattle.
"There's no change," said sports law expert Michael McCann, a contributor to NBA TV. "Status quo probably helps Sacramento."
A spokesman for the Maloofs, who own the team, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the Sacramento investment group that is trying to keep the team in town. A spokesman for Seattle's investors couldn't be reached.
Unlike two weeks ago, the league didn't make any comment on what happened in Monday's meeting. That left fans in both cities grasping for clues about the Kings' future leading up to Wednesday's meeting of the board of governors in Dallas.
The board, consisting of all 30 team owners, is expected to vote on whether the Kings can move to Seattle. But there were no guarantees of a final resolution as to who would wind up owning the team.
The two NBA panels met Monday in an effort to digest a burst of news out of Seattle.
On Friday, Seattle bidders Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer raised their offer for the Kings again, to $406 million for the Maloof family's 65 percent controlling interest. That's $65 million more than the $341 million offered by Sacramento's bidders, led by tech executive Vivek Ranadive. The Sacramento bid matches Seattle's original offer from January.
The next day, news leaked that the Hansen-Ballmer group had made a backup deal with the Maloofs to buy a minority stake in the team. The backup deal would come into play only if the board of governors kills the team's relocation to Seattle, which would automatically dissolve the $406 million offer, according to a memo circulated by NBA executives to team owners last week.
Under the backup plan, Hansen-Ballmer would buy at least 20 percent of the Kings, with an option to purchase the rest of the Maloofs' share within two years.
A source familiar with that plan said the Maloofs and Hansen-Ballmer would agree to make a good-faith effort to build a badly needed new arena in Sacramento.
Irwin Raij, a New York sports attorney, said the backup proposal appeared to be an attempt by Hansen and Ballmer to eventually move the team in the face of the relocation committee's negative recommendation in April.
"This step is almost an acknowledgment that their plan for getting the team directly to Seattle was failing," said Raij, a former member of Sacramento's arena task force.
He said it was unlikely the NBA would approve the new plan. It would leave the controversial Maloofs in charge of the franchise – something the NBA doesn't want. And it would force Sacramento city officials to work with owners – the Maloofs and the Seattle group – they wouldn't trust.
The Maloofs scrapped a plan to build a Sacramento arena last spring. And Hansen and Ballmer have made it clear they want to move the team to Seattle to replace the SuperSonics, who left for Oklahoma City in 2008. Hansen has spent at least $65 million buying property for a new arena in Seattle.
According to the league's bylaws, either purchase agreement between the Maloofs and the Seattle group needs approval from 23 of the 30 members of the board of governors.
Hansen and Ballmer added other sweeteners to their bid last week. They offered to pay league owners a relocation fee of $116 million if the move to Seattle is approved. That's more than three times as much as the highest relocation fee in NBA history.
Nonetheless, NBA Commissioner David Stern has said he didn't expect the Kings' future to be decided by a bidding war. League executives have said Sacramento's long and mostly loyal support for the NBA – and its willingness to step up on a plan for a new arena – count for a lot.
The Sacramento City Council has tentatively approved a $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza, including a $258 million public subsidy.
One big question mark remained above all else: Would the Maloofs sell to Ranadive if the Hansen-Ballmer agreement is blocked?
Word leaked Saturday that the Maloofs would refuse to do business with Ranadive. A day later, a source familiar with the family's thinking said the Maloofs hadn't ruled it out.
But as of Monday, there was still no deal between the Maloofs and Ranadive as an alternative to Hansen-Ballmer. If there's no agreement in place by Wednesday, it seemed unlikely the board of governors could approve the Ranadive group as the new owners.
BREAKING DOWN THE BIDS
There are three separate bids for the Kings under consideration by the NBA:
Angling to move the team to Seattle, Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer have offered $406 million to buy the 65 percent of the Kings controlled by the Maloofs.
The $406 million deal dissolves if the move to Seattle is rejected. As a backup, Hansen-Ballmer would pay $125 million to buy 20 percent of the Kings – and pledge to work with Sacramento on a new arena.
Sacramento's bidders, led by Vivek Ranadive, have offered $341 million as an alternative to Seattle's bids. The price matches the original deal the Maloofs made in January with Hansen- Ballmer. The Maloofs haven't yet agreed to it.
Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.