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Seattle Shouldn't Be an NBA Expansion Pawn

Stocks in this article: MSFT

In December, Bucks owner Herb Kohl said he wanted to sell a portion of the team to investors who wouldn't move it, but insists he'd need some publicly funded upgrades to make that happen. Milwaukee, meanwhile, has the Bucks locked into a lease until 2017 and has no designs on letting them go early. City government doesn't think much of Kohl's and Silver's begging, and gave the Bucks just $175,000 in parking revenue to spruce up the joint.

The Bucks have had exactly two winning seasons in the last 10 years and have been ushered out of the playoffs in the first round four times during that span. Since the season began in October, the team has struggled to reach 10 wins and went 1-14 in the month of January. We're sure that Kohl and Silver will remind Milwaukee that the Sonics faced similar struggles before Oklahoma City owners snatched them away and that they should pony up something shy of the $800 million that Seattle is willing to spend unless they want a similar fate for their Bucks.

But what if Seattle doesn't want to play the bad guy, you ask? Well, it could be a long wait and an expensive proposition for new owners. Silver and his owners know they have Seattle on the hook to spend at least $800 million, but what if the league could squeeze them for more? The league is angling for a sweet new television deal in 2016, and Silver can always lean on the diluting the talent pool argument while staving off expansion. In truth, however, the owners just want a bigger cut for themselves.

"I just think the price of the expansion fee has to be so high that the NBA owners think, 'OK, we're crazy not to do it.' What that number is, I don't know. But I'm open to it," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told ESPN earlier this year. "It just depends on the price. When you sit in the board of governors meeting, you give a price, and each NBA owner calculates his share. You balance it to what you're giving up in TV and shared revenue, and you say: 'OK, it's worth it.' Then you say you got to do it."

Yes, they're going to bleed Seattle as much as they can. The fact is the NBA isn't exactly a pillar of financial stability. A third of the NBA's teams has changed ownership since 2010. The league will point to its international appeal and growing world ventures including NBA China, but four of its teams -- the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers -- failed to turn a profit last season. Three others -- the Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats -- all posted profits of less than $9 million compared to top-tier teams that easily triple or quadruple that take.

If those owners can't get a few extra bucks out of their own markets, they'd have no problem taking them from Seattle. Whether or not Seattle should put a little extra salmon on each of their plates is another matter.

Seattle's King County still owes more than $50 million on the Kingdome, which was demolished in 2000, and won't have it paid off until 2016. The city ended up paying 71% for the $422 million cost of the Seahawks' new home at CenturyLink Field and is still paying that off as well. It spent $384 million building Safeco Field for the Mariners baseball team in 1997 and paid sales and car-rental taxes through 2011 just to pay it off. The only reason Seattle isn't still paying debt on KeyArena that would have outlasted the Sonics' lease there by five years is because it received a settlement covering those costs at the time of the Sonics' move.

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