There is a gracious exit strategy here, a way for the Maloofs to pay off their debts, walk away with their heads held high and move toward their next venture infused by positive karma and a powerful sense of accomplishment.
They can secure a legacy.
They can ensure a new beginning.
They can be the good guys again.
Sell the Kings to a local group intent on keeping the franchise in Sacramento and the bad blood and strained relations are stashed at the bottom of the NBA footnotes, overtaken by the win-win outcome for both parties.
That's it, that's all.
This decades-long arena dance doesn't have to end with a fatal misstep, a small market and an amazingly loyal fan base burned by a group (Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer) and a region (Seattle) already flush with professional sports.
Sacramento has the Kings, and only the Kings. There is no NFL team to embrace, no Major League Baseball club to adopt, no big-time college sports programs to rally the community and establish a rivalry the likes of, say, Stanford and Cal.
Take away the Kings?
Take away the one team in town?
The Maloofs don't want to do this. They really don't want to do this.
"I've always liked Joe and Gavin," said Dave Weiglein, the longtime local sports talk show host, "but if they ever had any real love and affection for this community, then they'll take the local bid and allow the city to move on to the next level."
The Kings-to-Seattle situation remains as fluid and unpredictable as the Maloofs. Four weeks ago, Joe and Gavin were obsessed with the team's slumping record. In more recent days, Seattle and Sacramento keep exchanging the lead in their tussle over the franchise, an apparent rout (early reports claiming the Maloofs already had backed up the truck) evolving into a legitimate game of dollars and cents, of egos and wills and, yes, of reputation.
David Stern didn't invest a huge chunk of his time and energy trying to resolve the arena conundrum only to watch the Kings whisked off to Seattle without being given an opportunity to fight back. Fair is fair.
Back in the day, so were the Maloofs. When they cried foul after Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, they were backed by thousands of fans screaming for answers and demanding a replay. They were right. They were screwed. They had a community that appreciated their presence and applauded their feisty, furious retorts to Phil Jackson.
For a large part of their ownership, when the cash was flowing, the Las Vegas casino was jumping and the Kings were winning on and off the court – the list of wannabe season-ticket holders inched toward 3,000 a decade ago, remember? – Joe and Gavin took names, signed autographs, made appearances, spent money.
They rescued the team from former owner Jim Thomas, the Los Angeles-based developer who needed that $77 million loan from the city just to stay in business, just to keep the team in Sacramento. With Geoff Petrie initiating one brilliant transaction after another, and the owners freely signing the checks for Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Brad Miller and Bobby Jackson, among others, the Kings became international celebrities, Sacramento became a destination city, and the team came within a few questionable calls of a trip to the NBA Finals.
Nineteen seasons of sellouts in 27 years. Eight consecutive trips to the playoffs. Cowbells and purple madness and passion that endured even in the worst and most uncertain of times, amid repeated displays of bad business decisions, bad basketball decisions, bad breaks (Webber and that knee), bad rumors.
Sports are cyclical, and, often, so is ownership. Suddenly the Buss family can't win with the Lakers. Suddenly Clippers owner Donald Sterling – easily the worst owner in professional sports for decades – can't lose. James Dolan can't buy a championship with the Knicks. Frank McCourt couldn't save his marriage and almost destroyed the Dodgers.
The Maloofs? They lost their way.
What hurts most is this: When they could have addressed the community, detailed their troubled financial situation and sought assistance from local investors, they again threatened relocation and, in a late, breaking change of direction, became receptive to selling the franchise.
To wounding a Sacramento economy. To crippling a community image. To devastating youngsters who remember the good times and still can't get enough of DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette.
Unfortunate developments happen. We get that. Economies collapse, the housing bubble bursts, the job market tightens. But the Maloofs have a choice – and they still have a chance.
As Mayor Kevin Johnson noted Tuesday, amid reports about potential ownership groups and of AEG's renewed interest in any arena project, the Maloofs "can participate in some way." Or they can sell outright to local investors and cement the Kings' future in Sacramento, the city they once embraced and where they still own homes.
They can fix this.
They can be the good guys again.
They can save the Kings for Sacramento.