Storyline: Seattle Team?

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The NHL confirmed what had been rumored for months at its Board of Governors meeting — Seattle is a definite target for hockey, which has 31 teams and needs a 32nd to balance out both its conferences and its schedules. The NHL will allow members of the Oak View Group, which successfully lobbied the Seattle City Council to approve its plan to spend $660 million to renovate both the Arena and the nearby Seattle Center, to begin a season ticket drive for the potential expansion team. Hockey’s timetable for expansion is thus clearly and substantially ahead of the NBA’s.

Though NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this year that he believes expansion is “inevitable,” there is no indication among league owners and other sources that there’s any current appetite among NBA owners to add one or two new teams. The obvious reason why is there is no appetite among them to further split the $24 billion from the new national TV deal, which runs through 2024. (As ever, in the interests of full disclosure: Turner Sports, one of the NBA’s national television partners along with ESPN/ABC, runs NBA.com.) “I don’t see expansion,” one owner said this weekend. “A move is the only way.”

However, longtime Seattle sport columnist Art Thiel wrote last week that a source “with knowledge of the league’s long-range thinking” believes the NBA could expand when the current TV deal expires, meaning 2025 at the absolute earliest. Several owners told me a few weeks ago: that while there is strong support for Seattle, there’s just no desire to expand. Thiel’s source said that Seattle and Mexico City were the two current favorites among owners, and the league has done nothing to dissuade the idea that it’s zeroed in on Mexico City as a potential expansion target.

But another said Sunday that talk of adding anyone to the current 30-team mix is premature. Owners remain unenthusiastic when there are still several teams who are losing money in their current markets, even with significant increases in revenues, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that ensures labor peace through at least 2023 (2024 if neither the players nor owners opt out) and enhanced revenue sharing. “We haven’t discussed expansion,” the owner said. “However, Seattle is a market that I believe the majority of owners would want to be in.”

Seattle wants the Sonics back. And the chances of that happening have never been higher. Last summer, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told The Players Tribune that Seattle would be on the short list for an expansion franchise. “I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it,” Silver said. “But it’s inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises. That’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at.”

Relocation is possible, too. The Grizzlies are owned by a Silicon Valley billionaire who is bleeding money in Memphis. The Pelicans routinely rank in the bottom third of the NBA in attendance and are — at best — a fringe playoff contender. While former NBA commissioner David Stern was often stubbornly opposed to relocation, several high-ranking team officials told Yahoo Sports they believe Silver will take a more pragmatic approach. “I think Adam wants the NBA to be in the best, most viable markets,” said one high-ranking team executive familiar with the league’s thinking. “He’s not looking to move anybody. But David was totally against [relocation]. Adam, I don’t think, is quite as rigid.”

All of it adds up to the kind of uncertainty — on the court and off — that can be difficult for a franchise to overcome, especially one in a smaller market like Memphis. Seattle has been getting more aggressive in trying to address its arena situation to get a team to return to the city vacated when the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City. But the Grizzlies lease at the FedEx Forum has strong protections through 2021 and the Commercial-Appeal reported that the subset of local owners in the group would be given the chance to buy the team if Pera, or any other owner, were to try to move the Grizzlies before 2027.

In an exclusive hour-long interview with Q13 News’ Bill Wixey, the 60-year-old with a decades-long history in sports said a few things that might make Seattle fans cringe. There’s no magic fix to Key Arena gridlock. A new arena won’t automatically bring back the Sonics, especially in the next three years. Still, Leiweke adamantly believes a rebuilt Key Arena is the best way to get one – if not two – professional sports teams to Seattle. He also believes his Seattle ties, his friendship with Adam Silver, and his vast experience in sports entertainment are Seattle’s best shot at seeing professional basketball again.

There have been questions raised about whether OVG, as a third-party vendor, could attract NBA and NHL teams and make it financially viable for the franchise owners. Leiweke said those doubts should be eliminated with Bonderman’s participation and that the argument is “100 percent not true.” Noble said his office had done its due diligence and “at this stage, we are satisfied” that it will not be a problem. As far as the leagues are concerned, NBA Spokesman Mike Bass said: “The NBA is not involved in the ongoing Seattle arena process, and we have no plans to expand at this time.”

