A Pragmatic Response To Yesterday's Events

Wherein I try to explain why the NBA's hint at expansion is likely a mirage.

Following yesterday's announcement I was surprised to hear from many in the local media and elsewhere about the possibility of future expansion in Seattle from Adam Silver. While I understand that fans were looking to seize any scrap of positivity out of yesterday's debacle, I can't share that optimism.

Setting the issue of talent dilution that would come with expansion aside for a moment, a league where a third or more of all teams are rumored to be taking revenue sharing payments is not a league on solid enough financial footing to be seriously discussing expansion. Indeed, one of the watchwords out of last year's lockout was that it was probably a good idea for the NBA to actually contract franchises, not add them. Is it credible that within three years of there being talk of contraction that things would swing so diametrically to the opposite?

And is it any wonder that the owners thought to have voted in favor of relocation yesterday were, for the most part, from teams that are payers into the revenue sharing pool, rather than takers? The hard-won concessions from the lockout to set up a revenue sharing model were casually tossed aside at the whim of the commissioner's office. It makes me wonder how soon we will see an owner from a payer team (say for instance ... the Dallas Mavericks) publicly question exactly why he is paying into this fund when teams it was set up specifically to assist must decline that financial assistance to keep their teams. More than a few curious precedents were set by the owners yesterday, precedents that could have significant fallout on NBA owners' future ability to sell and move their franchises. Precedents that were at best ill-advised, and at worst, unsustainable. The owners essentially waived their right to sell to whom they choose without the express consent of, and assistance by the commissioner's office, which is a curious way to do business. Future franchise sales will likely be conducted directly through the commissioner to prevent a repeat of these events -- purchasing a team with the intent to relocate, only to have that offer rescinded and be forced to sell at a loss.

I don't doubt for a second that the NBA is eager and willing to use the promise of a future franchise in the Seattle market in order to wring a larger deal from a network, but the odds of there actually being enough votes to win expansion in Seattle and likely one other city are at the time of this writing, astronomical. I do not believe that revenues from a new TV deal would be enough to offset the loss of revenue to individual owners, many of whom would oppose any further splitting of the revenue pie, especially when there are so many teams already on shaky ground or soon to be there.

Additionally, the league office is simply not credible. Never was there clearer evidence of a double standard in how the league operates than yesterday. Power is still concentrated in the commissioner's office, not in the individual teams, as witnessed by the results of the vote. From many accounts Silver's leadership style is more collaborative than Stern's, but that's like being named the friendliest Kardashian sister. It doesn't change the fact that the league as a whole has proven to be untrustworthy, particularly in the matter of extorting public subsidy for its arenas. There is a clear divide between the money-making teams and some which are content to just take their cut of the revenue share pie and do what the commissioner's office tells them. This likely will change under Silver, but not right away.

Put simply I do not see significant changes upcoming in either the popularity of the league or in economic conditions that would be sufficent to force enough owners to make a change of heart on expansion. It is certainly within Silver's right to claim it is an option, but he was also careful not to put a timeline to his comments, and with good reason. The league has enough obstacles getting its financial house in order, as well as rebuilding burned bridges in Seattle, before it can consider expansion as a possibility in the next 2-3 years.

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