The Sacramento Kings could be the next NBA franchise on the move.
In the latest and perhaps strongest signal yet that the Kings are considering a new home, the franchise filed a request Thursday for an extension on the NBA's March 1 deadline to inform the league if they intend to seek permission to relocate next season.
The Kings would have the opportunity to discuss their options at the NBA's Board of Governors meetings April 14-15, NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed in an e-mail to The Associated Press. The board is considering the Kings' request.
The filing took Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson by surprise.
Johnson said he learned of the decision from a Google news alert and was upset he wasn't notified by the Kings first. He wrote on his Twitter account that it's "time to fight for our economic and cultural future. Kings relocation is bigger than a basketball team, and Sac deserves better."
"We're going to fight. The deal is not done," Johnson later said at a news conference in Sacramento. "We know they're looking elsewhere. But it's not a done deal. If it was a done deal, they would have filed on March 1."
Sacramento has struggled for years to build a new arena, which Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof argue is crucial for the franchise's long-term financial viability. Johnson said cash-strapped Sacramento will still work toward building a new sports arena with or without the Kings.
All signs in the past few weeks indicate the Kings are strongly exploring options outside California's capital city.
NBA Commissioner David Stern acknowledged during All-Star weekend that the Kings have had talks with officials in Anaheim, Calif., about relocating to its arena. Stern also said the NBA was no longer spending time or money to keep the Kings in Sacramento.
"With respect to Sacramento, all I'll say is that we and they have tried very hard over the years to see whether a new building could be built, and with the collapse of the last attempt, which took a few years and several million dollars on behalf of the league, I said we are not going to spend any more time on that," Stern said. "That is for the Maloofs and the people of Sacramento."
If the Kings moved to Orange County, they would be the third NBA team in the nation's second-biggest metropolitan area, but the potential benefits likely outweigh the drawbacks of moving into the archrival Lakers' backyard and competing with the Clippers.
Anaheim has been searching for an NBA team to share the Honda Center with the NHL's Ducks practically since the former Arrowhead Pond opened in 1993, flirting with the Clippers before owner Donald Sterling chose to move into Staples Center in 1999. Honda Center has been meticulously maintained and improved over the years, with excellent sight lines for basketball and 83 luxury suites, compared to just 30 primitive suites at Arco Arena.
Orange County also has a larger, wealthier population than the Central Valley, with a greater potential for corporate partnerships and higher ticket prices - and the beachside lifestyle could be much more attractive to NBA players. And though neither side has disclosed the particulars of the negotiations, the Maloofs also are likely to benefit from forging a close relationship with Henry Samueli, the billionaire Ducks owner whose management company runs the city-owned Honda Center.
As for Sacramento, relocation fears are nothing new.
With Arco Arena long considered outdated and attendance dwindling for a struggling Kings team that was once home to one of the NBA's most fervent fan bases, notorious for their ear-piercing cow bells, cities such as Las Vegas, Kansas City and St. Louis also have been mentioned in the past as possible moves.
But the latest round of relocation chatter has certainly grabbed Sacramento's attention.
Those in Sacramento have increased efforts to push for a new arena. An advertising agency even launched a $150,000 campaign earlier this week to generate awareness on the issue. The Glass Agency's campaign includes billboards, social media and online advertisements.
One billboard on Interstate 5 that already sprouted up in Sacramento has a deflated basketball with a sign that reads: "Game Over. If the Kings leave, we all lose."
The Seattle SuperSonics were the last NBA team to move. They became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008, leaving the Pacific Northwest after officials in Seattle didn't upgrade the facility or build a new arena.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this story.