Bleacher Report's NBA Expansion Plan

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Bleacher Report's NBA Expansion Plan
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Seattle isn't getting Kevin Durant back, but it is getting a team.

With Kevin Johnson leading a charge to keep the Sacramento Kings in their current location, we might not get to see basketball in Seattle anytime soon. Or anywhere else for that matter, which is exactly why we need to put together Bleacher Report's official NBA expansion plan.

What's better than basketball? More basketball!

Remember, for every team that changes locations or stays put, there's a disappointed group of people. If the Kings remain in California, Seattle will be upset. Conversely, a move to the rainier of the two cities would leave Sacramento residents unhappy.

No matter what happens, someone has to lose.

Or do they?

Let's appease a whole lot more people across the landscape of basketball fans by adding six more teams to the Association.

Please note that I'm not particularly worried about the financial aspect of this expansion. That's a concern for another time and place, as NBA teams are a luxury item. Among the multimillionaires and billionaires who purchase franchises, these commodities are viewed more as status symbols and objects of pleasure than as investments. 

As the saying goes, when there's a will, there's a way. 

For the sake of the interesting hypothetical expansion scenario, let's just assume that the money works out in the long run. Even if it's ultimately a faulty assumption, just allow it to fly here. 

This article deals solely with how the NBA would be set up with 36 teams in the fold. We're going to start with the six added teams, then run through the new division/conference/playoff formats and how the rosters would be formed. 

 

New Teams (presented from West to East)

The following six teams would be the new additions to the league. I strongly recommend that you leave your own suggestions for the nicknames in the comment section. Have fun with it, but try to be sensible. 

 

Seattle SuperSonics

Easily the most logical addition to the league, the Seattle SuperSonics don't need a new, creative name. Assuming that they can regain the rights to the logo, uniforms and nickname that were once so popular in the Pacific Northwest, there's no reason for change. 

Ever since the Clay Bennett situation led to Seattle losing its professional basketball squad and the Oklahoma City Thunder became a reality, there have been rumors about an eventual return. 

Let's make it happen. 

There's nothing particularly complicated about this one. 

 

Las Vegas Flush

David Becker/Getty Images
Las Vegas has gotten to watch Team USA exhibitions, but how about a real team?

There are some concerns about whether or not Las Vegas' population could support a team, but not because of the number of residents. Many people move to Vegas after establishing rooting interests elsewhere, so it's questionable as to whether or not the hometown loyalties would trump the local ones.

However, the thought of an NBA team in Vegas is simply too great to pass up. 

Can you imagine the spectacle? How much of a home-court advantage would the Flush gain from the Vegas Strip? 

Credit for this team name has to go to my dad. I was discussing the expansion topic with him and after running through the obvious choices (Gamblers, Dealers, etc.), he blurted out "Flush." 

It doesn't get any better than that. 

 

Albuquerque Oaks

This was the final team added, and it was quite a tough decision to make. Columbus, Louisville, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and even Mexico City were all considered here, but Albuquerque makes the most sense. 

The Southwest is crowded already, but with a growing population that has already topped half a million, New Mexico's largest city makes logical sense. After all, the fanbase would extend throughout the previously NBA-less state, and El Paso, Texas would likely produce a number of supporters as well. 

Louisville in particular was a strong contender for this spot, but Albuquerque also allows for a more sensible split of divisions, one that we'll get to later. 

As for the team name, the Oaks beat out other candidates like the Balloons. It's hard to imagine a team being taken seriously with a nickname like the latter one, but the Oaks would bring about feelings of sturdiness. 

The city's name stems from the Latin phrase "alba quercus," which translates as "white oak." 

 

St. Louis Gatekeepers

What else would we name this team after other than the Gateway Arch? 

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
St. Louis' team has to be named after the Gateway Arch in some fashion.

It's the enduring symbol of this midwest city, and the Arches just sound too cliche. The Gatekeepers give the team a defensive feel, almost like the players are required to play lockdown defense. 

Based on the layout of the 30 current teams in the NBA, the St. Louis Gatekeepers would quickly develop a huge following. They'd be able to capitalize on the lack of teams in Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, states whose allegiances are currently divided up between the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets. 

 

Virginia Tides

Virginia Beach wasn't able to make a strong enough play for the Sacramento Kings earlier in the year, but that doesn't mean they're completely done in their pursuit of a professional basketball franchise.

In fact, we're gifting them one here. It'll be a pretty mediocre squad at first, but even losing 82 games (not that the Virginia Tides would) is better than not playing any games.

The name here is my second favorite of the six new additions. We're putting this team right on the Eastern Seaboard, so it almost has to contain some reference to water.

There's no color in front of the nickname here (see "Alabama Crimson Tide" for the opposite example), but it's still a strong name.  

 

Montreal Royals

The Toronto Raptors' fans are absolutely fantastic, so even though the Vancouver Grizzlies didn't work out so well, let's give Canada another chance.

Vancouver and Montreal are the only two logical options, simply because of travel. While cities like Calgary and Edmonton might be able to support an NBA franchise, they're located too far from the majority of the established teams. The travel schedule for teams in their division would be insane. 

Montreal is in much closer proximity to a relatively large number of squads. 

So, why the Royals? 

The city is named after the three-peaked hill right in the center of the city: Mount Royal. 

This may be confusing to fans at first as they struggle to figure out why the Kansas City Royals are suddenly playing basketball, but everyone will make sense of the situation before too long. 


Division Realignment

The divisions we currently have in the Association aren't going to work very well given the six new additions.

Therefore, we're going to completely reformat them, putting together six divisions with six teams apiece. Rather than worry about historical precedent, these divisions are going to be based solely on geographical location.

Here's how they'd be broken down:

Pacific Southwest Lakes Central Northeast Atlantic
Los Angeles Clippers

Las Vegas
Flush

Milwaukee
Bucks
St. Louis Gatekeepers Boston Celtics Charlotte Bobcats
Sacramento Kings Utah
Jazz
Chicago
Bulls
Memphis Grizzlies New York Knicks Atlanta
Hawks
Los Angeles Lakers Denver
Nuggets
Cleveland Cavaliers Dallas Mavericks Brooklyn Nets Miami
Heat
Seattle SuperSonics Albuquerque Oaks Indiana
Pacers
New Orleans Pelicans Toronto Raptors Orlando
Magic
Portland Trail Blazers Phoenix
Suns
Detroit
Pistons
Houston Rockets Montreal Royals Virginia
Tides
Golden State Warriors Oklahoma City Thunder Minnesota Timberwolves San Antonio Spurs Philadelphia 76ers Washington Wizards

Which division seems strongest?

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With these new divisions, I'm not going to bother splitting the 36 teams up into two distinct conferences. The only conference remaining is just the NBA. 

That way we don't have to worry about parity between the two. Everyone is on more level ground, although some divisions are still inevitably going to be weaker than the others. 


Playoff Format

Even with six more teams in the fold, there's no reason to increase the number of squads that advance to the postseason. 

Sixteen is still the magic number, but we're going to arrive at that number in a slightly different fashion. 

Instead of guaranteeing top spots to each division, the records will be all that matters. If you win your division, but you finish ninth overall, sorry, but you aren't getting home-court advantage in the postseason. 

The No. 1 seed will be the team with the best overall record, and so on from there. The top 16 records advance, even if a division is left out entirely. 

That's a highly unlikely scenario, though. 

 

Expansion Draft

This is going to be a much bigger expansion draft than normal, but that's a necessity. It will still proceed in the same fashion as the expansion drafts of the past, with one slight difference. 

Each of the 30 current franchises will be given the ability to "protect" eight of their players. Those eight are guaranteed to stay on the roster, but the unprotected players will all be eligible to be swiped away by one of the six new squads. 

This isn't much of a blow to the bottom-feeeders of the Association, but it would be painful for a deep team like the Denver Nuggets. Assuming they protected Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Evan Fournier and Kosta Koufos, the Nuggets could still lose someone like Andre Miller, Corey Brewer or Anthony Randolph. 

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Don't worry, Denver. You won't be losing the Manimal.

Valuable players would be out there for the expansion teams, but they'd still be relatively scarce. As is always the case with new additions to professional leagues, it would take some time and savvy roster management to become competitive. 

After players have been protected, we'd have a lottery, where every expansion team has even odds to land the No. 1 pick. With an order determined, the draft would proceed in serpentine fashion. That's the biggest difference between this draft and the expansion selections of the past.

By doing so, the unlucky team picking at No. 6 would also get the best player of the second round, and things would be evened out a bit.

A standard format is fine when only two teams are being added, because there's a minute difference in value between consecutive picks, but the value gap is too large when six teams are in the mix.  


Rosters

Now, you might be wondering how I'm planning on avoiding too much talent dilution. Adding in six more rosters means that significantly more guys are going to be playing in the Association, and that lowers the overall level of play. 

To counter that problem, we're going to drop the number of players a team can control from 15 to 13. This has two main benefits. 

First, it only makes for a slight increase in the overall number of NBA players. With 30 teams carrying 15 players each, there are 450 pros playing at the sport's highest level at any given point. Dropping the roster size to 13 and upping the number of teams to 36 increases the number of players to 468.

Are you for or against this NBA expansion?

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That's not exactly an unreasonable increase.

Secondly, this roster shrinkage would place more of an emphasis on the D-League. Perhaps it could eventually become similar to the MLB's minor leagues, where players have the opportunity to prove themselves and eventually make it to the show.

Right now, it's rare for a D-Leaguer to become a prominent player. What if the lesser teams were actually used as training grounds?

This could add a whole new level of intrigue to the NBA.

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