10 Potential Cities for NBA Relocation or Expansion

Charles Bennett@chasbennettonbrSenior Analyst ISeptember 14, 2011

10 Potential Cities for NBA Relocation or Expansion

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    The Sacramento Kings are on the brink of moving.  The New Orleans Hornets may be next.  If the rumors of small- and medium-sized market teams losing cash are to be believed, several other franchises could be behind them. 

    Even though contraction has been mentioned, there is talk of expansion (perhaps a whole division) outside of the States.  Keeping that in mind, here are 10 places the Kings, Hornets or another franchise could end up in the near future.  

    Third in a series following NHL and NFL relocation.

1. Kansas City, Missouri

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    Not really any doubt in my mind about this one. 

    One of the larger markets without a team.  Nowhere near any existing team (closest ones are in Oklahoma City, Chicago, Memphis and Denver).  Brand-new arena, the Sprint Center, that has hosted Big 12 and NCAA tournament basketball.  Is in a portion of the Midwest that cares deeply about basketball (more Final Fours than anywhere else, home to the College Basketball Hall of Fame, less than an hour away from Lawrence). 

    Only drawback is competition for fans with other sports (two other pro teams in KC, and strong followings for KU and MU).     

2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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    Like Kansas City, Pittsburgh also has a shiny new arena, the Consol Energy Center.  It was rumored for a short time that the Pistons were moving to Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh was one of the cities mentioned by the tight-lipped Angel of Stern as a possible relocation site.

    Pittsburgh has some of the best fans in the nation, and a basketball tradition with Pitt and Duquesne.  If the NBA wants to put another team in the Northeast or Eastern Midwest, Pittsburgh seems like the best bet.  The one drawback is the size of the Pittsburgh market...the market is in decline, and Pittsburgh would be the smallest market with all big four teams. 

    But in an era when one-team markets don't seem to be where it's at, a fourth Pittsburgh team may be where the NBA goes. 

3. Seattle, Washington

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    Seattle definitely has the most people who want a team of any city on this list.  It also is the biggest American market without a team. 

    However, if Seattle wants to have a second incarnation of the Sonics, ownership and the Angel of Stern believe the KeyArena may have to be replaced.  Never mind that it was renovated only 16 years ago, and that the Storm and Seattle University play here without any trouble—Clayton Bennett said it and Stern believed it.  KeyArena is a little too small for current NBA standards. 

    Another question is whether the Pacific Northwest can again support two teams (the answer is probably yes, but on the other hand, there are more people in the Los Angeles metro area than all of the Northwest and a lot of empty seats at Clippers games).  

4. Anaheim, California

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    In a county of three million.  Has an NBA-ready arena in the Honda Center.  The Sacramento Kings almost moved here this season, but didn't (not that it will matter; there won't be much of a season).  They may try to move here again next season.  Anaheim was also on the short list of places the Grizzlies considered before they settled on Memphis.

    The biggest roadblock to an Anaheim team is that it would be a third team in the Los Angeles market.  The Clippers can't fill their arena as is, and Lakers ownership has made it clear that they're going to call in every favor they have to block a move by the Kings to Anaheim. And remember, only New York hockey is a three-team market at the present (and that's working splendidly for the Islanders).

    Some have mentioned that the Clippers might again play games in Anaheim (as they did occasionally from 1994-99), but seeing as the Staples Center is a much better venue than the Honda Center, this would seem unlikely.  Anaheim's window may be running out, as the Honda Center, while still a good venue, is now 18 years old.

5. San Jose, California

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    The Warriors played in San Jose for a season.  Honestly, I'm not exactly sure why they left.

    HP Pavilion (formerly the San Jose Arena) has also hosted several NCAA tournament games, and is renowned enough to be booked more than all but three other arenas in the entire world.  It's a much better venue in a much better place than Oracle Arena, even after the arena's renovation.  If the Warriors give up on Oakland, they could be back down here fairly easily.

    And don't rule out San Jose as a potential site for the Kings.  San Jose was the second-most mentioned place for them to move to, even though it appears that the Warriors ownership would try to block a move (then again, the same thing was said about Anaheim and the Lakers/Clippers ownership). 

    Northern California has had two NBA teams for 26 years now; the Bay Area alone has two teams each in baseball and football.  Either in Sacramento or San Jose, the Kings would still be the stepchild in Northern California.

6. St. Louis, Missouri

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    Midwestern traditional basketball cities without NBA teams, Take Two.  St. Louis is the third-largest metro area without an NBA team, after Seattle and San Diego.  As Kansas City is the traditional seat of Big Eight basketball, so too is St. Louis with the Missouri Valley Conference.  Both the Scottrade Center (the more likely site) and the Edward Jones Dome have hosted NCAA tournament games. 

