The NBA will return to Seattle on Friday night, as the Kings and Warriors play one another at KeyArena, but the league still isn’t expected to return to the city on a permanent basis anytime soon, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst details in an in-depth report.
According to Windhorst, the NBA doesn’t have expansion on its timeline and the latest arena developments in Seattle weren’t discussed at the league’s Board of Governors meeting last month. Sources tell Windhorst that some prospective NBA ownership groups have been told by league officials that expansion may not happen until at least 2025, when a new TV deal can be negotiated.
The Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, led by veteran executive Tim Leiweke, is currently in the process of redoing KeyArena — the arena will close for renovations following Friday’s game. That renovation project, which initially had a $600MM price tag, is now projected to cost $750MM, Leiweke tells ESPN. When it’s finished, the New Arena at Seattle Center – as it’s now known – is expected to be ready to house an NHL team and an NBA team, as well as premium concerts and shows.
Seattle officials are optimistic that the city’s odds of landing an NBA franchise will increase substantially once that arena project is complete, with Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan indicating that she has spoken to commissioner Adam Silver and “communicated to him that we’re interested.” However, Windhorst notes that if an NHL franchise moves into the arena first, a hypothetical NBA team would be “arriving last to the party,” which could diminish the league’s interest.
As Windhorst explains, NBA franchise in major markets are increasingly looking to control their own arenas in order to maximize their revenue. The Warriors are doing just that with the Chase Center, and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has a similar plan in in the works to move out of the Staples Center and get his own building. Based on that trend, the NBA may ultimately be more interested in a rival Seattle arena plan from investor Chris Hansen. Hansen, who has long been interested in bringing the NBA back to Seattle, still hopes to construct a privately-financed arena in the city’s SoDo district, near the MLB and NFL stadiums. That project is still in the planning stages though.
For now, Silver and the NBA are focused more on building new audiences in non-U.S. markets than they are on expanding within the United States. Windhorst reports that the league is close to announcing the launch of an NBA G League franchise in Mexico City, which is expected to begin play in 2019/20. That G League team will serve as a “trial balloon” to see how an NBA team south of the border might function, Windhorst adds.
With expansion not on the table anytime soon, relocation would be another potential path to get the NBA back to Seattle. According to Windhorst, several prospective ownership groups are keeping an eye on the Grizzlies, since lawyers believe language in their long-term lease with FedEx Forum could create a window for the team to leave Memphis in 2021. However, team owner Robert Pera bought out a pair of minority owners earlier this year and said at the time that he was “committed to Memphis as an NBA market,” so there are no indications that he’d consider selling.
Ultimately, while the NBA seems destined to return to Seattle at some point, all signs point to that return being a ways off yet.