With a lockout looming for the 2011-12 season, NBA commissioner David Stern said contraction of teams is a possibility. Stern wondered if “franchises that are losing enormous sums of money should continue as failing enterprises.”
It is hard to believe that a league willing to give Wesley Matthews $33 million, Amir Johnson $34 million, and Joe Johnson $119 million is hurting financially. But for the sake of appeasement, let’s take a look at the six teams that are likely to be at the top of Stern’s contraction list…
6. Charlotte Bobcats — In each of their six years of existence, the Bobcats have finished in the bottom-10 of league attendance. And this is already Charlotte’s second shot at the NBA having lost the Hornets to New Orleans. But this time Michael Jordan is the owner. It is one thing to miss the playoffs in five of the team’s six seasons, but having Jordan’s team contracted would be the ultimate fail, and something he would never let happen.
5. Sacramento Kings — The Kings averaged just 13,254 fans per game last year (29th out of 30). It marked the third straight year that the team finished in the bottom-five of the NBA in attendance. The Kings have been actively seeking a new arena in Sacramento. But after their most recent effort failed, the NBA announced that they were no longer going to help seek a new arena for the Kings. Still, the Maloofs are among the more popular owners in the NBA (even with George Maloof’s recent DUI arrest). Their Las Vegas casino business might have something to do with that. Relocation would seem a more likely solution for the Kings franchise.
4. Toronto Raptors — The Raptors have actually finished in the top-half of league attendance each of the last four seasons and were 14th last year despite missing the playoffs. The biggest thing going for the Raptors is their international status. For a league that wants to someday expand to Europe, it wouldn’t look good if they contracted their only team outside of the U.S..
3. Minnesota Timberwolves — In the last five years, the T-Wolves haven’t finished above 24th in the league in attendance. And last night, they failed to sell out their opener. Owner Glen Taylor said he would not be open to letting the T-Wolves be contracted. Of course he has also stated that he has “no plans” to sell the team, which is usually what an owner says right before they start making those plans.
2. New Orleans Hornets — In nine years of existence, the Hornets have finished last in attendance (2004-05) and they have finished as high as 11th (2005-06). The knock against the Hornets is their market size. They are the second-smallest NBA city in terms of population and the smallest TV market (#54 TV market in the US). Majority-owner George Shinn appears to be ready to sell his stake in the team to minority-owner Gary Chouest. Would the NBA step in and buyout Shinn themselves? Still, for all that the city of New Orleans has gone through, it is hard to imagine the NBA would abandon The Big Easy so quickly.
1. Memphis Grizzlies — In the last four years, the Grizzlies have finished in the bottom-three of the NBA in attendance. And in their nine seasons in Memphis, they have only finished above 24th in attendance one time (2004-05). The Grizzlies, who moved from Vancouver, don’t have a historical tie to the area and owner Michael Heisley is trying to sell the team. Even though Heisley says he wants the Grizz to stay in Memphis, if a new owner can’t be found soon, the NBA could buyout Heisley. And as only the 44th biggest TV market in the US, the NBA wouldn’t be missing much.
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