A second owner said Seattle “ is a great market, especially for the NBA,” but echoed Silver’s sentiments. “I agree with you there are some markets that would be great addition to the NBA but in terms of expansion, I think we need 30 solid teams first,” the second owner said. “If there are teams that are repeatedly losing money every year even after revenue sharing, we must consider moving existing teams to those markets first. Then, once all teams are healthy and making a profit, we can perhaps discuss expansion — but not until then.”

Silver was reluctant to put a specific timeline on potential expansion for the NBA or Seattle, but said it was inevitable. Via The Players’ Tribune: I think it’s just a question of when the right time is to seriously start thinking about expansion. Think about the state we’re in the league right now where [it is] amazing to me that, coming off of these Finals, you have some fans saying, “There’s only one good team in the league” And I’m thinking, well, if people really believe that even though we have 450 of the best players in the world, and 450 players can only form one really good team, 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. And 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, that’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at.

Adam Silver: “And I’m thinking, well, if people really believe that even though we have 450 of the best players in the world, and 450 players can only form one really good team, 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. And 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, that’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at.”

Addressing the parallels between Seattle and Sacramento in their battles to keep an NBA team in place, Stern said the difference boiled down to city leadership. (You can listen to this segment at the 1:11 mark of the podcast.) “Mayor Kevin Johnson was out there doing whatever had to be done,” Stern said. “In Seattle, the speaker of the Seattle house said our players should take a cut in pay and put the money into a fund to help build the building. That’s nothing we had to work with. I did the same things in Seattle that I did in Sacramento, but there was a leader in Sacramento, Kevin Johnson, who was intent on keeping that team.”

The music world was stunned when news broke early Thursday that Chris Cornell, the singer for Soundgarden, Audioslave as well as the owner of a solid solo career, had died after performing in Detroit Wednesday night. Here’s a video from a concert in 2011 in which he appears to spot a fan in a Seattle Supersonics jersey and goes off on the team being taken away from the city and moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. We said it above, but, again: WARNING: Lots of NSFW language ahead.

More than five years into efforts to get a new arena built in Seattle, Chris Hansen remains confident that his goal of being the facilitator for getting the NBA and NHL to Seattle will ultimately be realized. Even if that means dipping even deeper into his pocket to offer up a privately financed facility. “We view that as a civic obligation to protect that and ensure that we do our part in bringing a team back,” Hansen said. “It was with that mindset, we’re not a for-profit enterprise that is attempting to generate a certain level of return on capital as we look at this project to justify it. We’re like, ‘What can we do just to make this work for the city and hopefully if we do that part, in the really long term it will work out for us.’ ”

Investor Chris Hansen stressed patience and optimism Thursday in his ongoing effort to build an arena to house a possible NBA or NHL franchise in Seattle’s stadium district. Hansen’s interview with The Associated Press represented his first public comments in nearly two years about the efforts. Hansen acknowledged his investment group was surprised by the City Council’s decision last May to deny a proposed street closure that would have moved the project forward with some public investment.

There are other questions, too. Can a building that’s more than 200,000 square feet smaller than the smallest arena in the NBA be renovated to meet modern standards? If the NBA does eventually expand, is there an ownership group that would bring a team to KeyArena? And given that nobody knows if or when the KeyArena roof will be declared a historic landmark, can a definitive proposal be written? As of now, the city asks that potential developers present a Plan A and Plan B based on whether the roof will be preserved, but considering that could mean the difference between tearing the building down or not, it’s sort of like writing a song not knowing if it’s going to be for Adele or Eminem. That’s a lot of uncertainty.

Benton Strong, a spokesman for Murray, emphatically denied a widely circulated online basketball website posting Monday that stated Murray had been “ducking” calls from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver over much of the past year. “There is absolutely no truth to that whatsoever,’’ said Strong, who, with Murray, was en route to a mayors’ conference in Washington, D.C. when informed of the post. “If anything, we are trying to get together on a call with both commissioners to keep the lines of communication open.’’

