NBA rumors: NBA expanding to Seattle and Las Vegas after media rights deal expire?

The NBA has not added a new team in almost two decades, but the next round of expansion could be coming soon. During an appearance on 93.3 KJR, longtime columnist John Canzano reported that Seattle and Las Vegas have “already been earmarked” for expansion by the NBA. According to Canzano, the expansion is set to happen after the league’s current media rights deal expires in 2024.

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Sources told The Spun last summer that a number of teams that were considering relocating were also "looking fondly" at Sin City, but it seems like they won't be able to move there, because the league is already planning on giving Vegas a team of its own.
Insiders say that behind the scenes this has become one of the league’s core plans to placate billionaires still chafing from losses of recent years. The pandemic hurt every aspect of the business, especially in-arena revenues—at the same time the NBA lost hundreds of millions in Chinese broadcast revenues (after the touchy Communist Chinese government cut off the league in response to Daryl Morey’s routine use of free speech). Expansion revenue could put those woes in the rearview mirror. “It’s fully baked,” says one source.
There’s much speculation about whether or not the NBA is set to award Las Vegas and Seattle expansion teams. Many seem to think it’s a done deal. The question: Is the NBA coming to Vegas? “I have been asked that,” says Badain, “and I answer that same answer every time. We’re not making that assumption. We’re not going to speculate. We’re not going to be presumptive. It’s up to the 30 owners and the commissioner. They have to decide which markets they decide are attractive.”
Once upon a time, any talk of expansion led to panic about competitive balance. Are there enough good players? It’s hard to find anyone who’s worried about that anymore. “We are moving toward fifty percent international players,” says NBA agent Todd Ramasar. “There is a surplus of talent to support 34 new jobs.” (34, you ask? That’s NBA roster spots per team, plus two two-way contracts for players splitting time with the G-League.)
There’s much speculation about whether or not the NBA is set to award Las Vegas and Seattle expansion teams. Many seem to think it’s a done deal. The question: Is the NBA coming to Vegas? “I have been asked that,” says Badain, “and I answer that same answer every time. We’re not making that assumption. We’re not going to speculate. We’re not going to be presumptive. It’s up to the 30 owners and the commissioner. They have to decide which markets they decide are attractive.” This is the most curious part of this story. Oak View is boldly speculating, with billions, on the arrival of the NBA in Las Vegas and Seattle. But they won’t speculate with words.
The NBA is currently in talks on a new media deal to follow the current ESPN/Turner agreements which pay the lion’s share of the NBA’s bills. Word is that the league will hit the streaming wars with impeccable timing and get such a giant raise that the value of every team will double. In that world, sources say the NBA’s lowest-value team, the Pelicans, would be worth more than $2 billion, while the Warriors could skyrocket to a $10 billion valuation.
After that, several sources suggest, the league will command absolutely unprecedented amounts for expansion teams—between four and five billion each. A year ago, Adam Silver called reports of a $2.5 billion expansion fee “very low.” Sources say the NBA has prospective investors ready.
With that in mind, Harrell said his optimism didn't extend to news about a new team coming before the end of this year. "No, I'm not that optimistic by the end of the year," he said. "But I will tell you that the league, and those that make decisions including the ownership base, they fully understand that this is a great market here. And so there are other dynamics looking at the collective bargaining agreement with the players and the owners, how they make decisions, there are some other factors at play that need to be stabilized first. But Seattle is very ripe and the league understands that and they know our passion, particularly my administration's passion, for getting that team."
Tamika Tremaglio, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, said she is in favor of the NBA expanding beyond the league’s current 30 teams. Her comments came Tuesday during SportTechie’s State Of The Industry conference at One World Trade Center in New York City. “We do want more teams, I think it's good for the business,’’ Tremaglio said during her opening keynote conversation with SBJ executive editor Abraham Madkour. “Ideally, we hope that there will be more teams popping up in the U.S.’’
