The Reservoir Dog Days of Summer are upon us. We’ll still anxiously await if Kyrie Irving or Carmelo Anthony get traded before the start of the season, but other than that most of the big moves have already been made.
While we pass the time, let’s look into the crystal ball for bigger moves in the future. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner who resembles Stick Stickly (tell me you see it, too), spoke last week about inevitable expansion. The league is at an all-time high for popularity, ratings, and revenue. The Houston Rockets will soon be for sale in the near future, as long-time owner Leslie Alexander is looking to cash in. (For reference, Steve Ballmer purchased the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion just a few years ago.)
So I decided to make a list not only for cities for possible expansion teams, but also for nicknames changes and conference/division realignment, too.
First, I’ll list the six most suitable cities for an NBA team. I made it an even three in the West and three in the East; I personally think they should get rid of divisions and conferences all together, but for now we’ll keep it in this format.
Part I: Top Suitable Cities
(Art Design by Mark Sgarbossa)
This is a no-brainer. Adam Silver was even quoted saying that Seattle is on the “short-list” of cities considered when expansion happens again. The Supersonics bolstered 40 years of tradition with great players such as Lenny Wilkins, Gary Payton, Shawn “The Reign Man” Kemp, and Ray Allen, one of the most passionate community of fans in the league, and sporting some of the coolest jerseys and mascots in all of sports. (I’d love to see Squash and the Phoenix Gorilla battle it out again.) There have been several attempts of relocating teams back to the Pacific Northwest over the past couple of years (the Kings, Bucks and Hawks to name a few), but they all fell through for one reason or another. Seattle is an amazing, vibrant city, and with the success of both the Seahawks and the Sounders of the NFL and MLS, and with reassurance from the Hornets down in Charlotte, this loyal fanbase will eventually get their team back after they bolted to Oklahoma City nearly a decade ago.
(Art Design by Chris Creamer)
This one still surprises me, especially since they have a professional team in the other three major sport leagues. Pittsburgh is a blue-collar, rugged city that loves their sport teams like they are a religion. The Steelers, Penguins and Pirates have rocked sweet, slick black-and-yellow digs for many successful decades, so why not revive and rebrand the old ABA Pittsburgh Pipers? They won the ABA Finals in their first year back in 1968, moved to Minnesota a year later, then moved back to Pittsburgh, changed their name to the Condors for two more seasons, then folded. They never were given a real chance, and with Pittsburgh being the second largest market without an NBA team after Seattle, it makes a lot of sense.
(Art Design by Josh Davis)
Like Pittsburgh, Vancouver got the short end of the stick with their first professional basketball franchise. The Grizzlies came into the league in 1995 along with the Toronto Raptors as the first non-American teams in the NBA since the 1946-1947 Toronto Huskies, who only played one season before folding. (They had a sweet logo though!) The 1998-1999 lockout impeded on their success, with the Canadian dollar weakening their value as attendance dropped. It was a circumstance that the team had little control over, and now that the league has garnished a flurry of success and popularity since they moved in 2001, this would be a better time of bringing another team back to the Pacific Northwest along with the Supersonics. In addition, not only would it add another team back to Canada, but it could serve as a precursor of expanding more teams past other borders (such as Mexico City, for example) and even overseas, too. And lastly, due to my infatuation with 1990’s jerseys, it wouldn’t hurt to see those sweet teal uniforms in action again!
4. St. Louis
The Hawks resided in St. Louis for 13 seasons back in the 50’s and 60’s, winning the franchise’s lone championship in 1958, so I propose bringing a team back to another large but empty NBA market. And while I’m throwing around hypotheticals, I suggest retaining another groovy ABA team, the Spirits of St. Louis. (You can’t tell me seeing this logo on an NBA team wouldn’t be cool…) If the Oklahoma City Thunder can take a team away from Seattle and rename them after a type of weather, then St. Louis should have another shot, too. There’s also a wide geographical gap lacking NBA teams in the central United States, so it could fill a void in that aspect as well.
