“I think I’ve always said that it’s sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point,” Silver said during his annual preseason availability with reporters. “I’d say it’s caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion. We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic. But certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.”
Silver said that although there hasn’t been a change in the league’s position, whenever he has been asked about the potential to expand over the past few years, he has said it isn’t something the league is considering.
But with the NBA opening up lines of credit during the pandemic to give its teams economic relief, it is notable that Silver acknowledged the possibility of expanding beyond the current 30 teams — particularly as each expansion team would come with a hefty entry fee that would all but certainly exceed $1 billion, which would then be passed on to the current teams.
“You know, we’re very appreciative of the markets that have indicated an interest in having an NBA team,” Silver said. “One of the issues for the league office, and this comes up all the time in terms of competitiveness, it’s not a secret that we don’t have 30 competitive teams at any given time right now when you go into the season, measured by likelihood of ability to win a championship.
“One of our focuses as the league office is always on how do you create better competition. So that’s one of the things that we continue to think about as we consider expansion. … It’s an economic issue and it’s a competitive issue for us. So it’s one that we’ll continue to study, but we’re spending a little bit more time on it than we were pre-pandemic.”
The NBA hasn’t added a team since it expanded to 30 by agreeing to add the Charlotte Hornets — then Bobcats — in 2002 (they began play in 2004). Should the league choose to expand, Seattle would likely be first in line. Seattle nearly got the Sacramento Kings in 2013 before Vivek Ranadive bought the team and kept it in Sacramento. Seattle hasn’t had a team since the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Silver addressed a variety of topics, including the league’s policy on kneeling for the national anthem.
After virtually every player, coach and staff member kneeled for the national anthem in the bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year, Silver said he expects the league to return to its policy of standing for the anthem.
He did say that the league has continued dialogue with players on the subject, and while there won’t be punishments if people choose not to stand, if there are to be changes to that policy, they will be agreed upon by everyone.
“There’s always been this notion that this league is bigger than one team, one player, one league office,” Silver said. “I think it’s why we’ve been so successful over the years, because we really do come together and work through in some cases very difficult issues.
“I recognize that this is a very emotional issue on both sides of the equation in America right now, and I think it calls for real engagement rather than simply rule enforcement.”
Silver also said that after the NBA suspended its random testing policy for marijuana for this season, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association would discuss the matter further next offseason. He said that while society’s views on the use of marijuana have shifted, the differing laws from state to state are something the league is considering when deciding how to proceed.
When asked about the idea of the league returning to a bubble for the playoffs, Silver said that anything is a possibility, but his hope is the vaccine for COVID-19 is successful enough that by the time the playoffs are scheduled to start in late May, there is a chance fans could be back in arenas.
“It’s our hope that given the planned rollout of the vaccine that we’ll be going in the other direction, that it’ll become increasingly more likely that there will be a return to a home-court advantage,” Silver said. “That come May, June, July, which right now our season is targeted to end mid-July, that by that point there really will be a meaningful opportunity to have fans in our building.”
He added that if the vaccine rollout takes long enough that fans for the playoffs is not a real possibility, a bubble environment is something the league would consider.
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