Reports out of NBA All-Star Weekend are that the Sacramento Kings are seriously considering a move to Anaheim's for next season. ESPN's Marc Stein says the Kings have until March 1 to file for relocation to the Honda Center.
I find such a move perplexing, and have serious doubts about whether this would be the right move for the franchise. It's well-known that the Kings are in an undesirable arena situation in Sacramento and have been unable to secure a new building in the city for years. Apparently the election of former NBA player Kevin Johnson as Sacramento mayor has not helped the King's cause. But there are several viable NBA markets and is it really smart to be the No. 3 team in this region?
The Lakers are clearly the No. 1 team in Orange County, and it's hard to imagine a wide swath of people suddenly changing their affiliation and rooting for one of the Purple and Gold's biggest rivals from a few years ago. The Clippers are also rapidly gaining in stature with the rise of Blake Griffin to stardom.
The Kings do have a promising nucleus with Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, and Omri Casspi. But Cousins has already had bouts with immaturity this year, and I'm not sure if Evans can ever be as good as say, Derek Rose. In other words, in a superstar-driven league, playing in a superstar-driven region, the Kings figure to have the third best collection of superstars for the next few years.
Orange County is a nice sized market and it actually did a great job of supporting the Clippers when they played eight home games there a year in the late 1990s. But even Donald Sterling recognized that his franchise had a limited ceiling out there and the value of the Clippers is higher because it stayed in Los Angeles.
Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof do have Orange County ties, hosting the popular Maloof Money Cup skateboarding event in the area every year. If anyone can make a team successful there, it's the Maloof brothers, who are savvy businessman that have style and know how to appeal to families. There's no question that there are enough people and corporate dollars there to support a team (on paper), and an Anaheim NBA team could probably be a sustainable business seeing as how basketball has become the Southland's No. 1 sport.
But I've yet to see a real demand for an Orange County NBA franchise. It would take a great deal of time and savvy marketing for the team to forge its own identity and be more respected than say, the New Jersey Nets, who have almost no traction in the Tri-State area. It's also likely the Lakers and Clippers will object to a third team in the region.
If the Maloof brothers do move the Kings down here, then it would be advisable for them to change the team's name. It's tough enough to be the No. 3 team in the region, but being the No. 2 team called "Kings" would further hamper their abilities to market locally. Unlike the Angels, they couldn't get away with calling themselves "Los Angeles" as they could invite a trademark lawsuit from AEG. I'm sure Ducks fans won't like a team called "Kings" sharing their building either. "Anaheim Kings" also has an awkward ring to it, although "O.C. Kings" doesn't sound half-bad. Changing team names is a very difficult thing to do (I speak from experience, having worked on the Tampa Bay Rays rebranding), but the Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in one offseason, so the NBA has proven that it's doable.
I know the Maloof brothers have looked into other cities, but I would think that Las Vegas be a great location for their team. The brothers own the Palms Hotel and Casino, and there have been several proposals for a new arena there. The name "Las Vegas Kings" also has a nice ring to it. But other cities could work out too. There's an NBA-ready AEG-owned arena in Kansas City, although it's a small market and it's unclear how awkward it would be for the Kings to move back to the city they left in 1985. Other cities with NBA quality arenas include San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh, to name just a few. The NBA would like another team in Seattle, but the city needs a new arena.
Either way, if staying in Sacramento isn't possible, then a move to Anaheim comes with significant challenges.