The NBA is going to expand to 32 teams. That much has been known and hinted at by commissioner Adam Silver over the past few months. Where these two new teams will be located remains in question.
The most credible candidates for expansion teams are Seattle — which the NBA abandoned in 2008, a decision many league officials lament 15 years later, and Las Vegas, which has shown it can house professional sports without any controversy or gambling issues.
But a rising contender is Mexico City, which has hosted 11 NBA games since 2014 (including the Celtics-Kings in 2015) and now has an NBA G League franchise.
The NBA unquestionably wants to add an international team. The Latin American market is intriguing and adding a team in Mexico City certainly will be a robust part of the collective bargaining agreement discussions the next few months.
“We have a terrific relationship with our Players Association. I know there are things that both sides want to address,” Silver said this past week in Mexico City. “There is a relatively new executive director, Tamika Tremaglio, at the Players Association, and we’re building our own relationship. But I anticipate we’ll have productive conversations continuing into the spring, and at the end of the day, we know we’re going to continue building on that wonderful partnership.”
Silver wouldn’t dispel rumors that Mexico City is a prime candidate for expansion.
“In terms of Mexico City, I believe you’re doing all the things necessary to demonstrate to the league that ultimately we may be in a position to house an NBA team here,” he said. “Certainly from a travel standpoint it’s very accessible, time zone wise, of course, climate. Mexico City is the largest city in North America. Incredible population of 120 million people who love sport.
“At least our numbers show that there are 30 million people right now in Mexico that identify themselves as NBA fans, and we believe through all new forms of media that are available to us, that number will only continue to grow.”
The NBA has been searching for ways to expand outside the United States and early in the Silver administration, the league considered Europe. Logistics have made that nearly impossible unless there were multiple European teams.
Deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said this past week that Mexico City is a major possibility and Silver supported that statement.
“As I’ve said in the past, it’s, I feel, our manifest destiny to continue to grow and not just grow in the United States but grow outside the United States, as well,” Silver said. “When you look at the success we’ve had in Canada to the north, beginning in the early ‘90s, it makes sense to me that we would expand to the south, as well.
“I don’t have a specific timeline right now in terms of expansion, but there’s no doubt we will be looking seriously at Mexico City over time.”
Many league officials believe expansion will happen once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached but it could be late in the decade before two new teams hit the floor. An important component in discussions and expansion is the new television contract. Would a new Mexico City team increase the league’s value? How many international networks will increase their bids in NBA games with a new Latin American team? The possibilities appear endless.
“I think if we were in expansion mode, we would have a committee of governors at the NBA who would come together who would create more specific criteria,” Silver said. “There’s no doubt that in terms of the fundamentals, the market size, the beautiful state-of-the-art arena, quality hotels and entertainment and restaurants and fervent fan support, that all exists here in Mexico City.
“I think there are additional issues. Some of them we had to work through in Canada. When you’re playing outside of your home country, just from a regulatory standpoint, same issues we deal with in trade, so those might be some unique circumstances we need to deal with in Mexico City. But other than that, I think part of it is a business analysis of how it would work in terms of building on the fan base we already have.”
Silver continued to praise Mexico City unlike any other potential NBA city since he took over nearly nine years ago. He fielded a series of questions about NBA viability in the city but he did not hide his deep interest in making a permanent commitment.
“I’ll add one factor that I wouldn’t have thought of even when I was here in 2019,” he said. “We’re seeing a faster transformation to streaming than I would have predicted even a few years ago, and when you move to streaming platforms and you’re talking to these partners that are very much global, I think the addition of a team, for example, in Mexico, might have a very different impact and relevance to them than maybe a historical US-based media partner.
“Clearly the opportunity to reach more people — I think I see being in Mexico City, not just, of course, for Mexico, but as a gateway to all of Latin America and the opportunity to kind of flip a switch a little bit in terms of opening up a large geographical area to NBA interest. That would be a factor that we would think very seriously about.”
