Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007 | 7:19 a.m.
Even before NBA Commissioner David Stern gave Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman the green light to seek a compromise with the sports books, speculation percolated about the Sacramento Kings eventually coming to Southern Nevada.
As of Wednesday, that belief turned into a bona fide boil.
Just don't expect LeBron James and the Cavaliers or Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets to ever call Las Vegas home.
Set the bar a bit lower.
Joe and Gavin Maloof run the Kings, and George Maloof Jr. oversees the growing Palms empire in Southern Nevada. Those ties would be too strong to overlook if NBA owners get serious about Las Vegas.
They've already gotten serious with Stern, who publicly buckled on his previous staunch stance against the sports books. He must enjoy his salary, reportedly more than $7 million a year.
The league's Board of Governors convenes in April, when they will hear from Goodman. Eventually, Las Vegas could get a team with approval from a majority of owners.
If the city's casino moguls reach a solution palatable to the NBA, major Las Vegas arena questions will need to be resolved.
That's the problem in Sacramento, where voters quashed a sales-tax increase in November to fund a new downtown arena, and elsewhere.
Stern said arena issues seem to be settling in Seattle and Portland, and "very strong" sponsorship support in New Orleans will result in the Hornets, who play some games in Oklahoma City, going back to the Crescent City as full-time residents.
The Grizzlies' hierarchy has been grumbling in Memphis , but they have a long-term lease at FedExForum. The building opened in 2004, but the team ranks just 29th out of 30 teams in attendance.
As for the Kings, their lease expired at Arco Arena, which has long been cow-bell hell for foes. Stern said he plans to talk with Joe and Gavin Maloof here this week "to make sure the marriage between the Kings and Sacramento is a strong and enduring one."
It's been a great relationship, Joe Maloof said Wednesday about the eight years his family has owned the Kings.
He said he and his family have given back to the Sacramento community, in charity and a perennial playoff team that finished a victory away from playing in the NBA Finals in 2002.
The locals have responded by showing incredible support. The Kings are one of five NBA teams that can boast of 100 percent home attendance this season, and Sacramento is the only member of that quintet that has a losing record.
"It's been a perfect marriage," Joe Maloof said. "But we really do need a (new) venue, sooner or later."
Deep down, Joe and his bros must know that drive-through divorces are as easy to get in Las Vegas as double-double hamburgers. Hold the onions.
Of the first three dozen respondents about the Maloofs, the Kings and Las Vegas in a Wednesday story in the Sacramento Bee, opinions varied:
"Stern must be in on the deal to liven up Vegas with the Mohawked (Ron) Artest."
"Better that they suck money from the public purse in Vegas than my purse ."
"Go home, Maloofs, and take the Kings with you! The people of Sacramento have spoken. We will be vigilant. No new arena."
"I wouldn't want to stay in a town like Sacramento if I had the choice between here and Vegas. Sacramento is full of a bunch of whiners and fair-weather fans. The Maloofs wouldn't be good businessmen if they didn't explore all of their options."
The Maloofs will win as leverage kings, by either getting a new arena in Sacramento and their share ($30 million or more) of an expansion windfall if a new team were placed in Las Vegas, or receiving a green light to come here.
Joe Maloof said it was exciting to hear the positive comments Stern made Wednesday about Las Vegas.
"He's really bullish on the city," Maloof said. "He loves the city. There's been one problem, with sports betting. But, eventually, a compromise will be reached. This is too great a city not to have an NBA team."