Detroit Pistons to move? And Anaheim inches closer

Came across a couple items of note today.

First is an article that I originally missed from early February that discusses the possibility of Pittsburgh getting an NBA franchise, building on discussion in Detroit in late January that the Pistons may move if local buyers can’t be found. Pittsburgh has the brand-new Consol Energy Center that is home to the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL. Although there seems to be doubt in many people’s minds (including Mark Cuban’s) that Pittsburgh is big enough to support two teams.

But my interest, of course, is the addition of the Detroit Pistons to the growing list of teams that may possibly end up in Vancouver some day. I remember it being a neat story in 2004 when the Pistons won the NBA championship at the same time the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. The connection is that both teams were owned by William Davidson, who has since died and his widow Karen Davidson wants to sell the Pistons.

From what I understand the Palace of Auburn Hills in the Detroit suburbs is a pretty awful place to watch basketball, but the prospects of someone building a new arena in Detroit given the economic challenges facing that city seem doubtful. I’m not saying the Palace is so bad that a new arena is needed right away (like in Sacramento), but the fact that the team is for sale and might be purchased by non-local owners makes its future location an open question. Hmm, Vancouver or Detroit……

The 2nd piece of news is a column by Tom Van Riper on Forbes that reveals the Maloof brothers (owners of the Sacramento Kings) have applied for trademarks on various possible new franchise names for a team in Anaheim. It appears they will leave the Kings nickname in Kansas City and revert to the franchise’s original name, the Royals (from Cincinnati and Rochester). It was also suggested that southern California will be able to accommodate 3 teams and that back-channel talks with the Lakers and Clippers have probably already occurred in order for the possible move to progress this far.

Van Riper also mentioned something that I probably knew at the time but had forgotten – when Michael Heisley was looking to move the Grizzlies out of Vancouver, he originally considered the Honda Center in Anaheim. After 10 years, it looks like that building will finally be home to an NBA franchise very soon.

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Maybe not Kansas City?

This story  is mostly about hockey and the fact that Kansas City is no longer viewed (by some, at least) as a logical destination for one of the many distressed NHL franchises.But there was also a mention that from a Kansas City perspective, they aren’t optimistic about landing an NBA franchise either. The suggestion was that a rich owner would need to choose to move their team to Kansas City, implying there aren’t rich owners in Kansas City ready to attract a team to their home city.

A rich guy buying a distressed team somewhere else, making a token effort to make it work in that city, and then re-locating the team to his home city as the conquering hero is a pretty reasonable formula for how this works. That’s exactly what Clay Bennett did in getting the Supersonics out of Seattle to his home in Oklahoma City. And if you can believe the rumours, when Michael Heisley was looking to move the Grizzlies out of Vancouver, his first choice was to move them to his hometown of Chicago as a 2nd team to compete with the Bulls.

From the Vancouver point of view, any development that makes competing cities less likely to land a team is good news. But nobody really knows what Vancouver’s chances are right now. The only city that is definitely on the verge of getting a new NBA team is Anaheim (when and if the Sacramento Kings decide to move – they have a mid-April deadline to apply). Everybody else remains on hold.

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Hornets to San Jose

Very interesting perspective from Tim Kawakami that San Jose may be in the NBA’s sights as an eventual location of the New Orleans Hornets, to be owned by Oracle mega-billionaire Larry Ellison.

Ellison recently lost out on a bid to buy the Golden State Warriors, but Kawakami suggests that after a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the owners and players is finalized, he’s a logical new owner of the NBA-owned New Orleans franchise and would move them to San Jose as a 2nd Bay Area team.

The NBA’s seeming willingness to allow the Maloofs to move the Sacramento franchise to Anaheim, right next door to the Lakers and Clippers, is seen as proof that local territories are not sacrosanct. Especially if there is a willing local TV network.

So Vancouver’s NBA future might follow this sequence of events:

1. The Sacramento Kings move to Anaheim.

2. The New Orleans Hornets move to San Jose.

3. The Charlotte Bobcats (?) move to Kansas City. (I’m guessing that Charlotte is the next most likely team to move – they are dead in that market. And Kansas City reminds me of Oklahoma City 5-6 years ago – they have a modern new arena, and will take either an NHL or NBA franchise, whichever becomes available first. So I would give Kansas City the best chance to get the next team.)

