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JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter

With the increasing likelihood that the L.A. Lakers will move to a new downtown area, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is in talks to move his NBA team from the aging Sports Arena in Exposition Park to a proposed new venue in Inglewood.

"We've approached the Clippers directly through Donald Sterling," said Inglewood's assistant city manager, Norman Cravens. "There will continue to be discussions so long as he's interested."

The L.A. City Council has given tentative approval to a deal that would bring the Lakers and Kings from Inglewood to a planned new arena next to the L.A. Convention Center.

With prospects dim for renovating the existing Sports Arena, Inglewood officials are optimistic that a deal can be struck for the Clippers to play in a new arena at one of two sites owned by Hollywood Park Operating Co.

"We've prepared information needed for them, and they've prepared the information we needed," Cravens said. "We have to wait and see what happens with the Lakers and Kings, and then it has been agreed we'll focus more on the Clippers."

Inglewood is making its own bid to keep the Lakers and Kings, but Cravens and others have acknowledged that Inglewood has taken a back seat to Los Angeles.

"All you have to do is look at what's going on to see that L.A. has been ignoring the Clippers," he added. "They've gone out after the flashier team and the flashier arena and ignored the arena they have. That would tend to make the Clippers owner a little nervous about staying in LA."

Sterling did not return calls for comment, but Clippers executive vice president Andy Roeser confirmed that talks have been underway. He refused, however, to say whether the team is close to making a decision.

"Anything can happen," Roeser said. "Other than that, I can't say anything."

Hollywood Park officials say the negotiations are serious, and that several meetings have been held most recently a month ago.

"I think it is certainly possible to have the Clippers in a new arena before the Lakers or Kings move into something downtown," said Michael Finnigan, Hollywood Park's chief financial officer. "I don't think anyone would characterize our discussions (with the Clippers) as being superficial."

The Clippers are on a year-to-year lease at the Sports Arena, which opened in 1959 and is run by the city-county-state Coliseum Commission.

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