With the NBA currently embroiled in bitter labor negotiations, there are a lot of ideas being tossed around about how to make the league better and more profitable. The league is coming off one of the more exciting seasons and playoffs in recent memory, but the fact remains that there is a huge competitive imbalance and most of the smaller-market teams are actually losing money.
The simplest way to improve the quality of the league’s product is to simply get rid of a few teams and disperse their players to the rest of the league. It’s an interesting argument to make because from a league-wide perspective, there’s a lot to be gained from contracting a few teams and increasing available talent for those franchises left. Since we would most likely be getting rid of teams in the least viable markets, we would also be helping to get rid of the some of the teams hemorrhaging the most money. Of course, the counter argument is that by decreasing the number of teams by four, we are decreasing the total amount of NBA games by 164 and losing all of the revenue from ticket sales, TV broadcasting rights, parking, and concessions for those games. Plus the local economies take a hit especially in the bar/restaurant areas near the arenas. So the financial impact is difficult if not impossible to fully predict. However, from a quality-of-play persepctive there’s no arguing that having fewer teams increases the avilable talent for the remaining teams.
Just as a note, this is not an option that anybody wants to pursue as anything but an absoulte worst-case scenario. Players don’t want to lose available jobs and no owner wants to have his team taken away. However, it makes for a fun discussion about which teams would be the ones to go if a scenario like this arose. I chose four teams because I thought just cutting two teams wouldn’t have enough of an impact and cutting six seemed like it was too many at once.
Getting the axe:
1. New Orleans – Obviously this is the one that could potentially happen in real life (but still probably not). The team:
- Is owned by the league so no owner would have to lose his team
- Plays in one of the smallest markets,
- Plays in one of the poorer areas in the country
Add all those factors together and you have a potential recipe for disaster from a financial perspective. Again, I still don’t think the NBA wants to contract any teams so the odds of this happening are extremely slim. But in this hypothetical world we’re dealing with, where four teams have to get the axe, I think this is the most logical first choice. Plus it would be nice to see Chris Paul set free a year ahead of schedule and land in a (hopefully) better situation.
2. Toronto – The idea of having a team in Toronto seemes like an obviously bad one in retrospect, but I actually applaud the NBA for making an effort to gain some ground north of the border. There are a litany of reasons it hasn’t worked out for the Raptors with the main one obviously being that the team has been horrific for most of its existence. Also, Toronto will always be a Maple Leafs town (no matter how bad they get apparently) so another team that plays a less familiar sport at the same time of year was always going to get overlooked. Toronto may be ready for a team sometime in the future, but it’s time to pull the plug on the Raptors experiment.
3. Sacramento – This team is no stranger to upheaval, having gone from Rochester to Cincinnati to Kansas City to KC/Omaha to Sacramento
to Anaheim. Maybe this franchise is just cursed and we should cut our losses before anyone else gets hurt. It’s sad how far this franchise has fallen in less than a decade. In the early 2000s Arco Arena was one of the toughest stadiums to play in thanks to Sac-Town’s rabid fanbase and a team that was loaded with talent. Obviously the drop-off in play has a lot to do with the lagging attendance and plummeting profits for the Kings. However, Sacramento is probably just not a big enough market to support an NBA franchise the way the league is currently set up. Especially with the presence of Golden State being just close enough to take away some potential fans in the areas between San Francisco and Sacramento. And since there’s no reason to add a third team to Southern California, we should probably say goodbye to the Kings, even though it’s a real shame to do so.
4. Milwaukee & Minnesota merge into one team and move to Seattle – Let’s face it, the Bucks and the Wolves are basically the same team. Both play in cold-weather cities where hockey is a much more popular sport (I’ve always been in favor of getting an NHL team to Milwaukee). Both have pretty sorry franchise histories with few positive memories in the last 20 years. Both have been long-forgotten by anyone outside of their respective markets. Adding to the confusion, Luke Ridnour spent the last two seasons on these two teams (who even remebers which one was first). Seattle never should have had the Sonics taken away so it’s time to make it right. If you take the top 12 guys from their combined rosters, this might actually be a pretty competitive team, which Seattle fans deserve since they’ve had to spend the last few years watching their ex-Sonics contend in Oklahoma.
Stay of execution:
Utah – The Jazz haven’t been doing as well recently as during their Stockton-Malone heyday (can it be called a heyday if it produced exactly zero championships?), but I still think that this can be a decent market in the long run. Fans in Salt Lake City don’t have much else to distract them besides the occasional good season from BYU, so I think the Jazz will be on their way back up soon despite all the upheaval last season.
Orlando – Can you imagine getting the #1 pick in a dispersement draft that had Dwight Howard in it? I’m not crazy about the viability of Orlando, but I think they’ve done well enough to this point in their existence to justify getting to stick around. Orlando has a quickly growing population, although the proximity to Tampa (with the Lightning, Bucs, and Rays) means they’re not quite the only game in town.
LA Clippers – On of the nation’s worst franchises in any sport (only the Grizzlies have a worse winning percentage) is also one of the NBA’s few profitable teams thanks to Donald Sterling’s
tightwad thrifty method of assembling teams and paying his ancillary staff. They also have a decent niche market in a good basketball town that happens to be the nations second biggest market (attracting fans to see the visiting teams – sad but true).
Indiana – The idea of Indiana without a basketball team is like Toronto without a hockey team. It would be blashphemous and I’m ashamed to have even thought of it.
New Jersey – A team that probably would have been one of the four cuts if it wasn’t for the planned move to Brooklyn. Another team playing at a brand-new arena in an up-an-coming Brooklyn could be wildly successful and restore some of the luster it lost when the Dodgers moved to LA. A team in New Jersey playing in a craphole in the middle of a parking lot probably wouldn’t be so lucky.
Memphis – They have a great young roster that would be fun to see get scooped up by other teams but I think Memphis deserves a little bit more of a chance to support this team now that they’re getting good for the first time in franchise history. It remains a pretty small market in an area hit hard by the recession so we’ll have to see how the next few years go, but if we’re making this hypothetical decision today, the Grizz get to keep playing.
Oklahoma City – One of the league’s smallest markets has also been one of its best success stories…so far. They
lucked into stole Kevin Durant & Co. so they’ve had great support in a city with no other major professional sports. I still question the viability of this market long-term, but I could see this becoming another San Antonio if they keep up the quality play and net a title or two during these formative years in their new home.