10 Cities That Deserve the Next NBA Franchise

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterMay 9, 2020

10 Cities That Deserve the Next NBA Franchise

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    LOS ANGELES — Trying to decide which city is deserving of an NBA team is a no-win proposition. Ranking one ahead of another will at best only alienate a few hundred thousand people.

    Several cities can make the case, with Seattle as the obvious name given its rich history as home to the SuperSonics. The franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, rebranding as the Thunder. 

    Sentiment says bring the NBA back to Seattle. And while it should be a serious consideration, it's not the only city capable of making a claim.

Honorable Mentions

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    The Sacramento Kings explored moving to Virginia Beach before they made a deal to stay home with a beautiful new area, the Golden 1 Center. Otherwise, apologies to cities left off the list.

    Be it a lack of buzz in NBA circles or just blatant omission, this was never going to be comprehensive enough to include them all. Sorry, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Montreal, London and anyone else slighted.

    Each one can make a viable case.

Honorable Mentions, Part 2: Relocation

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    Another important topic would be identifying which team might be willing to relocate. The prospect of the league expanding seems slim given the uncertain state of the world amid the coronavirus pandemic. Even back in June at the NBA Finals, before the coronavirus shutdown, Silver said, "I'm sure inevitably at some point we'll turn back to expansion, but it's not on the agenda at the time."

    It just seems more likely that a team looks to move before the league goes to 31 or 32 franchises.

    Former Grizzlies beat writer Ronald Tillery reported in March that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera "inquired about moving the Griz last August."

    While that may be accurate, the Grizzlies have a complex ownership agreement that apparently would force Pera to first sell the team before moving it out of Memphis. Local interests are believed to have the right of first refusal.

    If the Orlando Magic became available, look for those with ties to the community (Shaquille O'Neal, Doc Rivers, etc.) to try to head an ownership group that wouldn't look to relocate. The Atlanta Hawks recently oversaw renovations at State Farm Arena.

    Given how devastated the restaurant and casino industries have been hit during the pandemic, Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta (owner of the Golden Nugget Casinos and Landry's various restaurant chains) could conceivably consider making a change, but Houston isn't about to lose its franchise.

    Otherwise, no teams appear likely to have a "for sale" sign up anytime soon. Relocation could be in the future, but it may be a number of years before we see a team change cities.

Las Vegas

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    The NBA is familiar with the city of Las Vegas, where the summer league has grown to include all 30 teams. The G League holds its annual winter showcase every December, with the last two taking place at the Mandalay Bay. T-Mobile Arena is practically brand-new and available; the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights have been a success; the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders are readying for a debut.

    The city isn't a huge media market, but partnerships with various casinos would give an NBA team a full house every night. While Las Vegas has been hit hard with casinos and hotels shut down, hopefully this is a short-term problem.

    Las Vegas might be the easiest answer to the relocation question. It has the building, the infrastructure and a pre-existing relationship with the league.

Mexico City

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    Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

    The NBA is looking to expand its reach, with Mexico City as the most obvious first destination.

    The NBA has played regular-season games there in recent years. In 2017, Commissioner Adam Silver called Mexico "a gateway to the rest of Latin America [which] could be potentially very important to the league. [They] clearly have a beautiful state-of-the-art arena here, and you can tell by ticket sales that we have the interest."

    The NBA's G League has already added the Capitanes, the 29th team in the league that will play next season at the Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City. The Capitanes have a five-year deal with the G League. If the experiment works, Mexico City might end up topping the list for next franchise relocation.

    The location could be a concern. Canadian teams struggled initially to attract American-born talent with the Toronto Raptors and defunct Vancouver Grizzlies. Now the Raptors are one of the top franchises in the NBA, as their recently earned Larry O'Brien trophy would attest.

    One minor issue to consider: Mexico City has an elevation of about 7,382 feet—that's 2,000 feet above the altitude in Denver (5,280) where the Nuggets hold a home-court advantage (their local network is literally named Altitude Sports and Entertainment).


