Expansion was never truly on the table for the NBA. That is, until a pandemic wiped away billions of dollars in revenue. In an effort to make some of that money back, Adam Silver has publicly stated the league is looking into the possibility of adding two teams. However, the biggest question remains: Should they do it?
First, why add two teams instead of just one? The biggest reason is competitive balance. The NBA wouldn’t allow one conference to have more teams than the other, so the league would open the door for two teams, most likely both out west (Seattle and Las Vegas perhaps?), and then move a team currently in the West over to the East. New Orleans, Minnesota, or Memphis appear the most likely to move if this were to happen.
The Case for Expansion
Make no mistake, if the NBA decides to expand, it is almost solely because of the money. The league’s revenue decreased 10% last season, and a projected loss of an unfathomable 40% (or $4 billion) if the entire 2020-21 season is played without fans, and thus money from the gate receipts. In a way, the league can make up almost all of that money with expansion. Adam Silver started the bidding at $2.5B. Should two cities decide to make a bid, that’s $5 billion injected into the league. That money is split amongst the 30 other teams, which is $167 million for each owner to cover any lost revenue and expenses as a result of the pandemic.
Some may be against this because the owners would then have to split the revenue (per CBA requirements) with more teams, 31 other teams instead of the usual 29. While the money generated helps in the short term, existing owners probably wouldn’t be too pleased with having to split the basketball related income two more ways. With that said, that would mean the owner is turning down $167 million, with none of that having to go to the players.
While players may have a (legitimate) gripe with not seeing any of the money coming in from the expansion fees, two new teams give players more options in free agency, trades, and it also provides opportunities for different styles of play to take shape.
On a more practical note, it might be easier for the players off the court as well. A team like Portland has no other team near them geographically, and therefore have to travel long distances for almost any opponent. The same goes for Minnesota in Western Conference play. Adding teams in Seattle and Las Vegas, for example, might help balance out the travel schedule for not just Minnesota and Portland, but for every NBA team as they can more efficiently plan out road trips, which lowers the burden of traveling on everyone involved.
The NBA has the talent
The most popular reason against expansion is suggesting that the league’s talent pool would become too “diluted” and affect competitive balance. I just cannot buy this. There are many NBA-caliber players that aren’t getting opportunities right now. A few examples (beware of small sample size and anecdotal evidence):
In three games without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this year, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert is averaging 31/5/9 on almost 47% shooting. While he’s only getting 23 minutes per game when playing with the two superstars, LeVert has shown in not only this season, but in the bubble as well (25/5/6.7 on 48% shooting) that he can be the primary scorer on a competitive team.
Further down on depth charts, Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey had his chance to put on a show with almost all of the 76ers normal rotation out against Denver. Maxey, who was only playing roughly 15 minutes per game prior to the rotation decimation, showed out, scoring 39 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists in 43 minutes. Some would chalk those numbers up to sheer usage, but Maxey shot 54.5% from the floor. He’s a rookie.
Even undrafted players have shown themselves to be able to be legitimate NBA talents. Christian Wood bounced around the league for a few years, eventually landing in Detroit for the 2019-20 season. A Blake Griffin injury combined with Andre Drummond’s trade to Cleveland opened the door for Wood to average 23 and 10 in 34 minutes per game the rest of the season.
There are countless other examples of players blossoming when given the opportunity. Two expansion teams would mean roughly 30 additional roster spots. There are easily 30 guys across this league that are capable of playing meaningful NBA minutes that just aren’t given the opportunity. The league is undoubtedly talented enough to support expansion, and that will only continue with promising draft classes in the coming years.
The NBA isn’t planning on seriously considering adding teams until 2022 at the earliest. However, prior to the pandemic they weren’t planning on even discussing this until 2024. The longer fans aren’t able to attend games, the more money the league will lose. Expansion will only look more enticing as time goes on, and it may be inevitable. That’s a good thing.