It has long been assumed that reviving the Sonics will carry the heftiest of pricetags. And now, an ESPN report quoting anonymous sources is putting a rough estimate on that cost: $2.5 billion.

That’s the amount NBA writer Brian Windhorst says officials within the league’s head office have floated as potential target hauls for each of two expansion franchises that would be awarded. Two weeks ago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave a preseason interview to media members in which he said the league is taking a closer look at expansion than it had been before the coronavirus pandemic. 

But as Windhorst points out, revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic make that expansion amount less than guaranteed. So does the impending sale of the Minnesota Timberwolves, which were put on the market last July but only garnered valuations of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion – the amount no doubt hampered by pandemic-related financial losses – according to the report. 

That’s considerably less than the $1.66 billion that tech billionaire Ryan Smith paid last month for the Utah Jazz, which plays in a much smaller market. 

But the onetime, potential-debt-eliminating windfall that much larger expansion fees could produce for teams – which team owners do not have to share with players – is apparently the only reason the NBA is revisiting earlier decisions not to add markets. In other words, owners probably want far more than what smaller market club would fetch.

The $2.5 billion expansion figure isn’t the first time in recent weeks that an amount equal to or greater than $2 billion has been made public. An unnamed owner recently told The Athletic’s David Aldridge that the expansion number would be $2 billion per team while Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tossed out a $3 billion figure on the Bill Simmons Podcast.  


Oak View Group co-founder Tim Leiweke, who is spearheading a $930 million overhaul of Climate Pledge Arena, said after Silver’s comments that Seattle will be positioned to pounce on a team whenever the NBA opts to make one available. Leiweke, who spent years helping run multiple NBA teams, worked closely with Silver and the league’s head office on arena ventures overseas and has outfitted Climate Pledge with nearly $50 million in NBA-specific locker room and media installation designs. 

“The league knows the leadership on our side — from ownership to our management of the building — are NBA ‘family’ members,’’ Leiweke said. “They’re well aware of that. They’re well aware of the steps we’ve taken so that if and when they come knocking on our door, our building will be 100% ready.”

Given his longstanding relationship with the NBA, it seems inconceivable Leiweke – though he denies any discussions about expansion with the league – would be unaware of what the cost might look like. Or that he wouldn’t have an NBA ownership group – comprised either of current Climate Pledge investors, or other business contacts nationwide – waiting to bid on a team, given the amounts his company has already invested in a venue that for now will host the NHL Kraken and WNBA Storm.

Besides Seattle, Las Vegas is expected to receive strong expansion consideration.