Silver: Exploring NBA expansion next on agenda

BOSTON — With the league already having secured a new collective bargaining agreement last summer and currently finalizing new media rights deals, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said its next order of business will be exploring expansion beyond 30 teams.

“It’s not preordained that we will expand this time, but I know there’s an enormous amount of interest out there,” Silver said during his annual NBA Finals news conference before Game 1 between the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics on Thursday. “And to me, yes, there are wealthy individuals, institutions that would like to invest and buy NBA teams, but I think it’s on the league to look holistically because there is the dilution, of course.”

The NBA has not expanded since 2004, when it added a team in Charlotte two years after the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans. In the decades that have followed, the average team valuation has skyrocketed from the hundreds of million dollars range to multibillions.

Silver cited a concern that adding two teams could lead to a talent dip leaguewide, with approximately 35 individuals added to the player pool.

“I feel great about where the talent is right now in the league, but those players have to come from somewhere,” Silver said.

The commissioner also discussed the need to find which markets could do the most to “grow the game.” While Silver has referenced Seattle and Las Vegas as potential new host cities in the past, he said those sites are not a given, either.

“At some point, we’d like to look outside the United States, in addition to Canada,” Silver said. “This may not be the right moment to do that, but I’m thinking long term, as well.”

Silver said the league hopes to finish up its new media rights agreements in the “relative near term.” ESPN, Amazon and NBC have been in talks with the league on deals totaling approximately $76 billion over 11 years, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“It’s complicated with multiple partners all seeking similar assets. In many cases, just figuring out the right way to balance those games as they go to different partners,” Silver said. “We tend to do long-term deals. We think that’s good for the stability of the league, but it means to a certain extent you’re trying to predict the future, which is, of course, impossible.”

Silver also addressed Warner Bros. Discovery potentially ending its longstanding partnership with the league and what that would mean for TNT’s award-winning “Inside the NBA” program.

“It has been difficult, that show in particular is special,” said Silver, adding that he has personal relationships with the show’s stars in Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. “On one hand from the league standpoint, it’s fantastic to be liked and to be wanted and to have multiple suitors. At the same time, it makes me uncomfortable that it’s zero sum, that at the end of the day there’s only going to be so many television packages, there’s only so many Finals games and playoff games and regular-season games to distribute.”

Silver then mentioned the network’s production staff behind the scenes.

“The people who seem to be most impacted right now, the folks at Turner Sports, I apologize that this has been a prolonged process because I know they’re committed to their jobs,” Silver said. “I know people who work in this industry. It’s a large part of their identity and their family‘s identity, and no one likes this uncertainty, and I think it’s on the league office to bring these negotiations to a head and conclude them as quickly as we can.

Silver commented on several more league topics during the nearly 35-minute news conference:

• After the hard foul from the Chicago Sky’s Chennedy Carter on Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark dominated the news cycle recently, Silver said the hit — which was later upgraded to a flagrant foul by the WNBA — should be categorized as a “welcome to the league” moment and was the type of treatment that “heralded rookies” have gone through for years.

Silver said the “tremendous additional interest” that Clark and Chicago rookie Angel Reese have brought with them after highly successful NCAA careers has been “very healthy for women’s basketball and the WNBA” but acknowledged that racial dynamics have seeped into the conversation.

“There’s also some larger societal issues at work,” Silver said. “There’s no doubt. I don’t want to hide from that. Some having to do with race, and they’re very apparent. I think sports historically has been a platform for people to talk directly about these issues. I don’t think we should hide from them.”

• With LeBron James and Stephen Curry entering the latter stages of their careers after being two of the most popular players in the NBA for more than a decade, Silver said he is not worried about what will happen to its business if the two American superstars retire and an international player emerges as the so-called face of the league.

“I’m absolutely fine with that,” Silver said.

He pointed to the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, participating in his first Finals at just 25 years old, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led the Milwaukee Bucks to the title in 2021, as model ambassadors.

“I think if that player becomes part of that community, lives in that community, gives of himself or herself in the WNBA to that community, I think they become part and parcel,” Silver said.

He did, however, recognize the importance of the NBA focusing on the “proper development of American players” because “the majority of our revenue still comes from the United States.”

• After implementing a new policy for the 2023-24 season requiring players to participate in at least 65 games to be eligible for individual awards, Silver supported its impact thus far.

“I will say just based on one season of data, we’re happy with the 65-game rule,” Silver said.

• With the NBA’s coaches’ challenges and replay center causing controversy in several high-leverage situations this postseason, Silver admitted that the league must continue to improve how it integrates technological advances with its in-game three-person officiating crews.

“It’s one of the things we’ve been talking to the players association a lot about and the referees association, too,” Silver said. “I’m thinking once the season ends this year, maybe we even put together a task force of the constituent groups.”

Silver said the advent of new technology could allow the league to eventually remove certain calls from the jurisdiction of the referees, leading to an automatic out of bounds violation being called, for instance, if a video sensor is tripped on the baseline or sideline.

“There’s a category of objective calls that you can not only take off the floor but frankly out of the replay center,” Silver said. “‘Buzz, Celtic ball,’ because it’s automated, foot on the line. [Or technology could determine] which one of the hundred fingers on the floor touched the ball last at that time. As I said, they’re working through that. But technology will solve that, and I think it’s the same for replay.”

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