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O’Neil: NBA owner makes a Seattle Sonics expansion sound inevitable

There has been some speculation the Minnesota Timberwolves could be moved to Seattle. (Getty)

The owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves said this week that the NBA plans to put a team in Seattle that would replace the Sonics.

It’s just not the team that he currently owns.

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And while Glen Taylor was discussing the future of his franchise in an interview with 830 AM, a news-talk station in Minneapolis, everyone in Seattle should pay special attention to what he said about the league’s plan to return to the market.

“It’s in the NBA’s interest that in Seattle a new team is formed,” Taylor said. “It’s an economic decision that’s in the interest of all of the owners.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that one little statement, and we’ll do our best to show all of the surrounding context in just a second. But if there’s one thing you should take away from this story, it’s that a current NBA owner indicated the other owners are on-board with the idea that the Timberwolves franchise will stay in Minnesota while Seattle will be home to a new franchise.

“We’ve already had the discussion as owners,” Taylor said during the radio interview. “I’m on the committee, I know that. We’ve had the discussion within the owners group of what we’re going to do and what the future holds for those franchises.”

So why is Taylor talking about this now? Well, he’s looking to sell his franchise, and he’s nearing an agreement with an ownership group that includes ex-baseball All-Star Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore, a former Wal-Mart executive. Rodriguez’s major-league career began in Seattle, which caused some to speculate maybe he would look to move the franchise to that city and become a hero in a city where he was resoundingly booed after leaving for Texas as a free agent.

Taylor used this week’s radio interview to say that relocation was not a realistic possibility for the franchise, pointing out that first of all, the contract being drawn up with the buyers would explicitly forbid that.

“But let’s just say somehow they were able to break that agreement,” Taylor said. “The real agreement is with the NBA. So the NBA will make the decision if somebody’s going to move or not move. The NBA will not approve of the Timberwolves moving from here to Seattle.”

Taylor then said it’s in the NBA’s interest that a new team be placed in Seattle, and while that’s not exactly a new or novel idea, it is more concrete than anything the league has previously said. For years, commissioner Adam Silver has said that he believes the league will eventually expand, saying it was destined to do so on several occasions. He always couched that statement by saying it had no plans to do so at the present time, however. That changed in December 2020 when Silver said that expansion was now on the front-burner.

Seattle had the Sonics NBA franchise for 40 years before it was stolen relocated after the 2007 season. The issue at the time was the accommodations at KeyArena, which were deemed inadequate to NBA standards. Well, Seattle is set to unveil a brand new arena later this year, which will house the Seattle Kraken, an NHL expansion franchise, and was designed to meet NBA specs for a potential new Sonics team.

And listening to Taylor this week, it sure sounds like the question of expanding to add a team in Seattle is not a matter of “if” but “when,” especially when you consider the potential price the league would charge for the new franchise.

“If they start a new team out there,” Taylor said of Seattle, “that team is going to have to pay maybe $2 billion to get started out there. And they pay those to the other owners.”

The sale price for the Timberwolves has been reported to be $1.5 billion, and Taylor pointed out that the buyers certainly wouldn’t be interested in matching the price of a potential expansion fee in order to move the team into that market.

“The present owners are not going to pay a billion and a half to leave it in Minnesota,” Taylor said, “and then an additional $2 billion to move it out there. That’s the way it is really going to go down.”

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