The Ringer founder was discussing the NBA on the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast when he dropped a bit of “intel” about league expansion and how LeBron James may play a role in it. “I have some intel,” Bill Simmons said. “I think the league is going to expand to Vegas and to Seattle. And I think the leading contender to get that Vegas team is going to be the Fenway Sports Group. They have Liverpool, they bought the [Pittsburgh] Penguins. They’ve been circling different NBA teams for a while. I think they looked at Minnesota. And I think they’re the leading contender for Vegas. I heard, combined, we’re talking $6.5-7 billion for the two teams.”
The most obvious connection here is that Simmons is naturally going to have connections with Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Boston Red Sox. This is where LeBron comes in as well as James is a partner in FSG. So if they owned an NBA team, that would mean LeBron would be one of the team owners, though Simmons doesn’t spell that out for listeners. “If I had to bet on a LeBron scenario, it would be for him to be involved with whatever happens with that,” said Simmons. “Where he is the point man in that Vegas team. And I haven’t heard that mentioned. I don’t care if it gets aggregated because I think I’m right. I think that is scenario A for LeBron. He wants to be an owner. I think he wants to run one of these teams.”
Chris Lencheski, chairman of private equity consulting company Phoenicia, agrees. “The NBA has a clear, more straightforward, and well-defined path to a global consumer than just about every other major league that’s stick and ball related,” he said. “And eventually,” Lencheski added, “within the next 20 years, you’ll have supersonic travel, which will allow an NBA team to travel within three hours anywhere in the world. So, it’s easy to see a Madrid versus the New York Knicks. And the NBA, by the nature of their product, is perfectly suited for that.”
Seattle and Las Vegas offer the two most obvious destinations for new teams, while Mexico City, Louisville, Vancouver and other cities have been floated as possibilities. Existing owners will push for a pair of hefty fees in exchange for seeing their slice of future shared revenue shrink. Nothing is imminent on the expansion front, and multiple NBA insiders think a timeline will be tied to the next round of TV contracts. If the league is able to lock in new media deals worth $60-70 billion, then the calculus changes, with entry price into the NBA club jumping from maybe $2.5-3 billion to as much as $4 billion—money that is not shared with the players under the CBA.
It’s interesting because this is one of potentially two places a future Sonics team could play, if and when the league returns to Seattle. (Most league insiders consider it a mere formality that any NBA expansion would include Seattle as one of the teams.)
While Climate Pledge Arena is already hosting the NHL’s expansion Seattle Kraken and would be ready to roll for the NBA, another potential ownership group led by Chris Hansen (not the “To Catch a Predator” guy) has land for an arena near downtown. Most people I’ve talked to, however, consider Hansen’s effort an underdog and Climate Pledge the more likely future Sonics home.
Kurt Helin: Adam Silver on expansion: "Nothing new to report on expansion. We want to be fully through the pandemic (before taking it up again)... "I don't think there's any doubt at some point we will take a very serious look at expansion." Confirms Seattle would get strong consideration
Although Las Vegas is still without an NBA franchise, Silver said he considers the area part of the league due to the Summer League that has occurred annually in some fashion — outside of 2020 due to the pandemic — since 2004. Silver said he jokes that the Summer League in Las Vegas is “almost like our 31st team with the kind of presence that we have. It’s a huge presence in Vegas in the summer. We sell well over 100,000 tickets and all of our teams are out there. It’s sort of like baseball winter meetings.”
Ahead of the municipal election on Sunday, Nov. 7, Montreal mayoral candidate Balarama Holness of the newly created Mouvement Montréal banner has aspirations to make the city a candidate for an NBA franchise, the Montreal Gazette reported. In a statement shared with the publication, Holness called Montreal "the perfect destination for a new NBA team."
Holness added that "as a large international metropolis with one of the world's most culturally and linguistically diverse populations, Montreal is perfectly suited to take its place among the NBA cities of North America, and for its name to shine further in front of a global audience."