4. Another team (Milwaukee?) that gets into trouble looks for the best market and Vancouver is one of the cities considered. Now I think we’re looking at 2015 or 2016 and there are many ifs to be resolved, including continued strength in the Canadian dollar. If the long list of factors continue to look favourable, and the Aquilini family that owns the Canucks decide there is a strong business case, then it could happen.

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Top 5 Possible NBA Targets for Vancouver

As of today, my top 5 contenders to move to Vancouver are:

  1. New Orleans Hornets.For obvious reasons – they’re owned by the NBA, they

    have an old arena, and the market is not supporting them.

  2. Sacramento Kings. All the buzz has been the Kings moving to Anaheim, possibly as early as next year. I rank them 2nd because they will almost certainly be moving and there are real challenges with their preferred target of Anaheim (not the least of which is encroaching on the territory of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers).
  3. Charlotte Bobcats. Poor arena, terrible local support in the market, and I would say somewhat questionable ownership. Is Michael Jordan really rich enough, and committed enough, to stick with this for the long haul? Or might he be tempted by the opportunity to cash out?
  4. Milwaukee Bucks. Another old arena, in a smaller market. I’ve heard nothing imminent on this one, but the long-term stagnation of northern cities like Milwaukee, compared to the upward trajectory of dynamic global markets like Vancouver, means the business case for staying in Milwaukee is likely to get worse and worse over time.
  5. Indiana Pacers. In some ways, this one is really hard to imagine given the cultural importance of basketball in the Hoosier State. They also have what is widely considered one of the best new buildings in the league in Conseco Fieldhouse. But the challenge is, once again, lack of local support. Over the long term, NBA franchises should migrate to the markets where they will be most profitable. And as good as Vancouver looks now compared to 10 years ago, it’s going to look even better in another 10 years.
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Charlotte among top contenders to move

The Bleacher Report has been covering the NBA franchise relocation issue for a while and has one of their annoying slide shows up that highlights the 4 franchises most in danger of moving. We already know about New Orleans and Sacramento, but the interesting one they add is Charlotte.

I’d heard recently about their absolutely pathetic television numbers (averaging 11,000 households in the Charlotte area) and they still haven’t solved the arena issues that partly led to the Hornets leaving for New Orleans in 2002.

The 4th team mentioned is Minnesota, but little reason is given other than cold weather and the abysmal history of the team. Although the Target Centre is getting old, so perhaps they’re a possibility.

They also list the top 4 cities ready to accept an NBA team:

  • Kansas City (agree)
  • Anaheim (agree, and may get Sacramento very soon)
  • Vancouver (agree)
  • Seattle (disagree – no team will move there without assurances of a replacement for Key Arena, and that’s nowhere near a reality)
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One Contender Down?

One of the factors working in Vancouver’s favour as a future NBA city is that multiple current franchises are in financial distress and may be looking for a new home. Most of the recent commotion has associated the New Orleans Hornets with Vancouver, simply because the NBA has taken ownership of that team.

But another team that I’ve considered a possibility for Vancouver is the Sacramento Kings, who have been trying for years to get a new building to replace Arco Arena. And now comes newsfrom ESPN’s Marc Stein that the Kings may be considering a move to Anaheim as early as next season.The team would play in the Honda Center, which is owned, along with the NHL Anaheim Ducks, by Henry Samueli. Anaheim is one of the cities, along with Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Tampa (and Vancouver), that have new arenas suitable for an NBA franchise.

There is a deadline of March 1 for the Kings to apply to move for next season. If this occurs, that’s one fewer contender to move to Vancouver.

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Grizzlies, 10 Years Later

Mike Beamish of the Vancouver Sun provides a retrospective of the Vancouver Grizzlies situation and their departure for Memphis, 10 years after the fact. He interviews some of the protagonists of the day, including owner Michael Heisley and former owner Arthur Griffiths. Heisley says that economic conditions essentially made the decision for him, that the currency imbalance whereby local revenues were in Canadian dollars while most expenses were in US dollars made the situation untenable. I’m very sympathetic to that position, and it’s one of the issues that no longer exists.

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