The NBA has become seriously popular over the past decade.
Through social media, a higher presence of international basketball superstars, and the general brilliance of the league’s self-promotion, the NBA is enjoying perhaps its’ most financially fruitful era of all time.
This is a far cry from the state the league found itself in just prior to this era of boom – call it a 'post Jordan hangover' – where teams such as the Vancouver Grizzlies, the Seattle SuperSonics and the original Charlotte Hornets were dropping like flies.
But times have changed now, and changed quickly have they. The globalisation of the NBA's most popular teams have seen local, national and international TV deals strike it rich.
According to multiple sources, the NBA has brought expansion back onto the agenda. However with what kind of seriousness is anyone’s guess.
Kevin Nesgoda, writer and editor for SB Nation hosted Seattle sports website Sonics Rising, believes that bidding could be announced as early as the All Star Game, upon the completion of the new collective bargaining agreement – which was agreed to in December.
16 Wins a Rings’ Adam Joseph and Keith P. Smith mentioned that privately, NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s position is that Seattle is a lock for one of a proposed two new league teams, provided they can sort out their long burdening arena problems.
Other cities mentioned include Louisville, who are apparently already ready to make a bid, as well as Pittsburgh, Omaha, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Mexico City, and to a lesser extent, Kansas City and St. Louis.
Reading through that list and there are some more questionable locations than others, such as the current professional sports desert of Omaha, Nebraska, which raises the question – why are we really considering expansion?
As recently as March, Silver quashed some of the excited speculation that expansion may be closer than it appears.
“The issue with the NBA right now is every team in essence can have a global following. The need to expand the footprint by physically putting a team in another market becomes less important from a league standpoint,” Silver said.
Here is the first stumbling block. If the league is not interested in doing something, it takes a lot of man and money power to make it happen.
That latter point particularly makes it tough, and speaks to another point Silver mentioned when he addressed expansion speculation.
“The way owners see expansion at the moment is really the equivalent of selling equity in the league. We are 30 partners right now. 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?” he added.
As Silver goes on, the only reason to do so would be if it were additive. Could a new team, in this current NBA climate, really bring something more to the league, or would it merely detract from the currently existing product?
The league has made it no secret since the SuperSonics left Seattle that they are desperate to return a team to the northwestern port city, not only a historically big basketball city, but also one of the fastest growing areas in the country.
Seattle is well and truly an NBA city. There is big support, NBA history, a committed ownership group headed by Chris R. Hansen, and most importantly, there is a tonne of money to be had.
They are without doubt additive to the league. But can the same really be said about any of the other cities mentioned?
Pittsburgh has three other highly successful and far more popular teams. Vancouver has failed as an NBA city before. A Louisville franchise would instantly be the second most popular basketball team in town.
The other cities all have massive holes in their cases.
The commissioner seemed as if he sympathised more with the protectionist perspective, adding “as successful as the league is now, we are not in the position, putting aside even profitability, where all 30 teams are a must see experience. That is not a secret.”
“There are so many great players in the league, and that’s one of the issues with expansion. Even putting aside the financial notion…the question becomes whether it is dilutive in terms of talent," Silver said.
Unfortunately for expansionists, it absolutely is.
Many claim that, talent wise, the league is in the most enviable position it’s been in a long time, perhaps ever.
At the top, this may be true. Almost every single team in the NBA today has one player that, at the very least, could be considered for the All Star teams.
But in terms of parity and pure depth of NBA level talent, the league is in a very dark place. Stunningly, perhaps as poor as it’s ever been.
Of the 50 worst NBA team records of all time, this centuries’ share is overwhelmingly dominant, as is this decade's.
Three of the top 10 worst NBA teams have all time have been witnessed in this short decade – the 2010 New Jersey Nets (12-70), the 2016 Philadelphia 76ers (10-72) and the 2012 Charlotte Bobcats (7-59), with this years’ Brooklyn Nets a good chance to join them.
Teams at the bottom of the pile are as weak as they’ve ever been, with clubs such as the Sacramento Kings (10 seasons without a postseason appearance) and Minnesota Timerwolves (12) not convincing anyone of their right to be in the league, let alone be a part of a 31 or 32 team league.
However, if 16 Wins a Ring's sources are to be believed, expansion is inevitable, and we can almost certainly expect two new teams in the league within the next decade.
Given Adam Silvers’ last public comments on the matter, something has clearly changed his mind in a big way. Perhaps something we don’t know about that makes expansion an overwhelmingly obvious option.
But as it appears on the surface, the case can also be made that it is completely unnecessary, or worse, bad, for the league.
It’s only natural the NBA and its’ fans want to see expansion – a new team being added is no doubt exciting, and always manages to shake up the natural order of things.
But in this writer’s opinion, the seemingly overwhelming urge for the league to cash in on its’ last five years of unprecedented success must be ignored.
For now, 30 teams isn’t just fine, it’s perfect.