Silver commented for the first time on the recent string of cases of inappropriate conduct between NBA players, coaches or executives and female employees. Of course, the Ime Udoka case made national headlines and he was suspended for the season for his relationship with a team employee. Pistons assistant general manager Rob Murphy was placed on leave in October after being accused of misconduct with a former employee.
Spurs guard Joshua Primo was waived after apparent misconduct with a team psychologist. The Spurs and the psychologist settled a lawsuit.
“I think most importantly, and one of the things we’re constantly learning, is that as a league we have to ensure that for 30 teams that every team is living up to a set of values that are promulgated as part of this league,” Silver said.
“I think what we’re seeing in society, that there are constantly new areas where we’re appropriately being held accountable. I think the San Antonio Spurs, as I understand it, handled the situation in a very responsible way. But I think as a league and with our 30 teams, the goal, of course, is to prevent these situations from ever happening. That goes to training and appropriate safeguards to put in place. We continue to learn from each other and also learn from outside our league, not just from other sports organizations but from other industries what the best practices are going forward. That is something we’re very focused on.”
The Celtics are ensuring that added safeguards are being placed within the organization to protect female employees. There was a group of female employees who said they did not feel protected by the organization in the wake of the Udoka incident.
“I don’t want to ever stand here and claim we’re never going to have incidents when you have thousands and thousands of employees across 30 teams,” Silver said. “I think it is the responsibility of the league, working with our teams, to ensure we have appropriate training, safeguards, best practices in place, and that when there is an incident that we all deal with it in the appropriate way.
“All I can say is that is something we continue to talk to our teams about. We bring in outside experts. We share best practices with each other. I think it’s something that we’re far from perfect, but we continue to improve every year.”
CAN CELTICS ESCAPE RUT?
Three-point shooting touch has gone cold
The Celtics started 21-5 and were tabbed the best team in the NBA after their resounding win at Phoenix Dec. 7. The Celtics are 2-5 since and their offense has declined considerably. Meanwhile, teams such as the 76ers, Nets and Knicks are surging, making the Eastern Conference more competitive than expected.
ESPN analyst and former NBA sharpshooter J.J. Redick believes the Celtics remain amongst the best teams in the East.
“Even as early as two weeks ago, it felt like the Celtics and the Bucks had really separated themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference, and I still think they’re the two best teams in the conference,” he said. “But Cleveland, the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia, New York Knicks, they’re all playing excellent basketball right now.
“Specifically, you look at the Knicks defense over the last eight games during this winning streak, it’s been phenomenal. Then Brooklyn, we have to give them a lot of credit. After starting out 2-6, they’ve played great basketball on both ends of the floor, and they haven’t had any drama either. It’s been fun to watch. Kevin Durant is having another fantastic season.”
The Celtics entered Friday shooting 31.7 percent from the 3-point line in December compared with 41.1 in November. The club is averaging a whopping 14.3 points fewer in December than November.
“In terms of Boston, I think we had to expect some normalization of their 3-point shooting, which has happened over the past 10 or 11 days,” Redick said. “I think since Dec. 10, they’re shooting under 30 percent from three. Before that, they were shooting over 40 percent.
“So that to me is the biggest thing with Boston right now is just — it goes without saying. It’s a make-miss league sometimes, and they’re missing their threes, but their defense, although they started out slow, it’s gotten a lot better since the beginning of the season.”
What about the competitors? The Knicks are playing stellar defense. The Nets are playing well with no drama from Kyrie Irving and stability from coach Jacque Vaughn. The Cavaliers are one of the best home teams in the NBA.
After the Bucks and Celtics appeared to be running away, the Eastern race is tightening up and the Celtics will have to fight vigorously for that desired No. 1 seed.
