NBA Contraction Isn't the Answer
He's right. More isn't always better. More Mark Blount? Bad. More power for Mike Dunleavy Sr.? Bad. But in terms of the number of NBA teams -- the current 30 is a sweet spot. Erasing a half-dozen wouldn't strengthen the league. It would, for all intents and purposes, significantly damage its scope.
Attendance is bad in a few markets -- Indianapolis, Sacramento, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Charlotte, Atlanta (eternally Atlanta), Memphis. Not coincidentally, all but one of these teams are bad. Phenomenally bad. (Atlanta as a sports market is an enigma, and trying to make sense of it is a fool's game.) Recently Indy, Sacto and Minny hosted great crowds, full arenas. Two seasons ago, the Kings sold out every home game (despite a 33-win season). When a contender, Indiana kept the gym full. Minnesota has averaged better 15,000 fans a game in recent years despite a truly awful team.
Down attendance ... as teams rebuild their talent bases ... during a global financial crisis, aren't we jumping off the cliff a little too quickly by calling for contraction? My argument isn't based on the fact that these particular teams can be healthy again -- but if you agree and remove these teams from the list, who do you add? I mean, San Antonio -- despite perennial contention -- can barely beat league average attendance marks, has difficulty selling out opening nights and playoff games, and constantly asks the public for arena funding. Should we contract the Spurs? Would that make the league stronger?
The NBA has two or three current markets with serious problems: Memphis (the real ghoul), Charlotte (which may never recover from the Shinn departure) and Indiana (dying). Memphis probably shouldn't have a pro team, and needs a new owner badly. Should we blow the thing up? No! Other markets are dying to host the NBA. Look at the lengths Oklahoma City went to in order to have a team. Clay Bennett basically ruined his national reputation because bringing the Sonics to OKC would make him a local hero. Think about that. Bringing the NBA to Okla-fricking-homa made the dude a hero. The man had to resort to a completely shady tactics to spring the Sonics free because the demand for local NBA basketball was so high in two markets. (Unless you think, Dave, that Seattle didn't want to keep the Sonics ...)
Seattle, Kansas City, Anaheim, San Jose, Las Vegas, London ... they all want franchises, too! Cities see extremely high value in getting an NBA franchise, despite little proof teams or arenas serve as meaningful economic engines. There's a positive stigma attached to the NBA at the local level, which is all sorts of amazing when you consider, say, the last four decades of roller coaster attitudes toward the league.
Heck, just three years ago a certain small market team had awful attendance, an awful product, a bad arena situation and an owner looking to sell. That team? The Blazers. I, for one, am glad they didn't get contracted because of a rough patch.
The economy will rebound, the bad teams will rebound (as the Blazers did), and attendance will rebound. If a market (Memphis, Sacramento, Indianapolis) cannot support an NBA team long-term, the team will eventually move. (See: Vancouver.) Another market will support it, or try. There is no situation, nor will there likely be in the foreseeable future a situation where a team needs to move but there are no suitors. That isn't even fathomable. This isn't a fast food chain. This is the National Fricking Basketball Association.
Small markets do need help right now. Revenue sharing would go a long way toward providing that. The Knicks made an estimated $30 million of profit last season despite doing everything wrong, thanks to a sweet local TV deal. The Blazers lost $1 million, despite filling the building, putting out a promising product and doing things the right way. Market size -- and market size alone -- let James Dolan walk away with $30 million in profit while Paul Allen lost money on a far superior enterprise. Is that fair? Think sharing a greater pool of TV and corporate sponsorship cash between the teams might help these so-called endangered franchises balance the books?
Before we decide to endorse blowing up some valuable markets, look at the full range of options. Help the small markets survive, or erase them? Not a tough choice.