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Seattle Sonics ‘likely first in line’ if NBA expands, which Silver says is possible

The Seattle Sonics may be "first in line" if NBA expands, which seems more likely than before. (AP)

Adam Silver has been the commissioner of the NBA since 2014, and since then, he’s been asked about the possibility of expanding the league beyond 30 franchises, usually answering that the league isn’t really considering it at the moment. He was asked about potential again this week, and this time, he appeared more open to the idea, prompting speculation that the Seattle Sonics could return to the Pacific Northwest.

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“I think I’ve always said that it’s sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point,” Silver said during a preseason press conference, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “I’d say it’s caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion. We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic. But certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.”

As with other professional sports leagues as well as businesses in general, the NBA has lost money due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bontemps writes that it’s “notable” that Silver acknowledged the potential of expansion because any expansion franchise would come with a “hefty sum” likely exceeding $1 billion, which would be be passed on to the league’s 30 teams.

“One of our focuses as the league office is always on how do you create better competition. So that’s one of the things that we continue to think about as we consider expansion,” Silver said, per Bontemps. “… It’s an economic issue and it’s a competitive issue for us. So it’s one that we’ll continue to study, but we’re spending a little bit more time on it than we were pre-pandemic.”

Any time that there’s rumors or speculation of NBA expansion or a franchise moving cities, the first thing that comes to mind is often whether the Seattle Sonics would be able to become a franchise again as a result. According to Bontemps, should the NBA choose to expand, “Seattle would likely be first in line.”

The Seattle Sonics left the Pacific Northwest after the 2007-2008 season and became the Oklahoma City Thunder shortly after the franchise was sold to Clay Bennett, who wanted to move the team to his native Oklahoma. Since then, there have been multiple instances of Seattle Sonics fans getting their hopes up for a team coming back to Washington State, most notably when Seattle nearly got the Sacramento Kings in 2013 before Vivek Ranadive bought the team and kept them in California.

The NBA hasn’t expanded since the inception of the Charlotte Bobcats — now Hornets — in 2002, with the team beginning play in 2004.

One issue that caused the Seattle Sonics to leave after 2008 was due to the arena they played in, Key Arena. Seattle was awarded an NHL team which is set to begin play in 2021, the Seattle Kraken, and Key Arena has been renovated and is now Climate Pledge Arena. The arena is up to NBA standards in the event that NBA expansion is on the table or a different franchise chooses to relocate.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.