The first real sign that NBA Commissioner David Stern was sympathetic to a possible 2nd act for the NBA in Vancouver was his appearance on the BS Reportpodcast in December 2008. Stern was then 2 months shy of 25 years on the job and much of the discussion was a retrospective on the biggest events of his near quarter-century as the NBA’s top man.He was asked which idea would he most like to have a mulligan on. After a bit of thought, here is the conversation between Stern and Bill Simmons.
Stern: I wish we hadn’t had the Vancouver experience.
Simmons: For what reason?
Stern: Great city, and we disappointed them. And we disappointed ourselves.
Simmons: And you feel like you can’t go back now?
Stern: I don’t think we can go back and I think that was a great city and I just think that we just didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Maybe we shouldn’t have done it there, maybe we should have only expanded into Toronto and not done Toronto and Vancouver, but that’s a great disappointment to me.
You can listen to the whole thing here. The Vancouver thing starts around 35 minutes in.
While Stern’s words, when taken at face value, are against a future NBA return to Vancouver, it was encouraging to hear that he clearly regrets what happened in Vancouver and accepts that the NBA should bear a significant portion of the blame. It would have been great for Simmons to probe a bit further for details on why Stern feels this way, but we can speculate that saddling Vancouver with an incompetent general manager, Stu Jackson, might be a regret.
Another regret is surely the excessive draft and salary cap restrictions that both Vancouver and Toronto were saddled with. It was obvious that other NBA owners saw only the dollar signs from expansion fees, but wanted to ensure that these new teams did not enjoy the same quick success that some of the previous expansion teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s had enjoyed, particularly the Orlando Magic. The Magic won the draft lottery two years in a row, getting a generational talent in Shaquille O’Neal one year and then Chris Webber the next (who they traded to Golden State for a package including the #3 pick, Penny Hardaway).
The NBA’s remedy was to limit the Grizzlies and Raptors to only a portion of the salary cap and to prevent them from winning top pick in the NBA draft for their first four drafts. They were slotted at #6 and #7 in their first draft in 1995, then the Raptors actually won the lottery in 1996 but were denied the first pick (Allen Iverson). The Grizzlies won the lottery in 1998 but had to pick 2nd (which wasn’t a huge loss in retrospect as they picked Mike Bibby #2 and the Clippers chose mega-bust Michael Olowakandi at #1).
And Stern probably regrets the way that the franchise transfer to Memphis occurred. But regardless of the specific reasons for regret, the fact that Stern accepts the NBA’s role in the failure of the Vancouver Grizzlies suggests that the Association will do its best to ensure the next Vancouver franchise will be a success.