An arena deal done, Seattle looks to lure a new team

Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen — no relation to the other — did the near-impossible, coming to an agreement with the city to build a new arena that could portend the NBA’s return. Now comes the hard part: Finding a team to occupy the slated for construction next to Safeco Park, the home of MLB’s Mariners.

With NBA commissioner David Stern having ruled out expansion — at least in North America — that would put the Emerald City in the awkward position of needing to steal a team just like Oklahoma City did its SuperSonics a few years back.

Exactly how the process will play out remains unclear. After enduring some of the worst press of his career for the Sonics debacle — more than a few believe owner Clay Bennett had no intention of ever keeping them in Seattle, including the makers of this — Stern said at last year’s All-Star Game that he’ll do everything in his power to avoid the relocation of any more franchises.

But that the only way cities like Sacramento and New Orleans can avoid being poached is to build the type of building that will soon be under construction in Seattle:

“Right now what I’m working hard to do, in a perverse kind of a way, from Seattle’s perspective, is to sell New Orleans to stay in New Orleans, and get a building for Sacramento that will enable the Kings to stay in Sacramento.  I can’t say for sure [that a new arena in Seattle is] a pathway [to a replacement for the Sonics], but I will say that the only way to have a team these days is to have a world?class building.”

Things have changed since then. San Antonio businessman Tom Benson bought the Hornets to seemingly bring them back from the brink of league-owned purgatory and secure their future in New Orleans. But an apparent agreement for a new arena in Sacramento also collapsed, putting the Kings’ future in Northern California in major jeopardy.

Unfortunately for the fans who have supported the Kings despite their largely horrendous performances over the years, that makes the Kings the No. 1 candidate. The Maloofs have already turned down a $400 million offer — $100 million more than the franchise is worth, — so prying the team from their cold, greedy hands could be an expensive proposition. But with their fortunes rapidly dwindling, they might not have another choice.

Others include:

* Charlotte. The same Forbes article puts the Bobcats’ losses at $20 million per year, and they just absorbed a crippling loss by missing out on the lottery to draft Anthony Davis. The main question is whether or not Michael Jordan, whose uninspired stewardship has already marred his reputation, would ever admit defeat by selling.

* Memphis. The Grizzlies have finally tasted success with consecutive playoff appearances. There’s also an iron-clad lease agreement with their current home, the FedEx Forum. And last but not least, prospective new owner Robert Pera probably wouldn’t sell out his new toy so quickly.

* Milwaukee. Forbes notes that owner Herb Kohl paid a paltry $18 million for the franchise in the mid-1980s, meaning he’d get a massive return on his investment for selling what has been at best a mediocre franchise. Then there’s the outdated Bradley Center, with which the Bucks have only a year-to-year lease.

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