Reports have Mastrov meeting in Sacramento

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SEATTLE — Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is expected to announce sometime this week the identity of the major equity investors willing to attempt to purchase the NBA Kings.

Live chat highlights

Reporters Lynn Thompson and Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times and columnist Marcos Breton and Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee answered readers’ questions about the sale of the Kings and the NBA in Seattle in a live chat. Some highlights:

Q: What’s your take on (24 Hour Fitness founder) Mark Mastrov?

Breton: My take on Mastrov is still evolving. He clearly wants in on an NBA ownership group. As I type this, he is in Sacramento to meet with potential local investors for the Kings.

Q: I’ve heard different takes on the “first right of refusal.” Is that still an issue?

Kasler: Yes, the “right of refusal” is still an issue. A bankruptcy trustee who’s auctioning a 7 percent share of the Kings says limited partners have a right to match an offer.

Q: Why has Kings attendance fallen off?

Breton: The low attendance is a manifestation of the terrible ownership in Sacramento. The Maloofs have let the product and the arena erode completely. And once they killed an arena deal last year, public sentiment really turned against them.

Q: How bad of shape is Sleep Train Arena actually in?

Condotta: The arena desperately needs work. But there’s also no reason to do that work when everyone knows that the city needs a new arena to keep the team. At this point, the condition of Sleep Train Arena really doesn’t matter much.

Q: Are Seattle sports fans excited about having an NBA team come to town again or are they leery this could all fall apart?

Condotta: Given what happened with the Sonics, I think there is huge skepticism about anything NBA-related in Seattle. I think the general sports fan is hopeful but also understands there’s a long way to go. Most just want the process to be over with, which I imagine is a sentiment shared there.

Thompson: Seattle fans are very excited about the possibility of getting a team back again. On the other hand, both Hansen and local politicians have been clear that there are a lot of hurdles remaining. Hansen has to finalize a deal for the team, the environmental impact statement has to show that the arena won’t cripple port operations, and the NBA has to approve the sale and relocation.

Q: Fact or fiction: The relocation needs a majority vote from the NBA Board of Governors and the sale needs a three-quarters vote?

Kasler: Yes, it’s a three-quarters vote to approve a new owner and simple majority to approve a relocation. It’s theoretically possible that they could approve Hansen as an owner but not approve the relocation, but seems kind of far-fetched. NBA has criteria for vetting owners and relocation proposals, but they are fairly subjective.

And in another sign that Mark Mastrov may be among those buyers, Mastrov reportedly met Monday in Sacramento with some of the local business leaders who have pledged to become limited partners at $1 million each.

The Sacramento Bee portrayed the meeting as indicating how serious Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness, is in being part of a group that would make a counteroffer to the tentative agreement reached last week between the team’s current owners, the Maloof family, and a Seattle group led by Chris Hansen. Hansen’s group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer, has reportedly pledged $340 million for 65 percent of the team (at a total valuation of $525 million).

That sale, however, still has to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors, as does relocating the team to Seattle. Johnson is attempting to assemble a group that would present a competitive offer and convince the NBA not to approve the Maloof/Hansen deal, potentially forcing a sale to the Sacramento group. The Sacramento group also has to come up with a viable arena plan.

Mastrov attempted to buy the Golden State Warriors in 2010 and according to the Bee “is in serious discussions with billionaire Ron Burkle on teaming up on a bid to purchase the Kings and keep them in Sacramento.” The Bee also reports that “the pair has also discussed partnering on a plan to help build a new downtown sports arena.”

Johnson said last week he anticipated naming the major investors this week.

The team will have to apply for relocation by March 1, with the NBA Board of Governors expected to vote on the sale in mid-April.

However, another important date in the process comes Thursday when, according to several reports, Hansen’s group must give the Maloofs a nonrefundable deposit of $30 million.

Michael McCann, an on-air legal analyst for NBA TV, said Monday it’s hard to know exactly how meaningful the deposit is without seeing the exact terms of the sales agreement.

But he said one possibility is that it could preclude the Maloofs from seeking other bidders.

He also said it could factor into damages if the sale is not approved and there is future legal action.

“There could be an argument made (once the deposit is made) that there is now an existing business relationship between (the Maloofs and Hansen) and that would be interfered with by rejecting the bid,” McCann said.

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