America's New Arena Surplus, And The Siren Song Of NBA Expansion

June 28, 2012; Newark, NJ, USA; NBA commissioner David Stern speaks at the conclusion of the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Virginia Beach apparently wants an NBA team, too. Get in line. At least five cities are openly flirting with the NBA, but there are no teams left to move. So don't be surprised if we start talking about expansion soon.

The monotony of the NBA offseason was punctured (at least in some circles) by Thursday's whirlwind rumors that the beautiful burg of Virginia Beach, Virginia, planned to discuss an arena deal next week with a major league team, initially rumored to be the Sacramento Kings, on deck. As the day went along, the presence of the Kings in the whole blueprint seems to disappear: the team's owner initially claimed he hadn't talked to Virginia Beach, and a spokesman later refused all comment on any relocation rumors. (Seems smart.) Moreover, Comcast-Spectacor (recent owners of the Philadelphia 76ers) denied they had a specific team in place, and the leader of a hoteliers board that would reportedly provide crucial funding to the project claimed ignorance. This train hasn't reached the station yet, let alone left it.

But that doesn't change the fact that some high-powered folks in Virginia Beach are seriously working toward building an NBA-ready arena. And it doesn't erase the presence of NBA-able arenas and the political will to host a team in places like Louisville, Kansas City, Anaheim and, possibly soon, Seattle and Las Vegas. Each of the first three cities on that list have made plays of varying enthusiasm for the Kings; Anaheim actually approved renovations to the Honda Center and a lease agreement a little more than a year ago. Hilariously, Seattle fans who have unironically made an emotional claim on the Kings, reacted to the Virginia Beach news on Thursday much as Sacramentans did. (F.Y.I.G.M. culture as its finest.)

So we have all of these rich people that want to own NBA teams. And now we have all of these cities with NBA buildings, plans to have NBA buildings or inclinations to have NBA buildings. But we don't really have any teams to sell to the rich people, and we don't really have any teams to move to the new cities.

Only the Atlanta Hawks are considered to be on the market at this point. A number of teams changed hands as the lockout approached and ended -- the Sixers were the latest and the Grizzlies are next, but the Bobcats, Hornets, Nets, Wizards, Warriors and Pistons were all sold, too. Only the Nets moved, and that was a long-destined skip across the river. (The Warriors want to ditch Oakland for San Francisco, too; the difference between the W's and the Nets is that the East Bay has passionately supported a bad team for decades, and deserves better.)

In addition to the Hawks, it'd be little surprise if Herb Kohl put the Milwaukee Bucks on the block, and there have been rumors that Paul Allen is looking to sell the Portland Trail Blazers. But the Hawks aren't moving, and it'd highly unlikely that either the Bucks or Blazers would, either. (The Blazers typically enjoy strong local support. Rumors have suggested that by leaving the Senate this year, Kohl would be safe to sell the Bucks to someone who could move the team, but he has recently backed a local arena effort.)

Meanwhile, the Kings, everyone's favorite target, aren't actually up for grabs. The NBA has been pretty adamant in its anger at the Maloofs for killing a perfectly fine arena plan in Sacramento, and there is no reason to believe that the Maloofs can afford to leave. They owe the city of Sacramento $70 million (due upon departure) and would face a relocation fee of at least $30 million, more if the target is Anaheim, where the Lakers and Clippers would want cut in. If the Maloofs want to move the Kings, chances are that they need to sell the team. Sacramento hopes -- realistically so, in my estimation -- that if the Maloofs do put the team on the market, David Stern will push them toward selling to a group that will keep the Kings where they've been for more than a quarter of a century. Several potential owners have already volunteered to do so.

So here we are. Virginia Beach may next week add itself to the list of cities ready for an NBA team... a list that, as soon as Seattle gets its stuff together, would be five deep. Five cities that want teams, zero teams in play for relocation. There's no case to be made for NBA expansion based on talent or team economics. But for league interest? There is absolutely a case for it.

It won't happen soon -- you don't go from contraction threats to expansion talk within a couple of years. And while the 30 current owners would love to split a $250-300 million franchise fee or two among themselves, the thought of adding another 15 or 30 players onto league payroll might not be desirable. But so long as the Kings stay in Sacramento and the Blazers' faithful remain faithful and Herb Kohl is focused on making it work in Wisconsin, the only way for any of these bright-eyed cities to get a team is expansion. No one else is moving.

In the end, I do think that eventually one of the most at-risk teams will move. I would have bet on the Grizzlies before Robert Pera found local partners, and now I think that the Kings are at the top of the list. The threat to me isn't so much that the Maloofs will try to challenge the NBA head-on -- I think they'll wait it out, hope Sacramento and its fans relax a bit and then strike. In that case, the Seattles, Anaheims and Virginia Beaches are all just positioning themselves atop the list.

If the Kings never move, and if the Bucks get a new arena in Milwaukee, and if the Blazers rise again? Seattle and Anaheim are going to building the case for expansion. And it might be hard for the league office to ignore that siren song for too long. Stay tuned.

***

The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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