Strong emphatically denied a widely circulated online basketball website posting Monday that stated Murray had been “ducking” calls from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver over much of the past year. “There is absolutely no truth to that whatsoever,’’ said Strong, who, with Murray, was en route to a mayors’ conference in Washington, D.C. when informed of the post. “If anything, we are trying to get together on a call with both commissioners to keep the lines of communication open.’’

The city of Seattle on Wednesday released a new request for proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment of KeyArena in Seattle Center, and the document says tearing down the 55-year-old venue is a possibility. The RFP’s release is the latest news in a long-running conservation over the potential siting of a new arena in Seattle. At the heart of the debate is the possibility of bringing an NBA team back to the city. The Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. The RFP seeks “qualified parties interested in redeveloping and operating KeyArena at Seattle Center as a world-class civic arena presenting music, entertainment, and sports events, including the potential for NBA and NHL events.”

The RFP notes that the MOU doesn’t expire until Dec. 3. It says Seattle remains committed to the terms of the MOU “and is supportive of ArenaCo’s efforts to return NBA basketball and attract NHL hockey to Seattle.” It says, “However, the city must also consider the future of KeyArena, which is a City property that is part of an important city-owned campus, and make contingency plans for its future.” The RFP says the city hopes to negotiate a redevelopment agreement and a long-term lease with the proposer it selects.
1 year ago via ESPN

On Thursday, Wilson said he plans to have an ownership stake in the basketball team, should the NBA return to Seattle. “Yeah, I will. Yes, for sure,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be an exciting thing. “I met Chris a few years ago, and we were having a great conversation. … I’ve told you guys I’ve been really authentic about wanting to own a team one day and being a part of something really special and doing that. And even though I’m young, I definitely have a business mindset. And I want to be able to help people and give back and help change this community, continue to change this community for the better.”

Russell Wilson: I became a SuperSonics fan by playing NBA Jam and watching them on SportsCenter and NBA Inside Stuff. I loved their name. I loved their colors. I loved Kemp and Payton, and then in later years, I loved watching Ray Allen swish corner threes with that perfect form. Even though we lived in Virginia, I got a Sonics jersey one Christmas and I used to put it on and go play hoops out in front of the house, pretending I was Gary Payton. I’m not going to lie, though. Some days I’d put on my Bulls jersey and stick my tongue out and pretend I was MJ, too. I was flexible.

A City Hall source has confirmed that the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, founded in a partnership between Leiweike and entertainment mega-manager Irving Azoff, is interested in developing KeyArena into a multipurpose facility that could handle NBA or NHL teams. A powerful, new Los Angeles-based company headed by sports executive Tim Leiweke and concert kingpin Irving Azoff wants to renovate KeyArena and make it compatible for NBA and NHL use. “We believe in the KeyArena location,” Leiweke, CEO of the 11-month-old Oak View Group, told The Seattle Times in an interview Thursday night. “We believe that the studies have proven — and we will continue to do additional studies as we go through this process — that there is a chance to renovate and make that arena work for music and sports.

Chris Hansen and his investment team on Tuesday offered to forgo public financing to build a new sports arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. The group also said it would cover the current funding gap to build an overpass over Lander Street, a project long desired by freight and industrial interests concerned about congestion in around the Port of Seattle. The proposal amounts to a stunning and swift turn in the nearly five-year debate over building a new arena and, ultimately, bringing a professional basketball and hockey team to the city.

Chris Hansen, Erik Nordstrom, Pete Nordstrom, Wally Walker: “In a letter to the Mayor and King County Executive — both of whom share our goal of bringing the Sonics and NHL back to Seattle — we described the steps we are willing to take to move the Arena project forward. First, we will direct contributions to a package of additional SODO traffic improvements, which will improve freight mobility through the area. Second, we agreed to commit future payment of compensation for the vacated street to the city’s financing package for the Lander Street Overpass, thereby helping to close the funding gap for that important project. Finally, we have agreed to revising the street vacation petition to eliminate public financing of the Arena. Terminating the MOU would allow the city and county to recoup the $200 million in debt capacity and free-up Arena tax-generated revenue streams. To make this all possible we have asked for approval of a revised conditional street vacation, a waiver of the city’s admissions tax, which has been granted for the other sports venues in Seattle, and an adjustment of the city’s B&O tax for revenue generated out of town.”

