ESPN’s Windhorst: Conditions are ‘favorable’ for NBA to bring back Seattle Sonics
With a shiny new arena set to open this season with a brand-new NHL team and a league facing a budget shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rumors of the return of the Seattle Sonics have been picking up steam, and according to one NBA insider, it’s for good reason.
Brian Windhorst, who covers the NBA for ESPN, said that for the last five years or so, he and his ESPN colleagues have asked NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the potential for NBA expansion, and during that time, Silver has always said it wasn’t on the horizon.
Last month, Silver told reporters that due to the pandemic, the league was looking closer at expansion than it had in a long time. ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported that Seattle would likely be “first in line” if the NBA expanded from 30 teams to either 31 or 32. Windhorst told Stacy Rost and Jake Heaps that the NBA over the last few weeks “has simultaneously continued to feed that fire, and also tried to back off of it.”
During a recent interview with KING 5, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan said that she had spoken to Silver about expansion and that she was “pretty optimistic” about those talks.
Windhorst said that given the economic shortfall that the pandemic has caused the NBA, expansion makes sense given when the league has expanded in the past.
“Historically, the NBA has expanded coming off times where there’s been some financial hardship for the league,” he said. “And I think there are people in the league office who would square up with me and really duke it out with me if I implied that just because they’re having some financial difficulties, they would expand to buy their way out of it. So I don’t necessarily want to qualify it with that, but again, historically if you go back and look at the expansions in the ’70s, in the ’80s and in the ’90s, it came when the league could use an influx of money and expansion is a way to get fast money. I think the conditions are more favorable than they’ve been in a long time for this to happen.”
It’s been reported that in order to secure an expansion team, an ownership group would need to pay roughly $2.5 billion dollars in addition to having an NBA-caliber arena. The Seattle Kraken will begin play at Climate Pledge Arena, which is a renovated version of Key Arena, which the Seattle Sonics used to call home before moving to Oklahoma City.
Even if the NBA agreed to expansion in Seattle, it would be years down the line. Heaps wondered if the NBA would really try to recoup losses from the pandemic say five years from now. Windhorst said the NBA could, and likely would, try to get most of that money up front, and that expansion could hypothetically happen sooner than that.
“You can expand in three years, but you can make the decision on expansion in a year,” he said. “So I can say to you ‘we’re not expanding for years,’ and that’d be a true statement, and also we’d be working towards expansion right now. So both things can be true.”
Like his ESPN colleague Bontemps, Windhorst says bringing the Seattle Sonics back through expansion makes too much sense for the league to pass up if its going to add teams.
“What I would say is this: When the NBA expands, I would be stunned if it’s not Seattle, and Adam Silver is moving in that direction,” Windhorst said. “If there was some sort of stock that I could buy that there will be a Seattle Supersonics back in the medium- to long-term, I would buy that stock. I feel stronger about that than I ever have. Of course, that doesn’t help you if you want to watch a Sonics game in 2023. I can’t promise you that.”
Windhorst said that other than the ownership group who moved the Seattle Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, no one in or around the league really wanted to leave Seattle. Now, he says, Seattle is such an “economic power” that the league has been “derelict” not having a team in the market. He compared it to how the NFL didn’t have a team in Los Angeles for roughly 20 years up until a few years ago.
“It was kind of insane that the NFL wasn’t (in Los Angeles) and it’s kind of insane that the NBA is not in Seattle,” he said, later saying the league was “insane” from a business standpoint not to move the Kings from Sacramento to Seattle in 2013.
So while Windhorst can’t confirm expansion is coming any time soon, he does believe that if it happens, the Seattle Sonics make too much sense for the league to pass up.
“With where Seattle is from a corporate standpoint, they would be such an asset to the NBA, not only because of the vibrant fanbase, but because frankly money would come in from Seattle,” he said.