Politicians are poking their heads up from the foxholes a little bit, when it comes to keeping the Sonics in the region. King County Councilman Pete Von Reichbauer, who often plays honest broker in these sports deals, is slightly encouraged. "Nothing indicates any change," he says of recent (non)developments, "but change could happen." Rather zen comment, but also true. Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Greg Johns moved the ball up court a bit in a story today that suggests two local billionaires who love basketball, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and wireless executive John Stanton, could be the basis of a local group, if Clay Bennett were willing (or forced) to sell. No signs of any interest in selling from Oklahoma City. No sign of any movement in Olympia, where Speaker Frank Chopp is determined to enlarge his Democratic majority by keeping his candidates miles away from any tax votes. The City of Seattle is busy suing the Oklahoma City group, hoping to make them cry uncle after a few more seasons of losing money, losing games, and losing fans. But it's still about the first quarter in this game. Seattle City Council has two new members, one of whom, Bruce Harrell, is a Husky football hero. The Muckleshoot Tribe has land it can donate and lots of money it could put into a deal at Emerald Downs. (Bennett is said to think it's just too far away from Seattle.) Better financial models for basketball arenas are starting to appear in other cities, such as Patriot Place in New England, and Glendale, Arizona. These new complexes (several sports teams, music venues, hotels, multiplexes, museums, shopping) have the potential of attracting corporate campuses, Von Reichbauer notes. The real hurdle is Seattle, where politicians fear the rabid anti-sports-subsidy voters and have a difficult venue in Key Arena to try to convert and protect from financial cratering. "Seattle slammed the door on [former Sonics owner Howard] Schulz, and it're pretty much stayed there," Sen. Margarita Prentice, who's pushed for her Renton to have the new arena, is quoted as saying in The P-I story. One problem with the Key is the traffic problems it creates for big games and big music shows, sometimes compounded by other evening curtain timess. Only Denny Way conveniently crosses the Route 99 barrier from the east, and it often freezes up at game time. Fixing the Mercer Mess, long promised and just defeated again with the demise of Proposition 1, may never happen, and it may not be enough given all the growth coming to that area. King County Executive Ron Sims offered an intriguing way out of this bind, proposing the demolition of Key Arena, replacing it with parkland and an open amphitheater. Mayor Greg Nickels brushed the idea aside, apparently still wanting to keep the Key in play for a Sonics deal. It's time to face the facts: no owner is likely to want to run the political gantlet of Seattle, much less Seattle Center. Time to name a price for mitigation, and let that baby go?