Another Louis, you say? Kentucky is well-known for their basketball obsession with the Wildcats and the Cardinals, so this would be an easy sell for another large market without an NBA team. As for nicknames, it’s hard not to fall in love with a revival of the Kentucky Colonels. If any ABA team is worthy of coming back (they never should have folded in the first place), it’s them. During their nine seasons from 1967-1976, they made the playoffs every year, making the ABA Finals three times, and winning it all in 1975. (They were also a finalist for the Grizzlies before choosing to play in Memphis.) And besides, they would play in the KFC Yum! Center. Nom nom nom!
6. Las Vegas
Within the span of four months, Sin City has been awarded with both an NHL team, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Oakland Raiders. (The former will begin play this fall, while the latter will relocate in 2019 or 2020, pending the completion of a new stadium.) Las Vegas also hosted the 2007 NBA All-Star Game, the first time a city without an NBA team did this. There’s also a basketball presence with the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, the NCAA team who had a well-documented successful run in the early 1990’s. And unlike other potential cities, the Thomas & Mack Center is already a multi-faceted venue that could host a maximum NBA attendance. As for team names, they have a plethora of former American Basketball Association and International Basketball League teams (Bandits, Rattlers, Slam, and my personal favorite, Venom) that they could both pay homage to along with fitting the gambling/outlaw vibe of the city.
Other Possible Cities/G League Destinations:
Cincinnati, Kansas City, Omaha, Virginia Beach
These four cities have many pros to obtaining an NBA team, and ironically are connected by one current franchise. Cincinnati and Kansas City had a team in the early years of the league: the Rochester Royals (holding the franchise’s only title in 1951) became the Cincinnati Royals in 1957 where they played for fifteen seasons. In 1972, they relocated to Kansas City, changing from the Royals to the Kings. They also split playing time between Omaha for three seasons before abandoning the area in 1975. Finally, they moved to Sacramento ten years later in 1985, where after sustaining many rumors of relocating, could move again down the road. Virginia Beach, another promising and growing market, was one of those potential destinations (along with Seattle and others) back in 2013 when they went through ownership changes.
Unfortunately, these four cities lack the combination of market size, arenas and/or fan support to propose expanding an NBA team to these markets, especially in comparison to the six cities I listed above. However, with the G League, the newly-branded association formally known as the NBA Development League, offers future opportunities for cities such as these four to have an affiliation with the NBA via a minor league team.
Part II: Nickname Changes
My biggest gripes are with two current nicknames, the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies. I understand that other teams have relocated to new cities and kept the former nicknames, but these two in particular are an abomination. Yes, I’m being dramatic, but from a person with roots to Louisiana and a reverence for music, I propose a couple changes.
1. Utah Jazz become the Salt Lake City Stars
Another homage to a former ABA team, the Utah Stars played in Salt Lake City from 1970 to 1976. Similar to the Pittsburgh Pipers, they won the ABA Championship in their first year in the city in 1971 (albeit after relocating from Anaheim and Los Angeles from before). The Stars isn’t a very unique nickname, but it makes way more sense than the Jazz, who were previously in New Orleans from 1974-1979 during the Pistol Pete Maravich era. New Orleans is the Jazz capital of the world, and even though it’s been nearly 40 years since they’ve played there, they deserve the nickname way more than Utah does. In addition, I love alliteration, so I’m using the name of the city rather than the state (which I also changed for Golden State, Indiana and Minnesota, too).
2. New Orleans Pelicans become the New Orleans Jazz (again)
On that musical note (I couldn’t resist), New Orleans can take back their original name again. It doesn’t mean that I’m against the Pelicans name; they just changed it a few years ago back in 2014 after they relinquished the Hornets name back to Charlotte. (The Bobcats were, in my opinion, a lame name with equally bland jerseys. The transformation back to the popular name, teal jerseys and bringing back their mascot Hugo was a solid move by His Airness.) But like I mentioned before, New Orleans is entrenched in Jazz culture, and is much more defined by that than the state bird.
