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Kings owners plan "backup" deal with Seattle group: ESPN

(Reuters) - The owners of the Sacramento Kings intend to reject a sale that would keep the NBA team in the city and instead cut a deal that could give a minority stake to investors intent on moving the team to Seattle, ESPN reported on Saturday.

The Maloof family, which owns the Kings, has favored selling the team to an investment group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who wants to move the team to Seattle. Hansen's group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, said on its website on Friday that it had increased its offer, now valuing the team at $625 million, up $75 million from a prior offer.

If NBA owners next week reject that plan, the Maloof family could move forward with a "backup" agreement to sell a 20 percent stake to the Hansen group for $125 million, while the Maloofs would continue to operate the franchise, according to the ESPN report, which cited two unnamed sources.

Hansen hopes to wrest momentum away from a California group that wants to keep the team in the state's capital.

Last month, a committee of NBA owners decided the team should stay in Sacramento, but a final verdict is not due until a full meeting of the NBA owners this coming week. ESPN reported that, ahead of the meeting of all the NBA owners on Tuesday, the NBA relocation committee has scheduled another huddle to evaluate the increased offer from Hansen's group.

Representatives for the NBA, the Maloof family, the Hansen group and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson could not be reached for comment on Saturday evening.

Sources told ESPN the Hansen group's latest proposal also would include a $115 million offer to other owners as a relocation fee, which would be far higher than the $30 million fee paid to move the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma in 2008.

A California group of investors led by Vivek Ranadive, founder of data giant TIBCO Software Inc, has offered to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento. Their latest offer valued the team at $525 million, according to ESPN.

Led by Johnson, a former NBA player, the California group has persuaded the Sacramento City Council to back a proposal for a new $450 million arena for the Kings if the team is sold to the California investors who want to keep it in Sacramento.

In the event the NBA owners reject the Kings relocating to Seattle, one goal of the proposed "backup" deal between the Maloofs and the Hansen group may be putting pressure on Sacramento to agree to terms for a new arena, ESPN reported. If such an agreement is not reached, the franchise could again ask NBA owners to approve the team's relocation, according to ESPN.

The Sacramento Kings this season failed to make the playoffs, finishing with a record of 28 wins and 54 losses. The team has not been in the playoffs since 2006.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Barbara Goldberg)

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