Why There's Room for NBA Teams in Both Sacramento and Seattle

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterFebruary 26, 2013

DENVER, CO - APRIL 23:  Seattle Sonics fans display signs as the support the Denver Nuggets against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2011 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It seems like only yesterday that the Sacramento Kings were due to be sold to a group that intended to move the team to Seattle in an effort to revive the SuperSonics.

And yet, there's been no official word yet as to the future of the Kings franchise, thanks in large part to the last-ditch efforts of Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA All-Star) Kevin Johnson to keep the team in California's capital.

For now, anyway. According to Aaron Bruski of USA Today, the fate of basketball in Sacramento may well be decided by the start of March:

Lost amidst the tug-of-war between the cities of Seattle and Sacramento is one simple question: why doesn't the NBA just re-expand into the Pacific Northwest?

It wasn't all that long before the latest Kings relocation hoopla began that NBA commissioner David Stern mentioned that the league would probably have a presence in Europe within the next 20 years or so. Such wouldn't constitute franchise expansion, per se, since in all likelihood the Association would simply absorb some of the continent's most prominent clubs and create a separate transatlantic division thereabouts.

At present, the time, toll and expense associated with long-distance travel render the NBA's dream of regular European play less than feasible. What's more, there's no guarantee as of yet that there's sufficient fan interest in basketball across soccer-crazy Europe to make such an expansion sustainable and profitable for the league's existing owners. 

The New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons played in front of a full house at the O2 Arena in London earlier this season, though the success of that one-game stint likely had as much to do with the residual excitement from the 2012 Summer Olympics as anything.

(Not to mention whatever other concerns the powers that be might have about facilities and all the other logistics that factor into the day-to-day operations of a professional franchise.)

Seattle, on the other hand, comes equipped with few (if any) such hangups. Hoops heads in the Emerald City have been lobbying for the return of the Sonics ever since Clay Bennett turned the team into the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. Between Sonicsgate and Save Our Sonics, it's clear that Seattle has more than sufficient fandom at the grassroots level to justify the return of pro basketball to King County.

Moreover, Seattle is already well on its way to giving an ownership group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen the "green light" to build a brand new, state-of-the-art arena in the city's SoDo district.

But that's not the issue here. Of course Seattle has the necessary infrastructure—physical, fanbase and otherwise—to support a team. Otherwise, there'd be no talk of bringing the Sonics brand back to life to begin with.

The concern, rather, is that Sacramento deserves to keep its team, too. The mayor has done everything in his power to keep the Kings in town, from lobbying sponsors and lining up local business magnates to bid on the team, to pushing city government to approve plans for a new arena.

The team has had trouble filling seats in recent years, though that's hardly a reflection of Kings fans, who are often mentioned among the best in the NBA. Rather, Sacramento's loyal followers have been driven away by the Maloof brothers, who currently own the Kings and have mismanaged the franchise since the twilight of the Chris Webber era. With new local ownership and the proper commitment to winning and player development, the Kings could once again emerge as a powerhouse in the Pacific Division.

Why deprive Sacramento of that? Why rob the city of its only major pro sports franchise when this whole situation could be averted by granting an expansion franchise to Seattle?

To be sure, expansion is far from a perfect proposition in any sport, including the NBA. The Grizzlies lasted just six years in nearby Vancouver before relocating to Memphis. To be fair, though, the Grizzlies inability to connect with Western Canada was largely the byproduct of poor decisions made by the front office, led by current league executive Stu Jackson.

The Charlotte Bobcats have struggled to attract fans in a basketball-crazy city that was previously home to another NBA franchise (the Hornets). Of course, any team that's as historically bad as the Bobcats have been over the last two seasons would be hard-pressed to appeal to a town with such close ties to the blue-blooded tradition of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Keep in mind, too, that the Hornets moved from Charlotte to New Orleans only after the personal transgressions of much-maligned owner George Shinn made him persona non grata in Crown Town.

As far as flat-out revivals are concerned, the NFL's Cleveland Browns have been nothing short of a quagmire, with but one playoff appearance since 1999. But that's the concern of a different league in a far different market, one with a "storied" history of pro sports putridity.

And it's not as though the modern NBA has been opposed to bringing new teams into existence. David Stern has never shied away from the fact that seven franchises were born on his watch. If anything, he counts each one as a feather in his soon-to-be-retired cap.

Is he concerned about having an odd number of teams playing in the NBA? That's never been a problem for the league before. Most recently, the NBA went nearly a decade with 29 teams in its membership before the 'Cats came around. 

In any case, Seattle and Sacramento have both proven their worth as viable NBA markets. If David Stern truly intends to bring basketball back to Seattle without slighting Sacramento during what amounts to the lame-duck session of his nearly 30-year stint as commissioner, why not expand?

It sure would save these cities plenty of heartache and hassle while growing the league itself.

Sounds like a win-win, which is far better than the current zero-sum scenario on the table.