O’Neal has held a part-time residence in Las Vegas for 20 years, where he has several business interests. He lives in Atlanta during the NBA season. As an analyst on TNT, a four-time NBA champ and member of the Professional Basketball Hall of Famer, O’Neal is an expert on pro hoops. And Shaq says Vegas is built for an NBA team. “Las Vegas has grown a lot, and there is a lot of want for an NBA team,” O’Neal said during a chat at his charity’s Summerlin offices. “I don’t want to go on the record too far, but I’m leaning toward most definitely.”
Larry Coon: I think it’s pretty inevitable that there’s going to be expansion at some point, and we could see a 32-team league. There are certainly cities like Seattle ready to host an NBA franchise again. I was thinking expansion might’ve even been on the table this past year because of Covid. If you collected a couple of expansion fees, you put a lot of money into the league in a year when revenues were so far down… Eventually, you’re increasing the revenue that comes in with ticket sales, local cable revenue, everything around the game… The flipside of that coin is that you’re now splitting the profits more ways and your revenue sharing differently.
Former UNLV and NBA basketball player Jackie Robinson has led All Net from day one. He wants to build a hotel, arena and retail complex where Wet-n-Wild used to sit. Over the years, plans have changed. Investors have come and gone. Promises to county commissioners were made and made again. "You want to win,” said Robinson. “It's not just about playing the game. I want to win." Today, Robinson says he is not playing anymore. Ground will break again at the All Net site in October, and he says nothing will stop it.

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Sikma still laments the Sonics’ move as a franchise to Oklahoma City, and he credited Milwaukee for not suffering a similar fate when the Bucks were at risk of relocating. Sikma remains hopeful Seattle can attract another NBA franchise. “I’m waiting for the day when (NBA commissioner Adam Silver) brings it up and says something internally in the league is being considered,” he said.
Gary Washburn: Adam Silver said the NBA will 'continue to consider" expansion. Not exactly encouraging words for a return to Seattle soon
When the NBA struggled to draw more than a few thousand fans, we agreed to schedule doubleheaders featuring the Globetrotters. As the NBA grew, you were able to attract the best Black players, but we remember who helped the NBA get it all started. Don’t get us wrong, we love what y’all have done recently and we are proud of how your players are standing up to make a difference in their communities. But don’t get it twisted; basketball would not be what it is today without us.
Congratulations on growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry with international endeavors and huge media deals. We’ve kept our heads down and focused on what means the most to us – world class basketball showmanship, uniting families and spreading joy of the game. So, if you really believe what you’ve been saying about social justice, going back to “normal” needs to look different. You can’t just act like we don’t exist anymore. It’s time to right the wrongs and rewrite history. It’s time for the NBA to honor what the Globetrotters have done for OUR sport, both here in the U.S. and around the globe.
When reached for comment, Jay Bloom said, “While it is most certainly too preliminary to comment on our group’s efforts, Bill Foley’s extraordinary success with the Vegas Golden Knights, together with Mark Davis’s Las Vegas Raiders’ incredibly warm reception by the community and his exceptional world class facilities, and further, the addition of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, clearly demonstrate that Las Vegas is already a major player in the world of professional sports.” Jay continued, “Be it ultimately our group or someone else, Las Vegas is clearly the most deserving city in the nation for an NBA expansion franchise team.”
It’s widely believed the NBA will expand for the first time since rounding out to 30 teams in 2004 partly to recoup losses from the pandemic. Returning to Seattle as part of the process is almost a given (with Las Vegas as the other likely city) now that the arena issues that led to the Supersonics leaving for Oklahoma City in 2008 have been resolved. “If there is expansion, he’s definitely going to get his opportunities,” said one league insider.
When it came to the topic of Seattle, Mr. Ballmer seemed to have some knowledge but played it coy. "I gotta sleep on that," Ballmer said. "I know nothing, I see nothing. The commissioner talked about the fact that it's an open consideration at some point to do expansion. If an expansion were to happen Seattle would be up at the top of the list. I certainly haven't participated in any in-depth discussions at this point. I can't tell you the timing, but I read the commissioner's remarks at the same time the rest of you did."