    However, St. Louis faces problems that KC doesn't.  St. Louis has the dubious distinction of having lost three professional basketball franchises—two NBA teams and an ABA team (a distinction it shares only with San Diego and Baltimore).  Both Scottrade and the Dome are at least 16 years old.  St. Louis is much closer to existing markets in Memphis and Chicago.  It would also seem likely that St. Louis couldn't get an NBA team if Kansas City is awarded one.

7. Las Vegas, Nevada

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    Whenever you mention expansion or relocation, somebody points out that Las Vegas is the biggest city without pro sports.  Las Vegas is the only non-NBA to host an NBA All-Star Game, and the Utah Jazz have played home games in Vegas (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the highest career scorer in Vegas, playing against Karl Malone, who is now the second-highest career scorer). 

    But the Kings (who considered it) or Hornets moving to Vegas has a host of problems.  Las Vegas is still not that big a market, and has stagnated in wake of the foreclosure crisis. 

    Can Las Vegas build a new arena if need be? Probably.  Will it fill it?  Probably. Will sports betting scandals keep the NBA out of Vegas? Probably.

8. Louisville, Kentucky

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    Now that we have completed our stay in large- and medium-sized markets, here are a couple of small-market cities for your viewing pleasure.

    Louisville just got a new arena, KFC Yum Center, which is located right downtown, seats 22,000 and has the perfect name for a reincarnation of the Colonels.   Kentucky is college basketball country, with a big-time school in Louisville and another one in Lexington.  CBS Sports even reported that Louisville was a possible Kings landing site, though that does not appear to have the credibility of a Anaheim, San Jose or Vegas move.

    There are two problems with Louisville as a future home of an NBA team.  One is that Louisville is a fairly small market.  Small one-team markets in the NBA (and the NFL and American NHL teams) are not doing so hot as of late; some of the NBA's current ones are losing cash while claiming to be at a competitive disadvantage. 

    Besides market size, proximity to other teams is a question.  Though there are not teams in Cincinnati or Nashville (as there are in the NFL), there is a team in Indianapolis that could make trouble if a team decides to move to Kentucky.

9. Omaha, Nebraska

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    Yes, you heard me right.  OMAHA.  The Qwest Center Omaha is only eight years old and has been renovated twice, making it one of the most modern large arenas in the Midwest.  The arena seats 17,560, which is slightly smaller than many NBA arenas, but is about the limit at which people can watch a game comfortably.

    In terms of market, yes, Omaha is a smaller city, but has no other major sports teams to compete with it...the closest pro sports are in Kansas City and the closest NBA teams are in Denver and Minneapolis (a move by a team to Omaha would almost certainly be contingent on a team NOT being in Kansas City). 

    The only real in-state competition for fans an Omaha NBA team would have is the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, currently the state's biggest draw by far.  And again, any team in Omaha would be looking at the Blazers' and Jazz's one-team market model rather than the Kings'. 

    If one-team small markets (which the NBA has more of in the U.S. than any other sport) are going by the wayside, Omaha's out.  If not, it might be a destination people consider.    

10. Paris, France

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    Is this guy nuts?  First, some city in a Podunk cornfield and then Paris, France?

    It seems clear to me that the NBA's business plan involves more eyeballs on screen and more jerseys off racks in places that aren't in North America—Europe and China especially.  There was talk a few years back about hosting the All-Star Game in Paris, and there's also been talk of a European Division of the NBA.  Some of this coming from the Angel of Stern himself. 

    (My plan would add a European Division and also solve the contraction issue that's floating around the NBA: Instead of contracting, move a few less-profitable, smaller-market teams to Europe.)

    Even though the O2 in London is bigger than Palais Omnisports, Paris gets the nod in my mind because of the All-Star proposal and the fact that France is much more of a basketball-playing nation than Great Britain (and building a new arena probably wouldn't hurt).  But if there is a whole division, London would likely get a team as well.

    So my 10th and final pick is Paris, as a representative of possible NBA expansion into Europe.  I know that, in comparison to the other cities on my list, this is the least likely, which is why it is last on my list.  

    Even if they don't try Europe, I think it's quite possible that the NBA will try to have a second non-American team.  There's been talk that Vancouver's trying to get a group together (though I'd much rather see one in Seattle than Vancouver, especially if Vancouver Take II has anywhere near the quality that Vancouver Take I had in six seasons). 

    If the NBA wants to put a second team in Canada, my vote is for Montreal.  Montreal is a bigger metro area than Vancouver; Bell Centre is a much bigger and better venue than Rogers Arena.  The French have also proven to be quite interested in basketball, and Montreal is colder in the winter than Vancouver, lending itself more to indoor events.  Frankly, I think that NBA and MLB Canadian expansion would've worked better if the MLB went to Vancouver and the NBA went to Montreal. 

    So there you have it...nine American cities, and the specter of international expansion.

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