The New Orleans Hornets are a central example of what is wrong with the NBA as a business as the league enters the 2011 (to 2012?) lockout. The Hornets do contend for the playoffs annually and feature one of the league's premier players in Chris Paul. Yet the team fails to be financially viable or draw fans on a consistent basis.
The NBA has been unable to find a new local ownership that would keep the team in New Orleans. Even post-Katrina sympathizers are out of arguments for the Hornets as the local community has been able to rally around and support the Saints. And this is a market that has already seen one NBA franchise, the Jazz, come and go.
While relocation is never welcomed in a sport, all indications point towards the Hornets needing to leave New Orleans for the health of their franchise and for the NBA. Here are five cities that could become the new home of the Hornets.
Could the greater Los Angeles area support a third NBA franchise? Yes.
Though the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers already are home teams in Anaheim, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area has a population of over 12 million people. A third local NBA franchise would give you a ratio of four million people per team, still higher than other NBA markets like San Antonio and Phoenix.
Additionally, an ownership group from Anaheim almost finalized purchasing the Sacramento Kings in order to move that franchise from NorCal to SoCal. The Honda Center, home to the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks is an NBA-ready facility. Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to start their own cable network in the next year or so, meaning that an Anaheim franchise could get a lucrative cable contract from the Lakers' old cable home, Fox Sports West.
The home of the Royals and Chiefs already has one advantage to many competing markets: the state-of-the-art Sprint Center, built in 2007. This advantage cannot be understated as the lack of this type of venue was the primary reason why the SuperSonics left Seattle. The Sprint Center could make a Kansas City NBA franchise financially strong.
For the naysayers who view Kansas City as a town looking only to support college basketball, I offer Oklahoma City and the Thunder as an example of why KC can work.
Though many thought that basketball fans in Oklahoma City would care for the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State basketball more than any professional team, the Thunder brought with them a talented young team headlined by superstar Kevin Durant. Chris Paul could similarly make a Kansas City NBA team not only relevant but exceedingly popular.
Las Vegas has long been the no man’s land for professional sports teams. The city’s obvious ties to gambling have kept the four major sports from positioning franchises in Las Vegas. Further, Las Vegas’ hedonistic reputation would weigh heavy on the NBA and the image problem the league fights constantly.
The Association, though, has tested the proverbial waters of the Vegas Resort Pool in the past and could now be primed to dive into Las Vegas with the Hornets franchise. The NBA hosted its All-Star Game in Las Vegas in 2007 and USA Basketball has used the city several times in recent years for tournaments, training camps and exhibitions.
No NBA-ready facility exists yet in Las Vegas but rest assured that if the NBA green lit any relocation to the city, ownership groups would fight for the rights of the Hornets franchise. After all, a Las Vegas NBA team would be the only big four professional sports franchise in the city and if any city understands the value in being the only game in town, it's Las Vegas.
Many people will view the failure of the Vancouver Grizzlies as a reason why the NBA should never venture back to Vancouver. NBA insiders, though, acknowledge that the Grizzlies were a terribly run franchise during a period of time when the Canadian dollar was worth approximately $0.122 American (OK, an exaggeration, but the mid-'90s exchange rate was problematic for Canadian teams).
These days, however, Vancouver is a world-class city with a local economy healthier than many American cities (New Orleans, for one) and a vibrant sports culture. Rogers Arena, once home to the Grizzlies (and known at that time as General Motors Place), is a capable building for an NBA team, especially after improvements made for the 2010 Winter Olympics, hosted in Vancouver. Perhaps, the Hornets could make Vancouver, the World’s Most Livable City according to The Economist, their new home.
With over 20 million people in greater-Mexico City and a closer-than-you-think proximity to NBA cities like Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles, a relocation south of the border is more viable than most NBA fans probably believe. The NBA has also held preseason games in Mexico City and has made significant attempts to capture Latin American fans through more Spanish language promotions and events.
The NBA has always been at the forefront of sports globalization. Thus, becoming the first of the big four American sports leagues to venture into Mexico would seem logical.