Adam Silver confirms NBA will talk expansion once new television deals in place

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It’s been the working theory on NBA expansion for a year or so now: First, the NBA wants to secure long-term labor peace with a new CBA (check), then it wants to lock down its new national television broadcast deals (talks are ongoing). Only then will the NBA turn its focus to expansion.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed that in Las Vegas, taking questions at the Associated Press Sports Editors convention (hat tip Mike Vorkunov at The Athletic ).

“We will turn to expansion once those new media deals are done,” Silver said Monday at the annual APSE conference. “It’s not a sure thing but, as I’ve said before, I think it’s natural that organizations grow over time.”

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It’s fairly close to a sure thing. Expansion is widely expected to get approval from the owners when the topic comes up. Not so coincidentally, they would get a one-time cash windfall from the deal (the expansion fee new ownership groups will pay to the league is expected to be more than $3 billion a franchise, which gets divided among the teams). What has held owners back from approving expansion previously is that windfall didn’t seem worth it when factoring in the division of the television rights money by 32 instead of 30. However, the economics have turned with a massive new television deal and the rapid rise of franchise values.

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Seattle is a lock to get a team. The league — and fans — want the Sonics back in Seattle, and that fan base deserves it. The backlash would be intense if the NBA expanded and did not return to Seattle.

Las Vegas is considered a clear frontrunner for the second expansion team, with the NHL’s Golden Knights and NFL’s Raiders showing the city can support a major sports franchise. Other cities/billionaires may try to step in and make it a conversation, but despite what Silver said there has been groundwork laid, and Vegas is considered at the top of the list for a reason.

The timeline is still drawn out. Expect the NBA owners to start broadly discussing expansion a year from now, probably vote on it in 2025, then it will take a handful more years to get the franchises up and running (both Seattle and Las Vegas have NBA-ready arenas, which is a plus). This is more of a “by the end of the decade” thing, but expansion is coming to the NBA. Even if Silver is slow playing it.

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