On one hand, the emergence of the Oklahoma City Thunder counts as an undeniable victory for the small-market teams of the league, a reminder that the Los Angeles Lakers aren't the only game in town.
On the other hand, the franchise's success starkly symbolizes the difficulty with keeping a team where it belongs—a fact of NBA life with which Seattle fans are all too familiar.
As he rides off into the sunset with most bidding him good riddance, commissioner David Stern has an opportunity to right a few of the league's wrongs. None is more pressing than returning a club to Seattle, and Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the retiring Commish will attempt to do just that:
Between now and his departure, Stern is determined to get a franchise back into Seattle, league sources said. He has become a strong ally of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's group to bring back the NBA there. Ballmer's group has been trying to get the Maloof family to sell the Sacramento Kings, so that the franchise can eventually play in a new arena in Seattle.
Such a crowning achievement wouldn't entirely make amends for Stern's transgressions, at least not according to his detractors.
But it would certainly make it a bit easier for history to judge his tenure more kindly.
You might not like the way he went about doing things—so the narrative will go—but at least he got things done. His was a career defined by unyielding pragmatism, a celebration of ends justifying means.
If there's really something to that caricature, don't bet against this guy bringing a franchise back to Seattle.
He'll make it happen one way or the other.
After all, this isn't just about sentimentality. Seattle is one of the nation's largest media markets, a city with passionate basketball fans starving for an organization to take on that Sonics mantle. This is as much about good business as it is doing the right thing.
No surprises there.
Stern wouldn't have it any other way. For all there isn't to like, his business acumen has been beyond reproach.
Yes, the NBA would have experienced significant growth over the last two decades regardless of who was at the helm. Nevertheless, Stern has remained a masterful marketeer, selling the NBA around the globe with evangelical fervor. He put his league in a position to remain successful for a long time to come.
There are just a few loose ends at the moment, with the situations in Seattle and Sacramento among them.
According to The Sacramento Bee's Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak, Stern has expressed an intent to keep the Kings in place, but it would be shocking for the party line to suggest otherwise. So long as there are Kings tickets and merchandise for sale, you probably won't hear much about a change of scenery.
Sacramento fans are already on edge, and they won't be any happier upon realizing their team is still in the nascent stages of rebuilding.
It's a familiar tune, one Seattle can recite from memory. The Kings will move to greener pastures just as all that young talent begins to bloom—only fitting for the Pacific Northwest to be on the receiving end of such a gift this time.
What better way for Stern to end his career than with a story replete with clichés about things coming full circle and all being well that ends well?
If the NBA's Salesman-in-Chief understands anything, it's spin, the kind of spin that can make a career look good.
Or at least look a little bit better.