Seattle was a strong NBA market for many years, going crazy for the Sonics of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, which reached The Finals in 1996. From 1995-99, the Sonics basically sold out Key Arena, and they never averaged less than 14,300 fans from 1991-2007, their next-to-last season in town. The city and surrounding area has a rich tradition of producing NBA talent, including current players Isaiah Thomas, Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes, Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Brooks. “Seattle is a far better market than at least 10 NBA cities,” said a very high ranking executive of one of the league’s 29 teams last week.

For Seattle, the only realistic choice is expansion. The reasons for not expanding now are varied, and logical. There’s no reason for owners to split an exploding financial pie further. The NBA is in a boom period, with market size not nearly as important as it used to be. The league does not need to have a team in Seattle, the country’s 14th largest TV market. (The success of the Thunder in Oklahoma City, ironically — and, sadly for Seattle — only magnifies the point.)

Seattle was a strong NBA market for many years, going crazy for the Sonics of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, which reached The Finals in 1996. From 1995-99, the Sonics basically sold out Key Arena, and they never averaged less than 14,300 fans from 1991-2007, their next-to-last season in town. The city and surrounding area has a rich tradition of producing NBA talent, including current players Isaiah Thomas, Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes, Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Brooks. “Seattle is a far better market than at least 10 NBA cities,” said a very high ranking executive of one of the league’s 29 teams last week.

The other night I reached out to a lot of media and league people in my contact list and simply asked, “Is expansion on the table?” I had 57 people respond, 14 of those either did not comment or said they didn’t know. That leaves 43 other responses. Some that really jumped out were: “With no arena, you’d get 14, maybe 16, votes toward expansion.” “I’ve heard there are 14 definitely for it.” “It [expansion] is definitely on the table and being discussed.” “There are two who are fully no, everyone else can have their mind changed.”

I’ve heard that once the CBA is finished, the expansion bidding could be announced as soon as December or as late as the All-Star Game in February. There are going to be numerous other cities competing with Seattle to get the expansion franchises as well. I do not know if there is just going to be one slot or two. Other cities I’ve heard that are going to be making a play for expansion are Louisville (they have all their affairs in order and ready to go), Pittsburgh, Omaha, Las Vegas, Vancouver, BC, and Mexico City. Kansas City and St. Louis have been brought up as well, but I can’t confirm the validity of their interest.

Raul Barrigon: Brian Windhorst on the Kings keeping the franchise in Sacramento instead of Seattle having a team again: “Basically the NBA owners took a bribe… That’s a little bit of a crude term, but basically took a bribe that they wouldn’t have to give revenue sharing to Sacramento. In turn, allowed the Kings to put together a very weak ownership group. The offer from Seattle was a much more stable and stronger ownership group, with Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer.”

But it was clear coming back to the town where his NBA career began sparked some emotion within the four-time NBA scoring champ. Because Seattleites aren’t the only ones who fantasize about what Durant could have done in this city — Durant does, too. “When the Seahawks won the title, and I was with the Thunder, and we were playing well, I was imagining how the city would have felt with both teams here,” Durant said. “It would have been electric. It would have been something we’ve never seen before — something no city has seen before. But we can dream, man.”

It ain’t over yet. That’s if you believe property records that show Chris Hansen just completed another big purchase in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. According to those records, Hansen — the San Francisco-based investor who’s leading the charge to bring professional basketball back to Seattle — paid $32 million for a warehouse and other connected buildings that border S. Holgate Street. The property, more than 4 acres in size, stretches from S. Holgate Street all the way south to Walker Street. The price paid by Hansen’s company is nearly three times the assessed value. His company, known as WSA Properties, now owns close to $100 million of property in the SoDo neighborhood. One source close to the dealings said, “This is still all about the Sonics.”