"I'd love for Seattle to have a basketball team again," Ballmer said. "It isn't going to be the Clippers. Clippers are the LA Clippers, they will stay the LA clippers. I love having the LA Clippers. We're building a new arena, you can call it a new $2 billion home for the Clippers in Los Angeles. I gotta say owning a team or having a team in LA is a competitive advantage. All things being equal, guys love being in LA. It's a great place to be."
When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver began discussing the possibility of expansion relatively recently, it made sense for the San Diego dot-connecting to start. The city is wading into the fledgling stage of a new arena to anchor an entertainment, housing and retail space in the Midway District. The planned seating capacity, something approaching 17,000, slots in the lower range of current NBA and NHL buildings.
Is something happening soon? No. An NBA spokesperson recently relayed to the Union-Tribune that expansion, though being discussed, “is not on the front burner.” Newly seated Mayor Todd Gloria, pressed for an arena timeline, told the U-T that if he’s satisfied with answers from developers about wants and needs, the soonest it’s likely to reach the City Council for approval would be the fall.
For most of a year, Taylor has explored a sale of the Wolves and Lynx. How’s that coming? “Well, it’s not coming is the best way to say it,” Taylor said. “I haven’t found anything that for sure says I should move ahead.” Taylor’s price tag for the Wolves and Lynx is estimated to be in the $1.5 billion range. With NBA expansion — Las Vegas and Seattle have been mentioned — current team owners could each be in for a reported $160 million expansion fee windfall. “Obviously I’m aware of that — you’ve got to pick your time,” Taylor said, adding that no definite decision for expansion has been made. “The other question: Is now a good time to sell when you don’t have fans? And it’s not a good time.”
It has since been reported the NBA discussed adding two teams—both of which would come with a $2.5 billion expansion fee that would be distributed among the league’s current group of governors. Silver participated in Sportico’s NBA valuations event on Tuesday. The commissioner was “not ready” to confirm the number of teams or the price point the league would seek if it were to add clubs. He said it “doesn’t feel like the right time” to focus resources or attention on future growth with the league still trying to navigate the pandemic. But Silver did say that “clearly [the] valuations [show] some of the reported numbers [for expansion fees] are very low in terms of the value at which we would expand.”
It was surprising to hear Silver suggest $2.5 billion would not be enough to bring a team to Seattle, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Mexico City or any other rumored expansion market. $2.5 billion sounds like an astronomically high price—particularly when one considers no North American pro sports team has ever sold for more than $2.35 billion (see: Joe Tsai, Brooklyn Nets). Sportico valuations authority Peter Schwartz agreed noting that $2.5 billion is greater than the average NBA team valuation. “That’s not in accordance with pricing on past expansion fees paid in sports—with the slight exception of Seattle in the NHL.”
Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis told Sportico’s Eben Novy-Williams and Peter Schwartz during Tuesday’s event that down the line, NBA teams should be worth significantly more money than they are today. “When you look at how big the [potential] marketplace is, [the NBA is] still a small business,” Leonsis said. “When you think about [there being] 8 billion people around the world, 6 billion now connected with high-speed connections [there are many potential fans out there]. Our cable ratings—even though we’re pretty much the top rated show up and down the line nightly—are still small” from a penetration standpoint. The league, he said, still has “a lot of upside.”
Silver participated in Sportico’s NBA valuations event on Tuesday. The commissioner was “not ready” to confirm the number of teams or the price point the league would seek if it were to add clubs. He said it “doesn’t feel like the right time” to focus resources or attention on future growth with the league still trying to navigate the pandemic. But Silver did say that “clearly [the] valuations [show] some of the reported numbers [for expansion fees] are very low in terms of the value at which we would expand.”
