NHL is coming to Seattle, but don’t hold your breath for NBA return

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Seattle is one of America’s great cities. It’s stunningly beautiful on the Puget Sound, it’s funky and diverse, the downtown is walkable, the people seemed genuine, and the food scene is fantastic (I ate this past summer at Matt’s at the Market and Il Corvo, both were exceptional). It’s also a passionate sports town that loves its Seahawks, MLS’ Sounders, and don’t forget the Mariners.

And now those fans have the hockey, or at least they will soon. Tuesday, the NHL announced plans to have an expansion team in the city starting in the 2021-22 season, playing in a new building where the Key Arena stood (but with the same historic roof), now called the Seattle Center Arena (naming rights will come, of course).

That led to a question from many: When is the NBA coming back to Seattle? One of the city’s most popular athletes brought it up.

Um…. sorry to say this but… don’t hold your breath.

After talking to multiple sources around the NBA about Seattle, there is no plan for NBA expansion on the table. The NBA’s owners are not even considering it. Nobody expects them to take up expansion the near future — meaning five or seven years — either. Maybe, at best, it could be part of the next television package discussions in 2025, but the market will be so different by then nobody is making predictions.

If no expansion, then it would come down to a current team being sold and relocating, and nothing like that appears on the horizon. Some around the league were watching Memphis, but owner Robert Pera recently bought out minority owners and appears intent on keeping the team it remaining in Memphis. The Grizzlies are in a lease at the FedEx Forum for years as well (as a practical matter, getting out of it before 2029 will be difficult/expensive). Another market to watch is New Orleans, where owner Tom Benson passed away earlier this year. His wife Gayle now owns the Pelicans and said she has no intentions of selling or moving the team, plus the Pelicans have a lease that reportedly runs another five years. Things do change around the NBA on the ownership front, but right now relocation seems unlikely. (And no, Steve Ballmer is not moving the Clippers up there, he’s building a new arena in Southern California, a move up north was never his plan and would slash the value of his franchise.)

The NBA returned to Seattle for an exhibition game this fall — the last event at the Key Arena before the work to turn it into something new started — and the Warriors/Kings matchup sold the building out. The fan base up there loves basketball.

Seattle deserves an NBA team — they never should have had the last one taken away, but that’s another story (and for some, debate) for another day. It’s a big television market, one with plenty of money, and a rabid fan base. The Sonics should come back to the NBA. Someday, they will.

It just likely is not soon. Certainly not until well after the puck drops on the NHL in Seattle.