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When it comes to expansion and franchise movement in the NBA, there are two tracks to watch: domestic and international.
First, commissioner David Stern is considering a world plan that would place a five-team division in Europe within a decade. Once the seven-hour leap (non-supersonic transport) across the Atlantic from the Eastern U.S. is made, then the road trip in Europe is not too arduous. Seems feasible.
Then there's the possibility of growth in the Americas. Several cities, which were once home to NBA teams, are now looking for a second chance.
So which city is most likely to be a part of the NBA by 2018? We asked 25 ESPN writers, editors and contributors that question. (Experts were given the choice of answering "none" or naming one to five cities. Three members of our panel saw no expansion at all in the next decade.) Here's how they voted:
|He'd be real happy if Seattle had a team again.|
Pros: The 14th-biggest TV market, home to a metropolitan area of over 4 million people and Bill and Melinda Gates' billions. An NBA city since 1967, looking for a team that can hang those retired Gus Williams, Lenny Wilkens, Nate McMillan, Fred Brown, Jack Sikma and Spencer Haywood jerseys and the 1978-79 NBA championship banner.
Also working for Seattle is the prospect of lightening Thunder owner Clay Bennett's pockets. He and the other OKC owners will have to pay $30 million to Seattle in 2013 if Washington's state legislature approves at least $75 million in public funding before 2010 to renovate KeyArena and Seattle does not obtain an NBA franchise by 2013.
Cons: Local fans might need some time for tread marks on back to heal after the Sonics' departure. Building new arena to draw relocation or expansion team might be hard sell to local taxpayers who coughed up $74 million for a Key upgrade done in 1995. Sonics were in bottom 10 in attendance the last five seasons, though Key often averaged over 90 percent full.
David Stern says: "Given the lead times associated with any franchise acquisition or relocation and with a construction project as complex as a KeyArena renovation, authorization of the public funding needs to occur by the end of 2009 in order for there to be any chance for the NBA to return to Seattle within the next five years."
Pros: State-of-the-art 20,000-seat venue to be built by arena giant Anschutz Entertainment Group planned for The Strip. A growing market of 2 million residents, and a steady stream of people willing to part with their money. City is the last temptation of Charles Barkley.
Cons: Mortgage crisis pummeling the locals. Legal wagering on NBA games not remotely a deal-breaker, but in post-Donaghy world, a shadow of sorts. Loving this game is just one of many entertainment options there. City is the last temptation of Charles Barkley.
David Stern says: "We want Las Vegas to be a successful major league sports market. The NBA Summer League has been very successful And we expect to continue to do business with Las Vegas across the board."
|Nets star Vince Carter shows the youth of London a thing or two about the game.|
Pros: What's not to love? O2 arena becoming regular host for NBA preseason games. Will host 2012 Olympics, raising its international athletic profile. Greater London contains up to 14 million, and team could become a rooting interest for all of Britain. Nets star Vince Carter hit south London recently, spreading NBA and WNBA youth programs -- looks like the plan is moving ahead.
Cons: Not a big hoops hotbed compared to several European nations. Fighting for attention with cricket, soccer, rugby and Beckhams. Drawbacks? Big Ben has size but has fairly limited mobility.
David Stern says: "We're watching various markets on a global scale in a very serious way, more serious than we ever have before. We are seeing good signs of arena development."
Pros: A natural spot in a five-team Europe, with AEG planning a 16,000-seat arena in Germany's capital. Imagine 40-year-old coach Dirk Nowitzki and GM Detlef Schrempf leading the Berliners.
Cons: Not many, seemingly, in Germany's biggest market of 3.4 million. Oh, some NBA players will be disappointed not to find a Käsekuchen-Fabrik.
Pros: Going to Kansas City? Maybe. After the Kings played their last game here in 1985, a return would be welcome to the only market in the U.S. that had both the NBA and NHL over the last 35 years but now has neither. The shiny Sprint Center opened in October 2007, with 18,000 capacity -- the door's open.
Cons: Not a huge metro area of 2 million; 31st-biggest TV market. Tough to compete with that storied college team playing 50 miles away in Lawrence.
Pros: The Honda Center (17,600) wants a tenant. Could be a home if the Clippers, who played games there from 1994-98, were ever to set sail from Staples.
Cons: The Los Angeles Clippers of Anaheim? D'oh!
Pros: Basketball-mad populace in metro area of 4 million or so knows the game. The Olympic Indoor Hall was renovated for the 2004 Olympics and holds 18,800.
Cons: Basketball-mad populace loves their basketball -- local teams Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, with heavily Greek lineups. The cradle of Western Civilization could become a pricey tomb for NBA expansion in Europe.
Pros: The world's second-greatest hoops nation could create a franchise heavy on locals and be quite good. NBA-quality arena on the boards in a metro area of 5.6 million. Strong domestic league, knowledgeable fans.
Cons: Team could stress locals to the detriment of winning. Visiting big men might leave too big after visit to the Museum of Ham.
Pros: A great bridge-builder to the old Cold War rival. Ten million people in a nation riding its oil riches. Player-coach Andrei Kirilenko, 37, leads Russia into the league.
Cons: No NBA-quality arena on hand. Winter.
Pros: Huge market (19.2 million) and city economy larger than Sweden or Switzerland's. Just a 2 ½-hour flight from Dallas.
Cons: No spanking-new NBA-level arena, just 22,000-seater used for 1968 Olympics.
Pros: Brand-new Prudential Center looking for more than Seton Hall when it comes to hoops. Abandoned fan base unwilling to schlep to Brooklyn to see Nets.
Cons: City couldn't even keep its Starbucks. A third NBA franchise in the metro area seems too much, especially with Knicks having returned to glory under Mike D'Antoni and all those new NBA championship banners floating over MSG (it's 2018, right?).
Pros: NBA exhibitions played here next month, good sign of interest. About 11 million within commuting distance of Eiffel Tower. Easy travel to-from London franchise through the Chunnel. Tony Parker a good Francophone face of the game.
Cons: Current largest venue, Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, holds 13,200.
David Stern says: "It is not a big deal to get from Boston to Paris."
Pros: Strong domestic and Euroleague teams and tradition. New arena said to be in the works (the Colosseum a little outdated). Four million locals, and the Pope could welcome Mark Pope's old league.
Cons: Hmmm no direct flights from Oklahoma City?
Pros: The 21st-biggest market in the U.S., but no NBA team since the Hawks left in 1968 and the ABA's Spirits folded in 1976. Scottrade Center opened in 1994, has had 22,000 fans for NCAA basketball championships and is run by former Knicks president Dave Checketts.
Cons: Is arguably the nation's foremost baseball city ready to support NBA basketball? Perhaps the struggles of the other team 284 miles down the Mississippi is no help in making the case.
Predictions compiled from the forecasts of 25 ESPN writers, editors and contributors: Henry Abbott, J.A. Adande, Kevin Arnovitz, Jon Barry, Jordan Brenner, Maurice Brooks, Chris Broussard, Ric Bucher, Chad Ford, Jemele Hill, John Hollinger, Mark Jackson, Scoop Jackson, Tim Legler, Jackie MacMullan, Chris Palmer, Chris Ramsay, Dr. Jack Ramsay, Jalen Rose, Chris Sheridan, Marc Stein, David Thorpe, Royce Webb, Brian Windhorst and Matt Wong.