"The Maloofs could've run for mayor of Sacramento in 2002 and they would have won with 95 percent of the vote," Dave said. "They are good guys. They are passionate fans. Joe and Gavin, they truly wanted the team to succeed, and they truly loved the city of Sacramento. They will never be heroes in Sacramento now, but I think there's still a window for there to be a happy ending."
That window is closing fast.
Sacramento's decline has been tied almost directly to the recession. The Maloofs have since sold their Coors beer distributorship, and the crushing debt on the Palms forced the family to turn over controlling interests of the Las Vegas casino to creditors.
Some also have criticized the Maloofs for public relations blunders.
In 2006, voters crushed a measure that would have raised sales taxes by a quarter cent to help finance a new arena with a resounding 80 percent in opposition. Many in Sacramento still believe the deal would've passed had it not been for a commercial that aired just before that showed the Maloofs eating a $6,000 meal at the Palms from Carl's Jr. The ad also touted the family's net worth as a billion dollars.
After another arena deal collapsed last year, Johnson's advisers let it be known how the Maloofs had treated the city. Chris Lehane, a political strategist and then-chair of Johnson's arena task force, said "dealing with the Maloofs is like dealing with the North Koreans — except they are less competent."
As strained as the relationship between Sacramento and the Maloofs appears, the past is actually what gives the city hope: that maybe the Maloofs could change course again.
Johnson has been on a public relations offensive, extending olive branches to the Maloofs in the past week. The mayor has assembled a potential ownership group that includes Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, billionaire investor Ron Burkle and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs.
Johnson believes the Sacramento group is good enough to compete with the Hansen-Ballmer bid, which has a signed deal to buy 65 percent of the team for $341 million — a figure reached from a total franchise valuation of $525 million, an NBA record. Johnson has not released financial details of the Sacramento plan.
"We think at the end of the day, if the price that they were going to get is similar to Sacramento, they would probably prefer to have the team in Sacramento," Johnson told NBA.com. "They certainly can't say that. But I know they have an affinity for Sacramento and I believe very strongly that this is the way the story is supposed to end at the end of the day."
The real answers will start coming in a New York boardroom this week. Given all the twists and turns of the past few years, forgive those in Sacramento if they are left guessing about the outcome.
"Nobody knows if this story will last until the 18th and 19th, if it will end this week, if it will go to Seattle or if it will go to Sacramento," Ham said. "There's no rhyme or reason to this story. It goes where it wants to go, and there's no stopping it. There is no end. And I think that's something that people should be concerned about when it comes to the Maloofs.
"There is no end to this story yet. Their last chapter hasn't been told yet. And until it is told, I think a lot of people aren't sleeping well, be it Seattle, be it Sacramento, be it at the NBA offices."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP