With the relocation of the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City there has been a great deal of speculation as to what other NBA cities might be at risk. I have tried to lay out in this article a few facts about the supposedly “at risk” teams.
Milwaukee Bucks – Due to poor performance and more interesting local teams (Packers and Brewers) this team keeps coming up on message boards. However, the chances of the Bucks moving are extremely low.
The Bucks are owned by U.S. Senator Herb Kohl. (Any guess to which state Senator Kohl represents?) The idea of a senator selling his home team is somewhat fanciful.
Also, maybe you have shopped at one of Senator Kohl's stores...I'm sure you can guess which ones are his. I doubt the senator is in need of a quick buck, nor do I believe he would relocate with his team to another state.
The Los Angeles Clippers - Anaheim is a bit of a stretch as long as Donald Sterling owns this team. However, if this team was ever sold it could be a possibility since it plays second fiddle in both its market and its home arena.
The Sacramento (Traveling) Kings - Who knows? They play in arguably the worst arena in the NBA, but city and county leaders are working on building a new arena.
That said the Kings have called five cities home since 1957 (Rochester, Cincinnati, Kansas City/Omaha, Kansas City, Sacramento). More recently the NBA has stepped in to help with negotiations and the team is hoping to build a new arena as part of overall improvements to Cal Expo (site of California’s State Fair). In the last 20 years the Kings have become a fixture of this fast growing city, which overall has shown this team great support.
The Orlando Magic – This team was somewhat threatening relocation, but within the last year the ownership group has negotiated a new $500 million arena project with the city of Orlando. The team will contribute more than $100 million to the project, which will seat more than 18,500 fans.
The New Jersey Nets - Plan to relocate to a new arena in Brooklyn. However, despite an obvious name change (Brooklyn or New York) this isn’t much of a move. If the arena deal falls through they will probably stay where they are or join the New Jersey Devils in their new arena.
The Minnesota Timberwolves – Often discussed but seldom with authority. The team seems fairly content where they are.
Now the two most endangered teams in the NBA.
The Memphis Grizzlies – The Grizzlies play in a brand new, state of the art arena that was built in 2004 to help lure the NBA franchise from Vancouver. Despite having an NBA team in an extremely strong basketball market, the arena is normally empty on nights when the Grizzlies play, but standing room only when the Memphis Tigers play.
Personally I blame this on the Grizzlies poor play when compared to the explosive play of the Tigers. In 2005 the Grizzlies began a 20-year lease at the FedEx Forum. I doubt any owner is going to want to break a lease with more than 15 years left.
This would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Besides, left alone, if the Grizzlies can place a halfway decent team on the court I believe the situation will improve. Memphis, after all, is a proven basketball town with no other major league sports to compete with.
In the 2004-2005 season they averaged 16,862, a sustainable number, with one of the best products in the franchises existence. So if given time I think this could work out, if the city fails to enforce its lease than they could be at risk.
The New Orleans Hornets – They started in Charlotte, moved to New Orleans, ran for cover in Oklahoma City, and are now back in the Crescent City. Despite all of this moving the Hornets have always been a quality team.
Last year was no fluke. It also has one of the league's most exciting young groups of players. However, from the beginning, the team has not faired well in New Orleans.
The team owner is a public relations nightmare and openly flirted with relocation to Oklahoma City before New Orleans lassoed him back in with their arena lease. The Hornets recently extended this leases with New Orleans Arena by a few years, but they also inserted several opt-out clauses related to attendance benchmarks. Thus, turning the lease into Swiss cheese.
Despite this threat and the amazing success of the Hornets last spring, New Orleans only managed to put 14,181 fans in the stands. Granted last season was a weak attendance year for the NBA as a whole—this number is simply inexcusable for a championship caliber team.
Following Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans metro, already small, lost nearly 300,000 people to relocation and it is now a little more than one million strong. Between rebuilding expenses and the NFL Saints, the Hornets might just be too much for this city to handle right now.
With all that said, I personally hate the relocation of teams and I wish everyone the best of luck. Owners shouldn’t be able to hold cities hostage with arena demands, but in the end, this is a business that we have all bought into. Of course there is a certain amount of irony when it comes to Memphis (lured Vancouver away) and New Orleans (lured Charlotte away).
Today, there are several serious cities that may be on the hunt for an NBA franchise and they are willing to compete for one. Will Seattle build a new arena? Will Kansas City fill their shinny new, downtown arena? Will Las Vegas end NBA sports betting? Only time will tell.