Schwartz isn’t the only one we spoke to who doubted the league could command $5 billion in expansion fees for a pair of new teams. A sports banker, who asked to remain anonymous to speak openly, said, “If no one is pitching Glen Taylor within a billion dollars of $2.5 billion for Minnesota, why would you think someone would spend $2.5 billion to go to Las Vegas? It’s not a better market.” Remember, in Las Vegas the owner would either have to share stadium revenues with the Golden Knights or build his/her own venue. The banker also noted it is not as if there are “a lot of people who can write a $2.5 billion check”—a problem the NFL has come to realize.
Another high-ranking team executive said it was unlikely any serious consideration of expansion would happen at least before the end of the 2021-22 season. At any rate, expansion remains the much more likely route for cities currently without NBA teams in the next few years than relocation. And Seattle is at the top of the list.
Seattle stands ready, the obvious top candidate for expansion, with Las Vegas and Vancouver leading the list of cities that could be a second site if the NBA opted to expand by two. (That’s not necessarily a given, I’m told; the league could potentially go with 31 teams for a while, anyway, if it wanted.) And various governors and EVPs over the years have repeatedly said the Emerald City should be first in line among non-NBA cities for the next team, whether through expansion or relocation. That doesn’t mean potential Vegas groups don’t have very deep pockets (they do) or other cities won’t be able to make compelling presentations.
Brian Windhorst, who covers the NBA for ESPN, said that for the last five years or so, he and his ESPN colleagues have asked NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the potential for NBA expansion, and during that time, Silver has always said it wasn’t on the horizon. “And he changed his answer, as you are well aware, last month,” Windhorst told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy Friday afternoon. “And that frankly lit a bunch of fires.”
Windhorst said that given the economic shortfall that the pandemic has caused the NBA, expansion makes sense given when the league has expanded in the past. “Historically, the NBA has expanded coming off times where there’s been some financial hardship for the league,” he said. “And I think there are people in the league office who would square up with me and really duke it out with me if I implied that just because they’re having some financial difficulties, they would expand to buy their way out of it. So I don’t necessarily want to qualify it with that, but again, historically if you go back and look at the expansions in the ’70s, in the ’80s and in the ’90s, it came when the league could use an influx of money and expansion is a way to get fast money. I think the conditions are more favorable than they’ve been in a long time for this to happen.”
Another high-ranking team executive said it was unlikely any serious consideration of expansion would happen at least before the end of the 2021-22 season. At any rate, expansion remains the much more likely route for cities currently without NBA teams in the next few years than relocation. And Seattle is at the top of the list. Seattle stands ready, the obvious top candidate for expansion, with Las Vegas and Vancouver leading the list of cities that could be a second site if the NBA opted to expand by two.
There is also Amazon, the Jeff Bezos behemoth headquartered in Seattle. Getting Bezos or any of his fellow billionaire top Amazon execs directly involved with an NBA team there would obviously be the Holy Grail for the league. (Of course, Bezos is already indirectly engaged, his company having bought the naming rights to Climate Pledge; the name derives from a 2019 pledge that Amazon and Global Optimism, a climate crisis organization, made pledging their companies would produce net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. That would be 10 years before the 2050 deadline set for net-zero global carbon emissions by the Paris Climate Agreement.)
Not surprisingly, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan welcomed the news, and told Seattle television station KING 5 on Thursday that she is "pretty optimistic" a team will return to the city, which lost the SuperSonics after the 2008 season when the organization moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. Durkan and Silver spoke on the phone before the holidays, the mayor said. "It is very good news for the city of Seattle that they are thinking of an expansion team," Durkan told KING 5. "And I was honest with him. He knows Seattle wants to be at the front of the line. We're where the team should be. But we will be respecting them as they move forward to their ownership because the (owners), you know, has to approve it."
