NBA denies expansion report, but Seattle mayor says “odds are high” his city gets team

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During the height of the pandemic, when NBA owners were losing money due to empty buildings, long-dormant talk of an NBA expansion to 32 teams gained momentum. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver even discussed it, and it felt like there was real momentum behind the idea, with Seattle and Las Vegas as the front runners.

The owners are expected to take up the topic again this summer (although that agenda is not locked in). While league sources previously told NBC Sports some owners have cooled on the idea — they don’t want to further divide the revenue pie, even for the short-term boost of a $166 million (or more) expansion fee check that would go to every team — Bill Simmons put the issue back on a front burner by saying on his podcast he had “intel” that the league would expand soon, and that LeBron James could have an ownership stake in the Vegas team after his playing days end.

On Wednesday, a league spokesman denied Simmons’ report to NBC Sports, saying “there is no truth to it.”

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s job is to be optimistic about things and push for them. He told NBC’s King5 in Seattle he thinks the NBA will expand to his city, but he didn’t put a timeline on it.

“The odds are high,” Mayor Harrell said on Wednesday. “We’re very intentional about it. I chase down rumors and I chase down actual people in a position to make that happen. I feel good about our opportunity.”

A few quick thoughts here:

• Whenever the NBA does choose to expand, Seattle will be the city at the top of the list. Las Vegas has a good chance, but Seattle will be a lock.

• Seattle now has an NBA-ready arena in the Climate Pledge Arena, where the NHL’s Kraken play. Las Vegas has an NBA-ready home already built as well in the T-Mobile Arena.

• It takes two-thirds of the owners to agree to expansion, which is a very high bar to clear. These days, getting two-thirds of any group to agree on things is a challenge, NBA expansion will be no easier.

• Previously Silver had called a $2.5 billion per team expansion fee “very low,” Simmons estimated the fee to be $3-$3.5 billion.

• While the fan/media focus has been on the big fat check the owners would get in an expansion fee — money they do not have to share with the players, this is not “basketball-related income” as currently defined by the CBA — Silver said the owners need to have a longer-term focus.

“The most important considerations for us when we look at expansion is, will it ultimately grow the pie?,” Silver said last year. “Meaning it’s potentially 30 more [player] jobs if you expand with two teams. You expand the league’s footprint. How does that help us in varying ways, sort of increased support nationally. So we’ll continue to look at it. I mean, I’ve said this many times before. We’re certainly not suggesting we’re locked at 30 teams.”