expansion

How to Make Future NBA Expansion Work

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Earlier this season, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver discussed possible expansion but noted serious talks not happening until a new media rights deal is signed. With reports coming out about discussion for a new media rights deal (including NBC’s potential $2.5 billion bid for NBA rights), expansion may be right around the corner. Since 1988, the NBA has added seven teams to the league including the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies (now in Memphis), and Charlotte Bobcats (following the Hornets relocation to New Orleans in 2002). Many of those teams struggled early on, but with the league today, expansion teams could compete right away. For expansion to work though, there are several things the NBA must do to expand the right way.

 

Focus on Adding Expansion Teams in the Western Conference

 

Of the two conferences in the NBA, the Western Conference has been the more stacked conference. The Western Conference has been more stacked for years in terms of star power. This season, the Western Conference had five teams with 50 or more wins in comparison to two teams in the East. The eighth-seed Miami Heat finished with a record of 46-36 while the Golden State Warriors finished with the same record, but were 10th, in the West. By adding another team or two to the West via expansion, more competition would be created in the conference to begin leveling the standings in the West. Of the cities mentioned when discussing, many would be in the West, with Seattle and Las Vegas being brought up the most, in addition to Mexico City. 

 

Move a Team to the Eastern Conference

 

When NBA expansion happens, it’s likely that two teams would be joining the league, in the Western Conference. Seattle has been one of the cities most linked to expansion and there have been multiple reports in recent years about LeBron wanting to own a team in Las Vegas after he retires. With two teams likely joining the West, the two conferences would be unbalanced with 17 teams in the West and 15 in the East. To create balance with the conferences once more, it would be necessary that a team from the West move over to the East. Realistically, there are three teams that would make sense moving over to the East: the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the New Orleans Pelicans. 

 

Of the three teams, Memphis is the team furthest East in Tennessee. Moving one of those teams would easily reduce travel for them with most of their games being against East teams instead of West teams. With the West being the more stacked conference of the two, moving Memphis, Minnesota, or New Orleans would add another strong team to a top-heavy Eastern Conference. If one of those teams moved over to the East, they could be strong enough to be a legitimate contender in the conference right away.

 

Give Seattle an Expansion Team

 

One of the biggest things NBA fans have been asking for over the last 15 years is the return of the Seattle SuperSonics or another team in Seattle. Following the team’s move from Seattle to Oklahoma City and rebranding to the Oklahoma City Thunder, many have believed Seattle was forgotten by the league. While there have been efforts to revive the franchise and relocate other teams to Seattle, the city has remained without a team. When discussing expansion previously, Commissioner Silver mentioned Seattle as a possible expansion team, along with Las Vegas, Vancouver, and Mexico City. 

 

When asked about a potential Seattle return and if he would want to be involved with the team, former Sonic, and current Phoenix Suns superstar Kevin Durant had the following to say:

 

Without a doubt, without a doubt. I feel like that franchise, for one, is an iconic brand within the NBA. I feel like that market is a basketball market that needs the influence of an NBA team in that city.” 

 

When expansion comes, Seattle should be the first city that gets a team, not because the city feels they are owed a team, but because of the legacy Seattle basketball has in the NBA.

 

Host an NBA Expansion Draft with a Set Number of Protected Players

 

When the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves joined the league in 1989, the NBA held their last expansion draft to date. When the expansion draft was held, the 23 teams at the time were able to protect eight players on their roster, leaving the remaining players available to be drafted. If the NBA added two teams in an expansion, an expansion draft would be the best way to get the newly established teams started. Compared to 1989, teams in 2024 are much more stacked in comparison. In a potential expansion draft, lowering the number of protected players to 5-6 would allow the new teams to draft role players from the bench who are starter-worthy. The main goal of the expansion draft would be to spread the pool of talent across the league, with several teams having stacked rosters. 

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