The NHL's expansion into Seattle will be official next season when the Kraken begin play. The Kraken will play in Climate Pledge Arena, a $1 billion edifice that will open by fall and will also house the WNBA's Seattle Storm. Durkan said the arena is "NBA-ready." (Kraken majority owner David Bonderman is a minority owner of the Boston Celtics.) "If there's basketball karma, we'll get the Sonics," Durkan said. "If there's economics involved, we'll get the Sonics. If there's just smart, what's the best city in America, we'll get the Sonics. So, I'm pretty optimistic."
Durkan said these financial scenarios, among other reasons, might help expansion advance as an option among NBA owners, who are expected to discuss the possibility. "I think it's real. But I think again, the commissioner is going to consult the ownership, and the ownership for the first time itself is being very public that they think [expansion] is probably a good idea for basketball," the mayor said. "Part of that is the COVID economics. Part of it is the economics of sports. But look, there's no city that I think is better positioned to be successful."
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan recently spoke with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and left feeling "pretty optimistic" about the prospects of a return of the Seattle Sonics. Durkan told KING 5 she spoke with Silver via phone just before Christmas after the commissioner let it slip that the league was re-examining expansion prospects and that Seattle was at the top of the list.
She continued, "I think it's real. But I think again, the commissioner is going to, you know, consult the ownership, and the ownership for the first time itself is being very public that they think it is probably a good idea for basketball. Part of that is the COVID economics. Part of it is the economics of sports. But look, there's no city that I think is better positioned to be successful. We're going to have the best arena in the country. I'm not just saying that when people walk in that building, they will be amazed. We are a city that even with COVID, when we come out of COVID, we have so much upside here."
Officials within the league office have floated a price tag of $2.5 billion each for two expansion teams to join the NBA in the near future, sources tell Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Unlike other major revenue streams, owners would not have to share that money with players and could result in $160 million per team, which would effectively eliminate the debt currently piling up. There could be multiple offers from cities like Seattle or Las Vegas.
The league’s last expansion came in 2004, when it launched the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets). The expansion fee of $300 million back then seems quaint, if not laughably low, less than two decades later. By all accounts, the starting point for the next expansion fee will be $1 billion. In 2017 an unnamed owner told The Athletic’s David Aldridge the number would be $2 billion. And last week, on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tossed out the number $3 billion.
Here’s Cuban explaining to Simmons why he voted against the Charlotte expansion: “The $300 million we took as an expansion fee, now all of a sudden Charlotte gets one-30th of all of the shared revenue, right? If that was $30 million, just to pick a number out of the air, and they’re getting $30 million every year, well, in 10 years they get all their money back, right? So all it was was a loan to us. I tried to explain that to some of the old-school owners who were involved, and it just didn’t resonate with them. They just didn’t understand it. And now that $300 million looks like the bargain of all time.”
While decisions on when and where are probably years away, Silver’s statement revived hope that a professional basketball franchise might eventually land in Louisville more than four decades after the demise of the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. “I have not talked to the commissioner, but I was obviously excited to hear his comments,” said Dan Issel, president of the NBA2LOU organization. “We’ve been saying for the last couple months that (expansion) almost seems inevitable when you look at the financial health of the NBA and what they’ve had to go through with the bubble in Orlando and no fans or very few fans starting out this season.”
“I don’t think he’s had a single conversation, as he told me, not with any city or any individual representing a city regarding expansion,” Goodman said. If the NBA were to expand, Goodman said Las Vegas is eager to be considered. “I can assure you that we’re right there. And we would look forward to it. I think in time, we would just be a perfect fit. … He knows we’re right there. That’s what I know directly from him, which I think is most significant.”
Goodman was effusive in her assessment of the league’s relationship with the city. “We’re ready, willing and able and have a great relationship there and would look forward to the (NBA) in our city as soon as we could get it going,” Goodman said. Of her persistence in seeking an NBA franchise for Las Vegas, Goodman said, “I think I’m more annoying to (Silver) than anybody else, … I know he sees the advantage of the Las Vegas area for an expansion team at the right time.”
