For almost 20 years, the NBA has comprised 30 teams. With vastly increasing league popularity and a treasure trove of player talent, team expansion has become a tantalizing idea for fans and executives alike. As other major sports leagues like the NHL have expanded in recent years, the NBA board has yet to budge on the topic of expansion. It was only this past summer that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver finally acknowledged the possibility of expansion following the end of the league’s media rights deal in 2025. What Silver fails to realize, however, is that NBA expansion is not a luxury — it’s a necessity.
Let’s flash back to 10 years ago, to the 2011–12 NBA season. The Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets), finished a shortened season with an abysmal record, 7–59. That record is the worst winning percentage in NBA history at .106. The Bobcats’ roster was not good, as no name scrubs such as Gerald Henderson, Byron Mullens and Derrick Brown received serious minutes on a nightly basis.
Besides the historically bad Bobcats of 2011–12, this era of the NBA had other seriously bad teams. The 2013–14 Philadelphia 76ers, the 2014–15 Minnesota Timberwolves and the 2013–14 Milwaukee Bucks, to name a few, all finished with winning percentages below 24%. However, bad players in the NBA were not limited to bad teams. Even teams who made it to the playoffs like the 2010–11 New York Knicks gave extended minutes to career journeymen and past-their-prime vets, including Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas.
The reality is that NBA teams 10, or even five, years ago were just worse than current NBA teams. In recent years, the plethora of talent coming from college and overseas has made the NBA much more rich in star power. As a result there are no truly bad teams anymore.
Take the two current last place teams in each conference in the NBA this season, the Detroit Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies. Both teams have an abundance of young and electrifying players. The Pistons have former first overall pick Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Ausar Thompson and Jalen Duren. The Grizzlies have superstar Ja Morant (currently suspended), reigning defensive player of the year Jaren Jackson Jr. as well as Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart. Neither of these two teams, who again, are currently in last place, are truly ‘bad.’ The amount of talent across the NBA has made margins for error incredibly thin and has dramatically increased the parity between the top and bottom teams in the league.
Clearly, the amount of talent currently in the NBA and the insane talent that’s yet to come warrants expansion. Talented players deserve to receive meaningful minutes, and there is purely just not enough real estate for all of these players to thrive effectively in the current NBA landscape. While immediate innovations like the In-Season Tournament encourage competition and provide a fresh league outlook, the excitement for expansion is hard to dispel. While Silver and the NBA wait out the remaining part of their media deal, the ball is in their court: They can either meander around the idea, or realize that expansion is an inevitable movement that’s much closer to happening than they think.