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    Kentucky has some of the biggest college basketball towns in the country. Presumably, that passion would translate to an NBA team in Louisville.

    Former NBA All-Star Dan Issel is the leading force of "NBA2Lou," a group hoping to bring a team to the city. As reported by Josh Coffman of Wave 3 News in December 2018, Issel sees "the cost to get an NBA expansion team in Louisville would be around $1.4 billion," which would include the expansion fee and $400 million "to sign players, staff and [cover] other related costs."

    The city has an NBA-ready arena, the KFC Yum! Center. Some may laugh, but the New Orleans Pelicans play at the Smoothie King Center. What's in a name?


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    Basketball has grown tremendously in Canada since the days of the Vancouver Grizzlies. The Raptors, current NBA champions, are the lone team north of the border, but the country has produced several high-level players in recent years, including Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and Dwight Powell.

    The Raptors became a popular franchise throughout the Vince Carter era. Since 1998, they have been owned by Canadian company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which had a vested interest in making basketball work in the city.

    The Grizzlies just didn't have the same star power (as great a player as Shareef Abdur-Rahim was in his day), and ownership didn't have the same investment in the country of Canada. Seattle-based John McCaw Jr. eventually sold to Michael Heisley, who relocated the team to Memphis in 2001.

    Vancouver has Rogers Arena ready to go and would love another chance.

Kansas City

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    The Missouri area, notably Kansas City, has been looking to attract an NBA team.

    From a report in May 2018, Jarrett Sutton of the SEC Network cited an anonymous NBA executive. "It's a real thing I've heard from multiple sources,' the executive said. 'Just a matter of time. Seattle and KC to me are the most valuable markets for the league expansion when it makes sense."

    Before the Kings played in Sacramento, they were the Kansas City Kings until 1985. The city houses the Royals (MLB) and Chiefs (NFL). Sprint Center opened in 2007 and has hosted college basketball. It's owned by the city but run by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which has had a long relationship with the NBA.

Anaheim/San Diego/Oakland/San Jose

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    These four cities all have proximity issues with existing franchises. California already has four, more than any other state. Anaheim is believed to be off the list as part of Steve Ballmer's deal in purchasing the Los Angeles Clippers (also, Honda Center isn't an NBA-class arena).

    The Golden State Warriors recently relocated from Oakland to San Francisco, and while sentimentally bringing a team back to the city may sound nice, Oracle Arena has aged since its last major renovation in 1997. San Jose is a large nearby city in the heart of Silicon Valley.

    But just as the Los Angeles metropolitan area is Laker country (with the Clippers trying to earn their place, which will eventually be in Inglewood), Northern California is all about the Warriors.

    San Diego has long been reluctant to put public resources into housing a sports team (in large part why it recently lost the Chargers), and while the city used to house the Clippers and Rockets, it's within the Lakers' domain.


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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Last but not least, Seattle. The New Arena, formerly KeyArena, is undergoing redevelopment. Per Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times in April 2019, the project's costs will "exceed $900 million," and the arena won't reopen until "at least June 1, 2021."

    Part of the reason why the Sonics left was the inability to fund an NBA-quality arena. More than a decade later, that issue is nearly resolved. It's unclear whether the city can build an L.A. Live-like environment around the arena, but Seattle has significant goodwill in NBA circles given its history.

    Who wouldn't want the SuperSonics back in the NBA?

    The obvious answer would be the competing cities looking to get a team ahead of Seattle.

    One last note, a Seattle team would certainly join the Northwest Division, but why are the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder in the Northwest? Minnesota is certainly north but not west. Oklahoma City is neither north nor west unless that line of designation is arbitrarily the Mississippi River. But then the Memphis Grizzlies are on the eastern bank of the river and reside in the Southwest Division of the NBA.


    Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.