In a change from his past statements on the topic of expansion, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Monday afternoon that the league has looked at its analysis of the ramifications of expanding beyond 30 teams. "I think I've always said that it's sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point," Silver said during his annual preseason availability with reporters. "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."
And Self also believes a successful run as a temporary home could put Kansas City on the shortlist to get an NBA team. "I saw firsthand, and we all did, what happened with the Hornets," Self said. "When Katrina hit New Orleans and they relocated to Oklahoma City, you saw how that market rallied around that team to make them basically an automatic to get a franchise if anything else was going to transpire. And then of course the Sonics moved there. I can see [KC] doing the same thing. I think people would rally around it."
If Kansas City is able to showcase itself as a good spot for the NBA once again, that’s an added bonus for Lucas, too. “Of course, not unlike Oklahoma City some years ago, we want to have an opportunity to show a brand presence that (indicates) Kansas City is an impressive international city in its own right. And in the event that there’s ever talk about relocation, then we should be at the top of the list for any other teams. I don’t think that you’d ever see relocation for the Raptors, but, you know, maybe there’ll be others in the future.”
Before Milwaukee officials and the Bucks struck a funding agreement to build the arena, the NBA threatened to buy the franchise and sell it to one of two ownership groups, one in Las Vegas and the other Seattle, citing the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center where the Bucks played between 1988 and 2018. “I’m the co-owner of the Bucks and we love being in Milwaukee,” Wes Edens said. “If we had been forced to move the team, which we had not, Las Vegas was definitely one of the places that was on the list that we would have seriously considered.”
Former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren has been teasing the idea of an NBA team in Las Vegas for years, and T-Mobile Arena was built with housing both an NHL team and an NBA team in mind. Indeed, the 20,000-seat arena was constructed with separate locker rooms for both sports. “To me it’s a question of when, not if, there will be an NBA team in that arena,” Edens said. “It’s just such a tremendous market. The success of the other teams really bodes well for what could be a potential success of an NBA team.”
The former CEO of MGM Resorts International expects Las Vegas will get a National Basketball Association franchise within the next few years. Speaking today at an online Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance event, Jim Murren said the Las Vegas area’s relationship with the NBA, through hosting Summer League games and the Las Vegas Aces WNBA franchise, help make it an attractive option.
Louisville is the NBA's perpetual bridesmaid. The decades-long dance between the basketball-crazed city and the world's preeminent basketball league began in the mid-1970s. The ABA's Kentucky Colonels, one of the league's most decorated and financially successful franchises, were poised to make the jump into the NBA when the two leagues merged, but owner John Y. Brown decided to cash out by selling star players to other franchises and accepting a $3 million buyout to fold his team. Decades later, Louisville had the then-Vancouver Grizzlies in hand in 2001. "We fumbled on the one-yard line," Steve Higdon, chairman of NBA2LOU, tells CBS Sports. A combination of local politics and the inability to raise funds for a new arena killed the deal, and the Grizzlies landed in Memphis. A year later, Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville exerted their own influence to keep the then-Charlotte Hornets out of Kentucky. Toss in a failed bid at the Houston Rockets, and the home of the 1975 ABA champions had grown sick of losing out on professional basketball.
Whether Kentuckians would throw their dollars behind a professional basketball team remains to be seen, but they already devote a fair bit of time to the NBA. Louisville routinely draws strong television ratings, particularly when it comes to the NBA Draft. It led all cities with a 5.3 rating on the 2017 NBA Draft, per Sports Media Watch, and that devotion to the game is something Issel still sees regularly. "To this day, I have people in their 50s and 60s that come up to me and say 'We really loved the Colonels. My dad used to take me to all of the games,'" he recalls. Nostalgia, in itself, does not support a billion-dollar enterprise, but it doesn't hurt in a region with a fairly low population. Only New Orleans and Memphis are smaller among NBA markets, but neither came with the sort of built-in market share that a Kentucky basketball team would have based purely on history.
