HOUSTON – Resolving the Sacramento-Seattle debate was never going to be as simple as rewarding both cities with teams, a reality commissioner David Stern and successor/deputy commissioner Adam Silver no doubt will underline during All-Star weekend here. In fact, Stern already has.
The idea has gained public momentum the last several weeks as a win-win outcome: Sacramento gets to keep the Kings with new ownership, the dream ending there, while Seattle gets an expansion franchise, generally the preferred route over inheriting a team with a history elsewhere. Plus, Seattle, sympathetic to the emotional aspects after feeling the pain of the SuperSonics moving to Oklahoma City, doesn’t have to victimize someone else to get back into the NBA. Everyone goes home happy.
It just may not be realistic. Owners around the league who will decide the fate of the sale of the Kings to a Seattle-based group, pending legal challenges from minority shareholders who claim a right of first refusal on any purchases, will clearly be intrigued by the idea of an expansion fee. Bob Johnson and the group that started the Bobcats in Charlotte, for example, paid $300 million, and that was in 2004.
But owners will be weighing that against the revenue that will be lost by having to cut a 31st team into future money, a significant setback that current organizations will project over the next five or 10 years. TV money. Luxury-tax money. Even if an expansion franchise is transitioned into a full share – a certain percentage the first year, an increase the next, etc. – that’s still a big hit over time.
(And that doesn’t even get into concerns over watering down the talent level. That will be more of an issue for fans.)
When Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle asked Stern, as part of a wide-ranging interview in advance of All-Star weekend about the possibility of Sacramento without a team, the commissioner replied, “I’m going to claim executive privilege on that one. The idea of leaving Sacramento is not a good one. The idea of going back to Seattle is a good idea. We’ll have to see how that plays out.” Pressed on expansion, though, Stern said:
“I haven’t heard anything about expansion from our owners. They have discussed contraction in conjunction with the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. I don’t think (expansion) is an option. Right now, we have no approved plan for an arena in Seattle. We have a very good potential ownership group and set of plans, but there’s a lot of work to be done. I keep a little green book with a list of all the cities interested in NBA teams and could respond pretty quickly. There’s all kinds of stuff going on in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Louisville, Virginia Beach, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Mexico City, Kansas City.”
I don’t think (expansion) is an option.
This is obviously in the moment, with no way of knowing what the next three or five years would bring. Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has said he intends to have a new entertainment complex built with or without the NBA as an anchor tenant, and a downtown arena moving forward would obviously keep expansion hopes alive. But Johnson has also received a clear message from Stern in the past that chances are very slim the small-market city would get a replacement team in the future. Besides, if the league was going to add a 31st team, it would be backward to move an established franchise from Sacramento to Seattle only to put a new organization in Sacramento in a few years.