Six weeks after the Sacramento Kings's owners and California's capital city reached a tentative financing plan for a new arena, city leaders and the Maloof family are publicly declaring their mistrust of each other, leaving the team's future in doubt.
The Maloof family is still insisting that it has no interest in leaving Sacramento, despite balking Friday at the terms of the funding framework. But they now say they no longer trust Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and don't want to work with him.
"You can't do a deal with somebody you don't trust," George Maloof said Saturday, according to The Sacramento Bee. "I don't trust him."
Meanwhile, elected officials representing Sacramento have blasted the Maloofs, claiming they've turned their backs on the city late in the game. And the executive director of Think Big, the committee formed by Johnson to retain the Kings, compared dealing with the Maloofs to dealing with one of the world's most inscrutable and widely criticized governments.
"As their bizarre press conference (on Friday in New York) laid bare for all to see, dealing with the Maloofs is like dealing with the North Koreans -- except they are less competent," Chris Lehane said in a statement released to USA Today. "In Maloof-world, facts are fiction; truths are half-truths; and promises are broken promises. The City of Sacramento deserves better."
A year ago, on the brink of seeking permission to move to Anaheim, Calif., the Maloofs gave Sacramento one last shot at financing the new arena they have long maintained they need.
But the Maloofs are questioning whether the financing deal reached six weeks ago was ever binding, citing letters they sent the city and the NBA outlining their concerns about the details.
George Maloof told The Sacramento Bee that the team wanted to negotiate several aspects of the deal Friday at a meeting in New York, but Johnson "shut that off." He said Johnson had set the stage for the family to take the blame for the franchise walking away from Sacramento.
On Friday, Johnson, a former NBA star, declared the tentative deal for financing a new arena had fallen apart, leaving open the possibility the team's owners could again seek permission to move. He said the concerns raised by the team at Friday's meeting had not previously come up.
"It just feels like they were coming up with reasons of why not to do the deal," Johnson said.
But the Maloofs, according to letters obtained by USA Today, on three occasions wrote Sacramento officials, including city attorney Eileen M. Teichert and assistant city manager John Dangberg, to raise their concerns about unresolved issues in the financing plan.
George Maloof told USA Today that NBA commissioner David Stern's office also informed Johnson of those concerns. Stern, at a news conference on Friday, confirmed he had passed along those concerns to the city.
"We were working with the league. The league was working with the city throughout the whole year," Maloof said, according to USA Today. "It was our understanding that everything was getting to the city. ... That was told to us by the league."
But California state Assemblyman Roger Dickinson and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, both Democrats representing Sacramento in the legislature, placed the blame on the Maloofs.
"Sacramento deserves partners who will live by their word," Steinberg said, according to The Sacramento Bee. "I hope the NBA and its owners do not allow this kind of bad behavior to occur without consequences."
"Once again, the Maloofs have turned their back on a deal and shown their contempt for Sacramento," Dickinson added, according to the report.
All this leaves the Kings' supporters, long esteemed among the most vocal and passionate fans in the NBA, in the same place they were a year ago: facing the possibility their team will be leaving soon.
Kings fan Jack Spiegelman told The Sacramento Bee he called the team on Friday to cancel his season tickets, but didn't get a call back. He's mulling over whether to carry through on his plans on Monday.
"I cannot trust George Maloof," Spiegelman said, according to the report, adding that the family should sell the team.
While the Kings are slated to play next season in Sacramento, officials in Anaheim, which attempted to lure the Kings to the city-owned Honda Center last year, have made it clear they're still interested.
Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli recently embarked on a $20 million improvement project to add several amenities to the arena by early 2013, and last year agreed to loan the Maloofs $50 million for relocation expenses.
If the Kings attempt to move to Orange County, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers likely would voice objections to a third team invading their geographic territory, as the Honda Center is 35 miles from Staples Center.
But Anaheim mayor Tom Tait, who issued a statement late Friday confirming the city's interest, also said Orange County, with a population of 3 million, and the Inland Empire region are distinct from Los Angeles and have the fan base to support a team.
The financing agreement for a new arena in Sacramento, estimated at $391 million, was announced in February at the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Orlando. The Sacramento City Council approved its end of the deal, worth up to $255 million, in March.
Stern said Friday that the team's conditions in the deal included a $73 million contribution -- with nearly $67 million of that coming from the league, in the form of a loan -- and an agreement to serve as tenants, The Sacramento Bee reported. Stern also said the NBA would have contributed $7 million directly to the plan.
Johnson has said Sacramento would be interested in keeping the Kings under another owner, but the Maloofs have repeatedly said they aren't interested in selling, even as they have faced financial difficulties that left the family with only 2 percent of their ownership of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas.
Stern wouldn't speculate where the Kings would play beyond the 2012-13 season, and said if they sought to relocate, approval would be left to the relocation committee headed by Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett.
The Kings date back to the NBA's early history and are one of the league's oldest and most-traveled franchises. As the Rochester (N.Y.) Royals, they won their only NBA title in 1951. They moved to Cincinnati in 1957 and to Kansas City and Omaha in 1972, becoming the Kings. They have played in Sacramento since 1985.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.