Welcome back, Seattle Supersonics and hello to the Las Vegas Neon or whatever it would be called.
In need of a way to rebound better than Charles Barkley did, the NBA is reversing course and considering expansion again in light of the pandemic’s financial hit on the league. Adding two teams could bring at least $2 billion for the existing 30 teams with the players union being satisfied with 30 new jobs.
“I’ve always said that it’s sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during his preseason press conference. “I’d say it’s caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion. We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic. But certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.”
The NBA took out lines of credit and sent $30 million to each team for this season, which begins with games returning to home venues but no fans in attendance. Some NBA teams have laid off and furloughed employees.
“It’s not a secret that we don’t have 30 competitive teams at any given time right now when you go into the season, measured by the likelihood of ability to win a championship,” Silver said. “It’s an economic issue and it’s a competitive issue for us. So it’s one that we’ll continue to study, but we’re spending a little bit more time on it than we were pre-pandemic.”
There has not been an NBA expansion team since Charlotte began playing in 2004 after being awarded a franchise in 2002. Seattle has a new arena under construction, a strong economic market and the tradition of the Sonics until Clay Bennett bought the franchise and moved it to Oklahoma City. Las Vegas is a safe bet with T-Mobile Arena, which is only four years old and has drawn a fervent following with an NHL team.