Adam Silver said Thursday that NBA expansion or relocation is unlikely for at least 2 or 3 years, making an NHL-first scenario more likely for Seattle.
NEW YORK — Any arena plans for the Seattle area will be facing an “NHL first” scenario after NBA commissioner Adam Silver reiterated Thursday he expects no league expansion or relocation for at least two or three more years.
His comments came during a 90-minute interview session at NBA headquarters as part of The Associated Press Sports Editors commissioners meetings. Silver agreed with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s assessment of their January meeting by downplaying any chance of a team for the next two or three years.
“I very much enjoyed being in Seattle when we had a team there,’’ Silver said. “They had fantastic fans there. But what I said was, unrelated to any specific market, there didn’t seem to be much interest in expansion at the time from our owners.’’
Silver said the lack of interest isn’t related to upcoming negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement, from which both sides can opt out in 2017. Instead, he said, owner reluctance to alter the status quo is due more to the league’s “robust” current revenue-sharing arrangement and pending nine-year, $24 billion national television contract.
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“We’ve seen, maybe for the first time in the history of this league, what seems to me to be a true 30-team league,’’ Silver said. “Where fans in every community … can believe that their team is well-managed, that their team can compete for a championship.’’
Silver added it was only five years ago that complaints abounded about “dilution of talent” and not enough “great players” to field 30 competitive teams.
“My sense right now is that, from a competitive standpoint, we have a 30-team league that can be competitive,’’ he said. “But the talent is such that, it shouldn’t necessarily be the case that we should be adding additional roster slots.’’
Silver’s comments come as the city of Seattle prepares for a May 7 release of a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Sodo District arena proposal by entrepreneur Chris Hansen. Though several remaining hurdles await and will likely drag into 2016, the EIS release should launch renewed debate over arena funding.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Hansen, the city and King County calls for up to $200 million in bond funding if he secures an NBA team first. There is no “NHL first” scenario, and Murray recently called for would-be NHL owners to present a viable alternative plan.
Other potential groups have looked at alternative arena sites in Bellevue and Tukwila, though none has stepped forward yet.
Murray expressed concern after his January meeting with Silver that no NBA team would arrive prior to the MOU expiration in November 2017.
“I worry that it may not happen,’’ Murray said. “I worry that both councils will not go the full way toward approving this (arena) if there is no team. If it’s two or three years away, this will run out in 2017 and the whole thing will have to start over again.’’
Silver reinforced that, adding that despite reports about struggles getting a new Milwaukee arena built, he’s confident the Bucks are staying put.
“We have complete confidence they’re going to get the deal done in Milwaukee,’’ he said, adding he met with owners and community leaders and only “a bit” of negotiating remains.
Silver reiterated his top priority is increasing competitiveness and solidifying the league economically so that “we have 30 viable franchises.’’
The new TV deal begins in 2016-17, and Silver expects it “will make a huge difference” in league profitability and shoring up weaker markets.
“I just wanted to make very clear to the mayor (Murray) that I didn’t want to create any false expectations,” Silver said.
In other words, no expansion discussions before the 2017-18 season.
Silver was asked about rumored expansion clauses in the TV deal that increase its value if new clubs are added. “It is not true,’’ Silver said.