It was therefore noteworthy that Silver changed his mind slightly during a pre-season conference call in December.

“I think I’ve always said that there is some kind of overt fate in the league that you eventually expand,” he said. “I would say [the coronavirus pandemic has] caused us to wipe away some of the analysis of the economic and competitive effects of the expansion. We invested a little more time than before the pandemic. But certainly not to the point where expansion is at the forefront. “

Prior to the pandemic, Silver’s tenure was marked by extraordinary financial growth and stability. The league’s salary cap has increased from $ 63 million in 2014-15 to $ 109 million this season, while the average NBA franchise value according to Forbes’ annual estimates rose from $ 630 million in 2014 Increased $ 2.1 billion in 2020. In recent years, the financial picture has been so rosy that deep-pocketed owner groups like the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers have moved to self-funding billion-dollar arena projects.

However, the pandemic was an obvious turning point. Estimated losses due to empty arenas and shortened seasons were nearly $ 1 billion last year and up to $ 4 billion in 2020-21. While the owners weren’t motivated to continue expanding when the league was booming, adding teams could help make up for their pandemic-related losses.

The NBA has had 30 teams since 2004, when the League franchised Charlotte after the Hornets moved to New Orleans. Not since 1995, when the Toronto Raptors and then-Vancouver Grizzlies arrived, the NBA has added multiple franchises at once. No franchise has changed markets since the Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008, though the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn in 2012 and the Warriors from Oakland to San Francisco in 2019. The Sacramento Kings narrowly avoided moving with a new arena deal in 2013, and the Milwaukee Bucks opened a new arena in 2018 after years of negotiations with local officials.

In theory, adding two franchises with expansion fees of $ 2.5 billion per ESPN.com report would make up for much of the trouble owners have suffered since March. Splitting $ 5 billion across 30 franchises would mean a stimulus check of more than $ 165 million for each owner. Of course, the same owners would cut their future profits to pieces.

Seattle and Las Vegas have been cited as potential NBA destinations for years, and both of them enable top criteria: They are the top 30 cities by population in the US, with bustling local professional sports markets and NBA-enabled arenas. Seattle fans have been calling for the NBA to return since the SuperSonics left, and the NHL’s Seattle NHL expansion team will soon be hosting the multi-billion dollar Climate Pledge Arena. Las Vegas recently welcomed the NFL Raiders and NHL Golden Knights, and the T-Mobile Arena opened near the Strip in 2016.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told King5.com this week she was “pretty optimistic” about the NBA’s return to town after a recent interview with Silver. Durkan said that she believes the owners are “very serious about expanding” and that they “[didn’t] I think it’s going to be a long, multi-year process. “

“It is very good news for the city of Seattle that they are considering an expansion team,” said Durkan. “I was honest with you [Silver]. He knows Seattle wants to be at the top. We are where the team should be. “

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in December that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman also spoke to Silver following his preseason comments. Goodman said her city “looks forward to” being a destination for expansion and that Las Vegas is “a perfect fit” and “ready, willing and able” to host a team “as soon as we can get it going” .

A major concern in any expansion effort is the possible dilution of talent. When the NBA added six franchises from 1988 to 1995, some observers felt that the league watered down their product and that the weakest teams didn’t have much of a chance of competing. In fact, the Minnesota Timberwolves, which started in 1989, did not win their first playoff series until 2004. The Vancouver Grizzlies started playing in 1995 and moved to Memphis after losing six seasons.

Adding teams could also have an impact on the championship chase, as the NBA’s large-scale expansion arguably helped the Chicago Bulls build their dynasty. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were able to rule much of the nineties, as the mix was supplemented by weaker competition and established teams lost depth in the expansion plans.

Competitive equilibrium has weighed on the NBA throughout Silver’s tenure. The Warriors reached five straight finals and the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 title, aided by the moves of Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis from small markets. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Kyrie Irving are among the many stars who have recently attempted to play in bigger markets.

“We are very grateful for the markets that have shown interest in an NBA team,” Silver said in December. “It’s no secret that at the beginning of the season we never have 30 competition teams based on the probability of winning a championship. One of our main focuses as a league office is always how to create better competition. “

Thanks to the rapid globalization of basketball, the entire talent pool is now much deeper than it was during the last major expansion of the NBA. There were 107 international players on the opening lists this year and many of the league’s biggest stars, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic, are from overseas.

However, it is easy to imagine that a bull-like dynasty is playing out again in the era of empowerment. Modern superstars have become increasingly sophisticated when it comes to banding together to build competitors, and the NBA has sought to develop salary capping mechanisms that can entice top talent to stay in smaller markets. Adding two franchises would only make it harder for teams like the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz to keep up with the Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, and other emerging super teams in big markets.

“It is always remarkable to me that you have a league that is at the top of the basketball pyramid and therefore attracts the best players from all over the world,” said Silver. “But as soon as the players come into the league, a few quickly stand out as special talent that goes beyond the others. So I think the problem is, how do you potentially distribute these players across expansion teams as well? “

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