When the NBA expanded into Seattle in 1967, it didn’t just establish a new team in the city. With the addition of the Seattle Supersonics, the league also created a loyal fan base that would endure even after the team was relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Now, Supersonics fans have a reason to hope for the return of basketball to Seattle. The Seattle City Council made a preliminary agreement to build a new arena near Safeco Field in the SoDo district that will cost $490 million, most of which will be supplied by billionaire investor and longtime Sonics fan Christopher Hansen.
“I welcome the news that the City Council has decided to support bringing basketball back to Seattle," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said of the arena deal."The City Council was the last piece of the puzzle. We haven’t gotten a team yet, but Sonics fans have a reason to smile today.”
Creative Commons via Mayor McGinn
Naturally, an investment of this amount of money will cause some skepticism. Some uncertainties still lurk before the dawn of construction.
The city doesn’t have a team yet, which should make fans wonder how that team will come together. The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going anywhere either. And stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant won’t leave their current teams by choice to play in the Northwest.
The best hope that a new team in Seattle has of acquiring players presents itself in the annual NBA draft. The team could collect a first-round draft pick, probably in the top 10 range because of its expansion status. After that, it could acquire a couple of middle-round players and complete the roster with free agents.
There are a couple problems with this approach, though. First of all, the best free agents on the market will demand high salaries, meaning teams in big markets will get the first choice because of their bloated payrolls.
This leaves the Seattle team with the sloppy seconds of the free agent market, which will negatively affect its performance.
Secondly, the draft picks Seattle would acquire could easily thrive in the startup atmosphere in the city. Fans would bring excitement to the new arena and they would likely support the team even in its lowest of lows, simply because the return of basketball is such a privilege.
However, as soon as those draft picks become free agents, the reputation of athletes who start in Seattle will rear its ugly head. Many great players, regardless of the sport they played, have moved on to big markets, making Seattle a farm system for the richer teams.
While this is simply a scary hypothesis, think about the results if such a scenario occurred. After the contracts of the draft picks expired, the team’s roster would disintegrate. Perhaps they’d have a player or two acquired from trades. Maybe one or two mediocre free agents would remain.
That doesn’t sound like a solid starting lineup. Seattle would once again need to raid the draft, which would be fairly easy considering their original roster probably would give them a record worthy of a high first-round pick.
The prospect of basketball returning to Seattle might sound promising. It might excite those fans who have remained loyal despite the team’s transfer to Oklahoma City.
Just spending a minute considering the reality of competing in the NBA will likely dampen those fans’ spirits, though.
In two or three years, we will know the outcome of the new arena. It might become a glorified palace filled with banners and trophies of success.
More likely, the residents of Seattle will have to walk under the shadow of a $490-million disappointment on their way to work.