We just got the NHL. We just got a new arena. We’ve got one of the better sports towns in the country here in Seattle.
It’s hard to complain too much — but there’s still a hole that needs to be filled to make us whole.
The loss of the Sonics may be the deepest cut this town has ever endured sports-wise. It has been more than 14 years since it happened, and the possibility of a return has been teased recently. Here’s a quote from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in 2017.
“I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but (expansion) is inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises. That’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a shortlist of cities we’ll look at.”
And here’s Silver on the same topic in 2020.
“I hear from fans of the old Sonics in Seattle all the time and there’s no doubt when we do turn back to expansion one day, that Seattle will be at the top of the list.”
When we turn back to expansion. Those are the key six words there. That’s what keeps getting reiterated. So is the NBA getting any closer?
Last month, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell gave hope when asked about the possibility of a Sonics return.
“The odds are high,” Harrell said. “We’re very intentional about it. I chase down rumors and I chase down actual people in a position to make that happen. I feel good about our opportunity.”
Things got even more exciting when Oak View Group — which built Climate Pledge Arena — announced its plan to construct a new state-of-the-art arena south of the Las Vegas Strip. The idea being that if the NBA expands, it will likely be via two teams. And if there are top-quality arenas in Vegas and Seattle, ushering in new franchises becomes more foreseeable.
But that brings us back to Silver — and his comments weren’t as encouraging.
Last week, the Commish again was asked about expansion on the Dan Patrick Show.
After all, unlike several years ago, Seattle and Las Vegas seem primed to support pro hoops. So how about it?
“There’s no doubt Seattle would be a great market. Las Vegas would be a great market. There’s state-of-the-art arenas in both those communities,” Silver said. “And so we’ll look at it. … It’s not on the front burner for our league right now.”
Not on the front burner. In other words, as has seemed to be the case for more than a decade now, a Sonics return is likely at least another five years away. And that might be generous.
A couple reasons the NBA is in no rush to expand. For one, shareholders aren’t necessarily eager to share their money with more people. Add two teams, and you aren’t one of 30 owners, you’re one of 32. Secondly, there’s potential for a dilution in talent. Right now the NBA comprises the 450 best players in the world. Add two teams, and it’s 480. That may not seem like a huge increase, but in a league that has struggled with parity in years past, expansion could make that problem worse.
Plus, it’s hard to think the Sonics would be competitive right away. In the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights gave a false impression of what typically happens after an expansion draft when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. The Kraken, who are in last place in the Pacific Division, likely represent a more common start for a new franchise.
And in the NBA — perhaps more so than in any pro sports league — elite star power is necessary for success. A fledgling team likely wouldn’t have access to that.
This shouldn’t mean that hope is lost or that Seattleites should be resigned to never having their Sonics back. Remember, the NHL didn’t have an expansion team for 16 years before the Golden Knights were announced, and the Kraken came shortly after.
Silver is smart to underpromise right now. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves” is a better strategy than saying “expansion is coming!”
There very well could be a day when the Sonics are back in town captivating the city. But the NBA seems clear that if, it happens, it could be a while. Sonics fans have gotten used to waiting. They might have to stay used to waiting.