Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote a story earlier this year about that city’s hopes for an NBA expansion team, a dream that at the time seemed a bit far-fetched considering an NBA spokesman’s response to Sullivan’s questions about whether the league was looking to go increase in size from the 30 teams it has now.
“We have no plans for expansion at this time,” the league’s Mike Bass told Sullivan, “and there is no discussion of any teams relocating right now.”
In the months since, the league finished the first season of its nine-year, $24 billion television deal with the most-watched NBA Finals series since 1998 and an NBA draft telecast that saw ratings rise 13 percent over the year before. Then came the start of free agency and the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, which led to massive paydays for the league’s top stars and sizable deals for its lesser lights. A dead time in the sports calendar became the NBA Offseason Show.
This is all to say that the NBA is enjoying a pretty good run right now, which means expansion is back on table, according to Commissioner Adam Silver.
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“I think it’s just a question of when the right time is to seriously start thinking about expansion,” Silver told Blazers guard and aspiring journalist C.J. McCollum.
“I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but it’s inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises,” he continued.
As for possible expansion candidates, Silver only mentioned one city as undoubtedly being “on a shortlist of cities we’ll look at”: Seattle, which had its SuperSonics ripped away to Oklahoma City in 2008. It’s an obvious choice, and not only because it’s a chance to right what is widely considered one of the biggest wrongs in NBA history. Last month, Seattle announced plans for a $564 million renovation of Key Arena that will result in basically a new arena, with the hoped-for result being new NHL and NBA teams. Then there’s the size of Seattle’s media market. Ranking 14th in the nation, it’s the second-largest U.S. market without an NBA team behind Tampa-St. Petersburg, and one could argue that the Gulf Coast is served by the Orlando Magic, a team just 90 minutes down the road.
So the NBA is thinking about expanding, but should it? There are pros and cons (as SB Nation’s Tom Ziller laid out earlier this year):
Pro: Most observers are estimating that any prospective ownership group would have to shell out a $1 billion expansion fee to the league. So, thinking that the NBA would expand by two teams to make for an even 32-team league, that means each current league owner would pocket around $66 million.
Con (for the players): Under the new CBA, the players wouldn’t see a dime of that expansion fee, as it would be kept by the owners.
Con (for the owners): Two more teams means everyone would get a smaller share of the NBA’s TV money, losses that would offset that big expansion payday after about 10 seasons.
“We have enough teams right now,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told the Boston Globe in November. “Economically it doesn’t make sense. There’s a lot of cities that need a team, but just economically it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. It was only six years ago where the league had to buy a team [New Orleans, kept alive when the NBA purchased the franchise in 2010] and so we’ve come a long, long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Pro: The league would expand to either a former market that proved viable in the past (Seattle) or a brand-new market like Las Vegas, Louisville, Mexico City, Kansas City or Virginia Beach (to name a few cities that have been bandied about). Plus, four of those five cities have new or recently built stadiums.
Con: In the budding Superteam era, adding 30 players to the league for expansion teams (that likely would be quite bad for a while) wouldn’t do much for the actual NBA product.
Silver, for one, isn’t buying that.
“Think about the state we’re in the league right now, where - amazing to me, coming off of these Finals - you have fans saying, ‘There’s only one good team in the league,’ “ he told McCollum. “And I’m thinking, well, if people really believe that, even if we have 450 of the best players in the world, and 450 players can form only one really good team, it probably doesn’t make sense to expand in terms of dilution of talent. Now I don’t really believe that, and I think these things correct themselves.”