The Sacramento Kings took another small step toward relocation Thursday, requesting permission from the league to extend the March 1 deadline they were facing to formally file for a move to Anaheim, Calif., in time for next season.
League spokesman Tim Frank announced the Kings have formally asked the league to extend the deadline, which would allow them to review their options with the NBA's Board of Governors at its April 14-15 meeting in New York.
The board, Frank said, is reviewing the request.
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who starred for 12 seasons in the NBA, reacted with dismay to the news, which he said he heard from the media as opposed to directly from the Maloofs.
"We're going to fight," Johnson said at a news conference in Sacramento. "The deal is not done. We know they're looking elsewhere. But it's not a done deal. If it was a done deal, they would have filed on March 1."
The extension request is nonetheless the latest and perhaps strongest signal to date that the Kings want to move south after a 26-season run in Sacramento and numerous failed attempts to secure financing for the construction of a new arena.
ESPN.com reported Saturday that the Kings were weighing whether to apply by Tuesday's original deadline for relocation to Anaheim in time for next season and that team officials were in Orange County earlier this month to gather more first-hand data on the feasibility of a move to Anaheim's Honda Center.
Also Saturday, NBA commissioner David Stern publicly confirmed at his annual All-Star Weekend news conference that the Kings had opened discussions with Anaheim officials about a possible move.
Kings co-owner Joe Maloof has acknowledged that "many cities" besides Anaheim have expressed interest in serving as the Kings' new home. But sources close to the situation say that, with no NBA-ready arena for the Kings to move into in the Maloofs' home base of Las Vegas, Anaheim holds the greatest appeal to the Kings.
Yet getting the application deadline extended won't guarantee an official request to move would be approved by the Board of Governors. Relocation votes require a simple majority among the league's 30 teams, but sources close to the situation say the Los Angeles Lakers are strongly opposed to the idea of a third NBA franchise moving to Southern California, largely since the Honda Center sits 30 miles from the Lakers' shared home with the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson hinted at that stance Wednesday when he told reporters covering the team: "I think we'd like to see them stay there."
Although the Lakers and Clippers would possess one vote each, it's believed they will seek support from other teams to vote against a Kings move to Anaheim if the process gets that far.
The mere prospect of a close vote could dissuade the Kings from making the relocation request before next season's deadline, as could the millions still owed by the Maloofs to the city of Sacramento in loans. The Kings are said to be seeking loan and lease terms in Anaheim that would mitigate those financial obligations.
The Kings have been trying for nearly a decade to replace outdated Arco Arena (soon to be renamed Power Balance Pavilion) with a new revenue-generating building that would ensure they stay in a market that was once known as the home of one of the NBA's most fervent fan bases. That was before Sacramento's slide down the Western Conference standings, which finds the Kings heading for their fifth straight season out of the playoffs at 14-43 after a run that took them to the brink of the NBA Finals in a seven-game series with the Lakers in 2002.
Johnson has said cash-strapped Sacramento will continue to try to secure the funding for a new sports arena with or without the Kings, having chosen a developer (ICON venture group of Denver) to spend 90 days exploring the avenues for financing the complex.
In 2006, Sacramento voters turned down a measure that would have increased sales tax to fund a new arena. The NBA then took an active role in trying to help the Kings and the city find another solution after that vote, but Stern made it clear at All-Star Weekend that the league was no longer investing any time or money in trying to keep the team in Sacramento.
"All I'll say is that we and they have tried very hard over the years to see whether a new building could be built," Stern said. "And with the collapse of the last attempt -- which took a few years and several million dollars on behalf of the league -- I said we are not going to spend any more time on that. That is for the Maloofs and the people of Sacramento."
Anaheim has been searching for an NBA team to share the Honda Center with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks since the building was introduced in 1993 as the Arrowhead Pond. The Clippers flirted with a move there before owner Donald Sterling chose to join the Lakers at Staples Center in 1999. The Honda Center has been well-maintained over the years and houses 83 luxury suites, compared to just 30 at Arco Arena.
Orange County also has a larger, wealthier population than Sacramento and its surrounding areas, with greater potential for corporate partnerships and higher ticket prices. The proximity to Los Angeles, furthermore, could theoretically help the Kings recruit players.
The Maloofs first have to come to terms on a loan and lease arrangement with Ducks billionaire owner Henry Samueli, whose management runs the city-owned Honda Center, before they can even take their plan to the league's owners for a vote.
But fears of losing the Kings have noticeably risen in Sacramento, judging by the response around the city in recent days. A $150,000 campaign was launched earlier this week by The Glass Agency to generate awareness on the issue, including billboards, social media and online advertisements.
One billboard on Interstate 5 in Sacramento features a deflated basketball with a sign that reads: "Game Over. If the Kings leave, we all lose."
The Seattle SuperSonics were the NBA's last team to move, reinventing themselves as the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008 and leaving behind another of the NBA's most loyal fan bases when a deal with the city of Seattle to build a new arena could not be struck.
The NBA's Board of Governors has the right to attach a relocation fee to any franchise move it approves, but such fees are distributed evenly among the league's other teams and wouldn't be paid directly to the Lakers and Clippers in the event of the Kings moving to Anaheim. One league source, furthermore, reiterated that such relocation fees are "discretionary," echoing Frank, who in January said that such a fee is not mandatory.
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and The Associated Press contributed to this report.