Ballmer had partnered with entrepreneur Chris Hansen on his Sodo District arena project but left that group two years ago to buy the Clippers for $2 billion. “It’s just not likely to happen,” Ballmer told those attending the conference. “There has been no discussion about expansion since I have been involved with the league. So, I don’t think that will happen. The league has really moved to favor teams staying in their current markets. You’d have to find a team that’s at the end of their (arena) lease, where it looks hard to build an arena and where they’ve tried really hard to build an arena. “And you’d have to show that an arena can get built in Seattle,” he added. “Because unlike most other cities that build an arena before they have a team, I don’t think an arena is going to get built here before a team comes here unless it gets done in the context of hockey.”

Yesterday, KJR’s Dave “Softy” Mahler had a pair of Sonics legends on his radio show and they each had interesting comments about the future of the NBA in Seattle. In hour one, Softy spoke to Spencer Haywood about his upcoming documentary “Full Court.” Spencer had some interesting comments that came from a place not of speculation, but straight from the mouth of the NBA Commissioner. According to Spencer, Adam Silver told him… “Will you help the people in Seattle understand that we want to make amends? We want a team back in Seattle immediately.”

Gary Payton wants to bring the NBA back to Seattle — and he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is … telling TMZ Sports he absolutely wants to be an owner of an expansion team in the Emerald City. The Hall of Famer was leaving Mastro’s Steakhouse in Bev Hills when he told us Seattle “deserves” the NBA — and put it on NBA commish Adam Silver to make it happen. As for why GP’s so passionate about Seattle — “That’s where I started my career, that’s where I became a Hall of Famer.”

In “The Shawshank Redempton,” Andy Dufresne claimed that hope was a good thing — “maybe best of things” — but it seems to have backfired here. This was supposed to be a slam-dunk vote toward inching closer to an NBA arena. Instead, the Sonics faithful just got slammed. “The city’s past actions contributed to the Sonics leaving Seattle,” Seattle mayor Ed Murray said Monday. “Today’s council vote makes it less likely that the NBA will return.”

B/R: Will Seattle ever get another franchise? If so, should the team be called the Sonics? NR: I hope it has a franchise again. It should be called the Sonics, for sure. Nothing should change. Keep the same colors—just swag the jerseys out. S–t, the main reason Seattle should have a team is because of the ballers it produced. Kevin Durant right now would tell you [that] if he had the chance to go to the Sonics or stay in OKC, he for sure would be in Seattle, and he wouldn’t want to leave ever. Myself, Isaiah Thomas—he has f–king offense—Jamal Crawford, we could build a Seattle team that would compete in the NBA, for sure. Brandon Roy, Marvin Williams, give us Zach LaVine, Avery Bradley, Aaron Brooks, Spencer Hawes, Jon Brockman, Rodney Stuckey…we’re taking all Seattle guys.

“We are 30 partners right now. Thirty teams. Each of those teams own 1/30th of all the global opportunities of the NBA. So the issue becomes, if you expand, do you want to sell one of those interests off to a new group of partners? One reason to do it of course, is that if its additive. And no doubt, Seattle is a great market. At the moment, like for me as successful as the league is right now, we (are) not in the position, putting even aside profitability, where all 30 teams are must-see experiences. That’s not a secret.”

The Seattle Times has reported that Seattle city officials knowingly brushed off the feasibility of bringing an NHL or NBA team to a remodeled KeyArena. Another long-time Seattle media member counters that it’s unlikely that taxpayers or developers would want to pay for a renovation anyway. 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil believes both stories are missing one major component of the debate. “Whether or not KeyArena can be retrofit to fit NBA or NHL standards doesn’t really matter at all unless you can find someone who’s willing to buy a team from one of those leagues and then plant it here in a retrofitted KeyArena,” he told Seattle’s Morning News. “I think this is a debate about a moot point, essentially.”

O’Neil says the reason a KeyArena remodel isn’t realistic is that Seattle would need someone who owns one of those teams in either the NBA or NHL to sell those leagues on that arena. “And I don’t see that happening,” O’Neil said. “The only reason Chris Hansen has stepped forward and come up with the most feasible plan, or the one that actually has some money behind it right now, is because what he can develop around it in SoDo with those properties.”
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