Can an NBA Franchise Work in Seattle This Time?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 21, 2013

DENVER, CO - APRIL 23:  Seattle Sonics fans display signs as the support the Denver Nuggets against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2011 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Marc Stein of ESPN reported that the Sacramento Kings have been sold to a Seattle-based group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. The Seattle group should receive a 65 percent stake in a team that went for the staggering final price of $525 million.

For the sale to be official, the NBA needs to approve it. When it comes to team relocation, such approval seems to be a mere formality.

When looking towards the future of a Sonics sequel in Seattle, it's important to note just how high the Kings' price was. The sale did not mean that the Kings were worth $525 million; it meant that a team in Seattle was worth that figure.

Seattle represented a gaping hole in the NBA franchises market, one that just made the Maloofs (who shall retain a small piece of this team) a whole lot of money. This is a viable, populous, wealthy region, primed for another NBA team.

I am optimistic about Seattle's basketball future, in part because much has changed since Starbucks tycoon Howard Schultz botched his ownership of the team. My Seattle optimism is actually boosted by the lack of Schultz's involvement this time around.

For a shorthand on his NBA incompetence, he sold the Seattle Sonics for $350 million back in 2006, while absorbing debt obligations. In 2013, the rights to move a team to Seattle went for just $525 million.

Howard Schultz mismanaged his political push for a better arena by arrogantly making demands of Seattle's politicians (via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer). In contrast, prospective Sonics owner Chris Hansen has already secured a deal for a new basketball and hockey arena in Seattle.

Chris Hansen is obviously biased to believe in Chris Hansen, but he has a fair point that, unlike Howard Schultz, his ownership group should be relatively streamlined (via the Seattle Times). Schultz had to wrangle 57 minority owners. Though Hansen will probably have to suffer some Maloof input, his task will be nowhere near as tough.

In the background, certain economic factors are making sports team ownership an increasingly safer bet. The propensity for people to DVR everything that isn't sports has led to a hotter sports TV rights market.

Television networks are paying leagues increasingly staggering sums (as I've detailed before), and the NBA is likely to wrangle a huge national TV deal from its partners in 2016. Not only are team owners likely to receive a huge payday from that, they'll reap even more of it, thanks to a 2011 lockout that swung ownership's way.

So, the Sonics are set to play in a modern facility, in a prosperous region, before a formerly rabid fanbase, in a great era for sports owners. Obviously, much can go wrong between now and whenever a team actually plays in that stadium, but this is a far better situation than Howard Schultz attempting to flee Key Arena while angering every politician in town.

Besides having to compete with other sports teams in the area,  the job of creating a successful Seattle basketball team doesn't seem daunting. It is possible that this may go uncomfortably, like the reintegration of the Browns into Cleveland life.

Considering how much Seattle residents disliked Schultz's stewardship, I believe that the sentiment will mostly be supportive of Chris Hansen and his mission. He may not have Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in their primes, but Hansen's Sonics should be in fantastic shape going forward.