3. Memphis Grizzlies become the Memphis Sounds
Playing off the theme of music again, Memphis, like New Orleans, is well-known for it’s musical culture, boasting a wide array of musical genres spawning from the city. (Justin Timberlake is also a minority of the team, too.) It would be another revival of a former ABA team with, of course, some sweet jerseys and logo that are already used in the NBA Hardwood Classics line. Also, Grizzlies are not indigenous to Memphis. C’mon, now!
4. Vancouver Grizzlies Name Revival
As I mentioned in Part I, Vancouver gets their team back, their visceral and nostalgic jerseys, and the league gets another Canadian/Pacific Northwest team to help boost more international teams in the future along with a Sonics/Blazers/Grizzlies divisional rivalry that never got a chance to blossom 20 years ago.
Part III: Conference/Division Realignment
Now for the fun part. In this scenario after adding six more teams and a couple nickname adjustments, the NBA has now expanded from 30 to 36 teams. And this could take place over a couple of years. During the David Stern regime (1984-2014), seven expansion teams were added: two in 1988 (Heat and Hornets), two more in 1989 (Magic and Timberwolves), the two Canadian teams in 1995 (Grizzlies and Raptors), and the Bobcats in 2004. There were also six relocated teams: the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles (1984), the Kings from Kansas City to Sacramento (1985), the Grizzlies from Vancouver to Memphis (2001), the Hornets from Charlotte to New Orleans (2002), the Supersonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City (2008; changed nickname to the Thunder), and the Nets from East Rutherford/Newark, New Jersey to Brooklyn (2012).
Since we are keeping divisions and conferences in tact, we now have 18 teams each in the East and West, while still taking the top eight teams into the playoffs after each regular season. The six new divisions, consisting of six teams each, now look like this:
Salt Lake City Stars
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Lakers
Las Vegas Venom
San Francisco Warriors
New Orleans Jazz
Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs
New York Knicks
St. Louis Spirits
Phew! I went back-and-forth on a few teams that could be considered toss-ups in either conference or multiple divisions due to the geography of the cities.
The biggest decision was keeping the Timberwolves in both the Western Conference and the Northwest Division; I also moved OKC to the Southwest, which left a missing gap in the newly minted Northwest Vancouver/Seattle/Portland/Utah/Denver lineup. And since I wanted each division to include six teams each, Minnesota was the only viable “northern team” left. (I also debated moving the Memphis Sounds out east, too, but ultimately kept them in the Southwest.) Lastly, the Las Vegas Venom join the Pacific Division, the easiest fit of any division in the West.
For the Eastern Conference, the same struggles applied. Like Las Vegas, Pittsburgh was an easy fit for the Atlantic Division. However, St. Louis and Louisville were a little trickier. (I actually zoomed in on Google Maps to see which would make the most geographical sense.) I ended up placing the Spirits in the Central (somewhat mirroring the NL Central in the MLB) and the Colonels in the Southeast, due to Louisville being slightly more southern compared to St. Louis. I could have finagled more with moving around teams like the Wizards to the Atlantic and Toronto to the Central, but I’m already making this way more complicated and OCD than it needs to be. 🙂
Speaking of OCD, I went ahead and changed the team names not using a city in their titles (Golden State, Indiana, Minnesota and Utah) to San Francisco, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City, respectfully. I already mentioned the Salt Lake City change, and the Warriors are moving back across the bay from Oakland to San Francisco in a few years, where they originally played from 1962-1971 when they relocated from Philadelphia. And adding “apolis” at the end of Indiana and Minnesota are quick fixes, too.
So there you have it. Six new teams, a few different nickname changes, and conferences/divisions more aligned to proper geography. Many of these proposed changes are admittedly pipe dreams, as there are many factors (less distributed revenue between teams, additional player salaries, marketing costs, merchandise overhauls, legal rights to names, etc.) that would shoot these down rather quickly. However, with the NBA continuing to grow at the rate that it has since the last expansions, it’s only a matter of time before more teams join the fray in some capacity.
Plus, it’s always fun bringing back old ABA teams and those gnarly, forgotten 1970’s jerseys. Can we bring back afros, high socks and short shorts while we’re at it?