Louisville had the then-Vancouver Grizzlies in hand in 2001. "We fumbled on the one-yard line," Steve Higdon, chairman of NBA2LOU, tells CBS Sports. A combination of local politics and the inability to raise funds for a new arena killed the deal, and the Grizzlies landed in Memphis. A year later, Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville exerted their own influence to keep the then-Charlotte Hornets out of Kentucky. Toss in a failed bid at the Houston Rockets, and the home of the 1975 ABA champions had grown sick of losing out on professional basketball.
The KFC Yum! Center now sits on the Louisville waterfront with all of the bells and whistles of a typical NBA arena, but no professional tenant. The trouble, as former Colonels legend and current NBA2LOU president Dan Issel explains, was a lack of interest on the NBA's part. "As we got into it, we found out that expansion really wasn't anything, it wasn't as inevitable as everybody felt," Issel said. "In fact, I called the commissioner and he said 'Dan I really appreciate it, but I'm not even taking any meetings on expansion.'" This has been the NBA's official stance for over a decade. The league has not expanded since welcoming the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, giving it an even 30 teams.
That the situation is fluid “is more true now than it’s been in decades,” says J. Bruce Miller, Louisville’s long-time NBA point man. Granted, Louisville still looks like a long shot. The University of Louisville continues to control the most significant revenue streams at the KFC Yum Center and is poorly positioned to start making concessions to an NBA owner amid layoffs and budget cuts. Meanwhile, modern arenas in Vegas and Kansas City are unencumbered by leases that could cause conflict with an NBA tenant.
So long as there is more money to be made in another market, though, rumors will persist. In addition to the Grizzlies, the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs have all been subject to recent relocation speculation. “There might be some teams looking at moving,” Dan Issel said. “All I know is that the people that I’ve talked to who have had knowledge of those situations have promised me that I’ll get a call when it’s appropriate."
@Brian M. As you know, I would LOVE for the NBA to go back to Seattle. What I was told by owners well before the pandemic was that it was unlikely there'd be much support for expansion until at least the next TV deal (which is set to expire in 2024) is done. So I'm not holding out much hope at present for a groundswell of support for new teams. If this season were, for some reason, ultimately cancelled, maybe some feelings would change.
Though it is just a reported possibility, Granger said he wants to be prepared if it ever did gain some traction, saying it could help prove Louisville would be a good future home for a permanent team. "We're trying just to make sure the experience is second to none for the NBA,” Granger said. "This would be an opportunity for us to showcase to the NBA what we're capable of doing."
“Winning that championship with the Colonels in Louisville is why I’m involved with our present endeavor, to get the NBA back to Louisville,” Dan Issel told the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce audience. “Remembering that championship, how special it was, and what a great feeling everybody in Kentucky had about having a championship team was terrific,” Issel said. “That’s something I would like to see duplicated.”
Louisville can’t just ask for an NBA team. “The frustrating part is that there is nothing we can do to make the NBA go any faster,” Issel said. “Their position is that expansion is not on the table. That will be their position until the day they decide to start taking applications.”
Will an NBA team call Seattle home within the next five years? "I sure hope so. If there's one thing that I could wish for our league structurally, I think it would be to get a team back to Seattle," Warriors president Rick Welts told NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh on the "Habershow" podcast. "It's obviously a really personal issue for me. I know what that team meant to that city -- bringing the first professional championship to Seattle. It's an amazing market. A lot of the future of the world is being envisioned there. It's got a vibrant community that would really support an NBA team coming back."
He, more than anybody, knows the NBA belongs in Seattle. "But the path is problematic," he said. "The good news is the NBA's business is really successful right now, and that means we have 30 teams operating without anyone feeling like they're in a market where they can't support NBA basketball. And the owners -- I would say probably to their credit -- have shown no interest. And the league hasn't really promoted any expansion agenda. So how do you get a team there?”
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