“I think Brooklyn is undervalued. I think Cleveland is undervalued in the Eastern side,” former NBA player and ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson said. “Obviously if we’re talking about being a contender, if like all the stars aligned, I could believe that Cleveland, if they made one more move and got themselves a wing that can defend at a good level, I could see them. If they beat somebody here and all of a sudden had a magical season, I could see it happening.
“But in the West, I don’t think there’s anybody that would be kind of a dark horse coming out of the West. I think there’s five teams that are kind of trying to figure out who’s the best and who’s the dominant one.”
Jefferson and Redick each mentioned the Cavaliers as a potential contender, and they’ve already beaten the Celtics twice.
“I agree with Richard Jefferson on Cleveland and Brooklyn. I’ve been saying for the last six weeks they need a fifth guy, a fifth starter, a fifth closer or whatever you want to call it. A prototypical three and D guy,” Redick said. “Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are going to play with the ball in their hands. So Caris LeVert’s strengths sort of get negated when he’s with that lineup. Their young guys haven’t really proven to be reliable as shooters. So that’s a detriment to a closing lineup. I think Cleveland, if they can figure out a way to get a fifth guy, another wing, I like their chances a lot.
“I mentioned Brooklyn. I’ve had some pretty harsh takes on Brooklyn over the past year, but I’m coming around to it. I like what they’re doing. I think a lot of it will depend on what version of Ben Simmons that we get.”
The Western Conference is turning into an unpredictable crapshoot with no clear No. 1 contender and teams taking turns beating up each other. Just five games separate the first and 10th seeds with teams such as the Warriors and Lakers lurking outside that top 10 seeking to get healthy.
“In the West, look, I think if we all sat here and said 30 games in the season the top three teams in the West are going to be the Pelicans, the Grizzlies, and the Nuggets, there’s not a lot of people who would say, oh, that makes sense,” Redick said. “I don’t know if you want to call them dark-horse contenders or not. I think they’re contenders. They’re contenders, period.
“The Pelicans in particular, the way that David Griffin and Trajan Langdon and Swin Cash have built that roster, drafted on the margins, they’ve just got a very deep rotation, and they can play a lot of different ways, and they’re a versatile team. That’s important in the playoffs.”
The NBA ruled the Knicks will not have their own second-round pick in 2025 because of tampering charges in the pursuit of guard Jalen Brunson. New York was rumored to sign Brunson the moment he decided to reject the Mavericks extension offer. Brunson’s father, Rick, a former NBA player, accepted a position on the coaching staff before Jalen signed with the Knicks. It seems as if teams are willing to sacrifice a second-round pick, a player not likely to make the team, as a penalty if that tampering is going to land them an All-Star caliber player. Brunson is one of the reasons the Knicks are trending up in the Eastern Conference. And that organization isn’t thinking about a 2025 second-round pick right now. The NBA has to review its penalties for such practices or it will keep happening … It will be a star-studded Naismith Hall of Fame induction ceremony in August as the committee released its list of candidates, highlighted by Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker. A surprise name on that list is Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who is on the ballot for the first time. It’s not that Popovich wasn’t eligible for induction in past years, he was. But he told committee members he did not want to be nominated. In recent years, former Popovich pupils Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have been inducted and Parker is the final player from the Spurs triad on the ballot. Popovich told Naismith executives he wanted to wait until his players were inducted before being inducted himself, meaning Popovich and Parker could be in the same class of 2023. Other notables on the ballot are former Celtic Paul Silas, Marques Johnson, the first Wooden Award winner and former All-Star and former Celtic Willie Naulls, who was part of the first all-Black starting five in NBA history for Boston in 1965; former Lakers coach Jack McKinney as a contributor; longtime official Joey Crawford; former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino; Las Vegas Aces coach and former WNBA standout Becky Hammon; Harlem Globetrotters great Curly Neal as a contributor; former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano as a contributor; former Indiana Pacers and Knicks executive Donnie Walsh as a contributor; former player and coach Doug Collins as a contributor and the 1936 and 1972 US Olympic Teams.