Updated Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 02:41 PM
HOUSTON — In one of his few definitive statements Saturday, NBA commissioner David Stern said he did not envision a way Seattle and Sacramento could each emerge satisfied from their current tussle over the Kings.
"I don't see any scenario where both cities are happy," Stern said during his hourlong annual NBA All-Star Game news conference here, which was dominated by questions about the Sacramento Kings and their potential move to Seattle.
And while Stern spoke in more detail on the topic than he has since the sale of the Kings was announced last month to a group that would move them to Seattle, he gave few other concrete answers.
Stern called the ownership group led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer "very strong." He also called the proposed Sodo arena "quite strong" and when asked if there is anything more that Seattle can do to ensure that it's in the best position to have a team, answered "not that I'm aware of." He also said he had spoken recently with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. McGinn said Saturday night that he had a phone conversation with Stern about a week-and-a-half ago in which McGinn said he reiterated that the city is supporting Hansen's efforts and to answer any questions Stern may have about Seattle's plan. McGinn said Stern did not raise any specific concerns.
But Stern also said "it's certainly plausible" that Sacramento can put together an ownership group that would make a competitive bid to buy the team as well as put together a viable arena plan.
"I expect that the owners have a very open mind on this," he said.
Stern said again that he expects Hansen's ownership bid and relocation proposal will be decided on by the NBA Board of Governors at its meeting in New York on April 18. However, he also said a joint finance/relocation committee will meet earlier to discuss the issue, as well.
He said he did not have a sense of which way the owners may be leaning because Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has yet to produce the specifics of his city's plan.
"I don't want to get to it because we don't have the predicate for that tough decision yet," he said. "It's going to wait upon Mayor Johnson making good on his statement that there will be an offer."
After Stern spoke, Johnson held an impromptu news conference in the same room and said he had met with a few owners here to state his city's case. He offered no new details on Sacramento's plan, saying the identities of the big-money investors will be revealed by a self-imposed March 1 deadline.
Johnson emphasized that he thinks Sacramento has a "competitive advantage" over Seattle because the funding for its arena plan was approved by the NBA last year (adding he said it will still need to get another approval from the Sacramento City Council, though he indicated that will happen).
Johnson also said he made the point that Sacramento's arena plan does not "have lawsuits coming" and other challenges, such as an environmental impact review, and that Sacramento "controls" the land on both of the possible sites of its proposed arena.
"Those are very, very critical components to be able to have a competitive advantage and we have that," Johnson said. Johnson's hope is to present a plan that would compel the NBA to deny the sale of the Kings from the Maloof family to the Hansen-led group, theoretically forcing a sale to the Sacramento group that would keep the team there.
Johnson, however, was not scheduled to meet here with Stern, for reasons that neither explained.
That both cities could present viable ownership and arena plans has led many to wonder why the NBA wouldn't simply expand to allow each city to have a team.
Stern has said consistently, however, that expansion is not an option, and Saturday he elaborated on why, saying that adding a team would cut into the pool of money the league gets, and shares with each team, from TV, licensing and digital rights. He also noted the league agreed to a new collective-bargaining agreement last year and that "the sentiment is to let it all settle" and not add a team right now.
Stern also touched on a few other topics related to the Seattle/Sacramento situation:
• Asked if the contention of one of Sacramento's minority owners that they should have a right of first refusal to match the offer, Stern said: "If they have it, I guess they'll exercise it and deliver an offer to the owners that is good. If they don't have it, they won't exercise it and some court will say yes or no and there will be some negotiation. I just don't feel it as a defining issue here, that's all."
• Asked if there is any reason for people in Seattle to be concerned that Clay Bennett — who bought the Sonics in 2006 and moved them to Oklahoma City in 2008 — is head of the relocation committee, Stern said: "Absolutely not. Clay has been terrific. And in some measure we've combined the two committees (relocation and finance), and he would be happy to do less in the face of the question that you might ask. So the answer is no."
• Asked if the final decision will be one of economics, Stern said: "I don't believe it's going to come down to economics because it's not about, OK, 'I say 525 (million dollars, the amount paid for by Hansen's group). All right. I say 526.' To me that would be economics. I think the owners are going to have a tough issue to decide ... it's going to, I think, be upon, in the Sacramento area, a number of the regional municipalities and the various people who have been saying they'll give the mayor the support that he needs."
Stern also appeared to shoot down the notion that one of his goals before he retires on Feb. 1, 2014, is to return a team to Seattle based out of regret for how the Sonics left, saying that "doesn't impact anything." He then noted that the Mariners and Seahawks had gotten substantial public contributions for venues that were not being offered for the Sonics.
"It saddened me (that the Sonics left) because it's a great city," he said. "And I think I'd like to see us go back. ... This is strictly about what the owners decide."
All-Star Game, 5 p.m., TNT
PAT SULLIVAN / AP
David Stern said a move by the Kings to Seattle won't come down to economics.
HECTOR AMEZCUA / SACRAMENTO BEE
Mayor Kevin Johnson meets with a few owners.