Five on Five

Is expansion good or bad for NBA?

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Would expansion weaken the league? Is the player pool big enough to handle adding more franchises? Our 5-on-5 writers give their thoughts on whether growing the NBA would lessen the product.


1. How soon will we see the NBA add more teams?


Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: For years, David Stern batted those questions away like a house cat dispatching a moth. If he could get interested enough, he'd kill it. Otherwise, he'd just move on. More recently, he cracked the door a tad, and there seems to be a steady supply of billionaires eager to jump in. So maybe an answer that was once "never" has become "potentially in the next decade."

Larry Coon, ESPN Insider: Not very soon, I think. There just aren't that many markets that can sustain an NBA franchise, and the league has already had to install mechanisms (revenue sharing) to subsidize teams in the weaker markets. I think we'll see more franchises relocate before we see more teams added.

Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: I don't think we'll see expansion until the Milwaukee arena situation (lease expires in 2017) is resolved. Seattle is a powerful leverage tool for a building upgrade. New TV contracts (which will start in 2016-17, though terms should be known well before) are another domino that needs to fall before expansion can be accurately gauged.

James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: Adam Silver sure isn't making it sound like it'll be soon. Let's say five years from now, well after the next TV deal is settled. Even Mark Cuban said he has "no idea when," however.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Not soon. Although revenues are soaring and with a new, big-dollar television deal on the table soon, the NBA is just now starting to gets its house in order. We're only two years removed from a lockout where the owners and league cried poor, so splitting the pie even more doesn't make much sense, and probably wouldn't be all that well received. It's less about expansion, and more about making sure the franchises are in the best possible markets.


2. Where should the NBA consider expanding to first?


Abbott: Seattle. London. Mexico City. Hartford. Barcelona. I guess Las Vegas, but it feels weird. Wouldn't be the worst thing to have multiple teams in huge cities, either. Could be, for instance, that Chicago could stand a second team.

Coon: I think Seattle might have first dibs after narrowly missing out on relocating the Kings from Sacramento. If a new, NBA-ready arena is in place (or will be soon after an NBA team arrives), then Seattle is a logical market to return to. I'm not a fan of the idea of expansion to Europe -- I think the logistics of running a league spread across two continents would be a nightmare.

Haubner: The case for Seattle is self-evident. The second city I'd propose, San Jose, is more overlooked. It's a dream market, with an arena in place, immense corporate and individual wealth, and an overflow of rabid fan interest. Obviously, the Warriors have a strong voice over territorial rights, but it's short-sighted to pass up a gold mine and, presumably, another wild in-game arena atmosphere.

Herbert: Seattle's the obvious one and should absolutely be the No. 1 priority based on how it ended last time and the support that exists there. It's also worth looking at Vancouver again, though, where the Grizzlies might have flourished the first time if they hadn't been managed so poorly.

Young: Seattle. Without question. If the league is going anywhere with a new franchise, it has to be there. Going overseas or returning to Canada are interesting ideas, but the NBA would just be more complete with a franchise in the Emerald City.


3. What would be the biggest benefit of NBA expansion?


Abbott: Globalization, I guess. The NBA has a chance to be the most dominant sports brand on the planet. Also, just more people going to more games, and more great players getting great jobs.

Coon: The benefits of expansion are jobs, revenue and reach. A new team creates jobs -- both for players and for front office staffs, arena workers, and others. A new team also adds to the revenue pool (and is a net positive if the team is making money), so the league as a whole makes more money. Expanding the league's geographic and demographic reach brings in new fans and raises the league's profile.

Haubner: Restoring Seattle to the league, period. With a new building in place, it'd be a no-brainer, with blue-chip ownership, the 13th-largest TV market in the country (the biggest not currently in the league), plenty of corporate and personal dollars and a proven history of support.

Herbert: There are players all over the league good enough to play rotation minutes and stuck collecting DNP-CDs. Same goes for guys in the D-League and overseas with NBA dreams. The biggest benefit of expansion would be giving them more opportunities.

Young: Simple: You potentially find the next perfect marriage for the league without breaking the hearts of any of your existing markets. Whether it's Seattle or Anaheim or Kansas City or wherever, there's the opportunity to place a franchise in a city and have a relationship blossom and establish a long-term partnership.


4. What would be the biggest problem with NBA expansion?


Abbott: The normal concern is talent, but I think we've learned that while there is a totally finite supply of superstars, there's a whole bunch of NBA-grade players in other leagues. I don't think the NBA can add meaningfully to the number of contenders, but it can add decent teams.

Coon: The biggest problem with expansion is the dilution of talent. Back when the league was 23 teams, there were a total of 345 player jobs. Now there are 450 -- guys who never would have left the pine in the '80's are rotation players today. The other problem, as I said above, is that not every team can play in LA or New York. Teams are stuck in markets that can't support them. They're also a drain on the other teams -- not only because of revenue sharing, but because league revenues get split more ways.

Haubner: We'd be approaching 32 teams, which really feels like the reasonable upper limit for a league. The odds of a fan's favorite team ever winning a championship are already so low that it hurts to dilute those chances even just a little bit more.

Herbert: The biggest problem is that any time you expand, you necessarily dilute the talent pool. That problem likely isn't as big as people think, though, unless a handful of teams is being added.

Young: Slicing the pie another way. Again, the NBA is just now finding solid footing. And with potentially more collective bargaining coming in 2016, the idea of adding in another mouth to feed is both risky and unlikely to reap immediate rewards. The NBA shouldn't be in any hurry to capitalize on the growth of the game. Just build upon what you have now and make the current product better.


5. How many teams would you like to see in the NBA?


Abbott: I'm spoiled! I live near three teams. But if I lived in Seattle, London, Barcelona or Mexico City, I'd say something like 34 sounded good.

Coon: I'd like to see it tightened up a little. I think 28 is a good number. Of course, that's not going to happen -- even though David Stern threatened the players' union with contraction during the labor dispute, it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for this to actually happen.

Haubner: I suppose about 24 would be ideal, but that's not pragmatic when the major leagues are all at 30-plus. I have no problem with 30-32, given how the international explosion has vastly expanded the talent pool. And given the overwhelming team-friendliness of the new CBA, plus an influx of strong new owners, it's tough to find shaky markets beyond Milwaukee and maybe Charlotte or Minnesota.

Herbert: 32. The concept of adding a European division with five or six new teams worries me, but the idea of bringing the NBA back to Seattle and giving another city a shot seems like it would have little downside. It's just a matter of expansion groups making it worth the league's while and Silver deciding the time is right.

Young: I like 30, as is. First, because I don't want to cut two franchises because that's no fun. And second, though there are some bad teams and some very watered-down rosters throughout the league, there's plenty of talent to spread around. Especially with the new CBA in place, as we saw with the Thunder trading James Harden, "player sharing" is going to become more and more common, which could produce far more parity.

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