Adam Silver talks NBA expansion, future of play-in tourney, Raptors’ return to Canada and Suns-Bucks Finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed media members ahead of Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals, and he touched on several pertinent topics, including expansion, the future of the play-in tournament, the league’s current financial state, where the Toronto Raptors will play their home games next season, and what it means to the league to have the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. 

Check out what Silver had to see on all of these topics below. 

On expansion 

When it comes to expansion, Silver made it clear that the league isn’t ruling it out in the future, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a priority at this point in time. 

“The most important considerations for us when we look at expansion is, will it ultimately grow the pie? Meaning, it’s potentially 30 more jobs if you expand with two teams,” Silver said. “You expand the league’s footprint. How does that help us in varying ways, sort of increased support nationally. So we’ll continue to look at it. I mean, I’ve said this many times before, we’re certainly not suggesting we’re locked at 30 teams. I think at some point it will make sense to expand, but it’s just not at the top of the agenda right now.” 

On future of play-in tourney

Silver delivered some good news for fans of the new play-in tournament, as he expects it to return next season. This past season, the tournament did a good job of keeping more teams in the hunt for a ticket to the postseason all the way until the end of the regular season, which resulted in more interesting — and meaningful games — late in the season. 

“It’s my expectation that we’ll continue [the tournament] for next season,” Silver said. “I think, ultimately, although there were critics, not just LeBron [James] but others who weren’t in favor of it, and maybe some teams who weren’t thrilled with it, I think overall it was very positive for the league and the players. Certainly, there’d been some suggestions about some tweaks we should consider, but again, I think once we bring it back to our owners for a vote and the players association meets and has an opportunity to consider it, it’s my expectation that it will continue for next season.” 

On revenue

After being forced to play large chunks of the last two seasons without fans in attendance, the NBA has obviously been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Silver said that the league actually ended up faring a bit better than initially expected this season, 

“Financially, for the season, without getting into it too specifically, we did somewhat better than we initially projected,” Silver said. “As you recall, I think I had said at the beginning of the season that roughly 40 percent of our typical revenue is attributed to not just ticket sales but those revenue streams that come from the related activities in arenas. Because of our ability to get fans back in the arenas for the playoffs, as great as that’s been, it’s a relatively small portion of the season in terms of number of games. So I think now we don’t have the exact numbers yet, but maybe we’ll be down roughly a third in revenue, something around there, instead of 40 percent.”

Despite the losses, Silver remains extremely optimistic about the overall health of the league moving forward as he expects next season to signify a return to normalcy. 

“I feel again if things continue on track and we could move toward a new season next year that looks a lot more like normal, I think we’ll have weathered it very well,” Silver said. “I think we have, to me, an incredibly strong partnership with our players and coaches and referees and all the affiliated constituent groups, having all worked closely together to come through this.” 

On games in Canada next season 

Last season, the Raptors were forced to play their home games in Florida due to travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Playing away from your true home would be a tough task for any team, and it certainly took a toll on the Raptors, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Though Silver couldn’t say with certainty where the Raptors would be playing their home games in the 2021-22 season, he’s hopeful that the team will be able to return to Toronto. 

“It’s unclear yet,” Silver said of where the Raptors will play their home games next season. “I know on behalf of Larry Tanenbaum, who is the governor of the team and happens to be the chairman of the board of the NBA, he’s very hopeful that Ontario will open up and that they will be able to have the team back in Toronto. I know it’s incredibly meaningful to the team. I think there was that yet additional burden placed on the Raptors more than any other team by having to relocate for the season. But we are hopeful the team will be back if things continue as we’re seeing in Canada right now.” 

On Suns-Bucks Finals

A fresh franchise is going to win the NBA championship this season. The Suns have never won a title before and the Bucks have only hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy once, back in 1971. While some have suggested that having two smaller market teams squaring off against each other in the Finals is perhaps bad for the league, Silver doesn’t see it that way. Instead, he thinks it shows just how deep the talent runs in the league today. 

“To have Phoenix and Milwaukee, of course, you know, one team that hadn’t won a championship in 50 years, one team that hadn’t won a championship. And for people to see the viability of the competition in this league, you know, not just from independent of market size, but also in some cases independent of top picks in the draft,” Silver said. “And not to say — of course there’s a correlation between quality on the floor and top picks. But whether it’s Giannis or Devin, picks out of the top-five come in and become All-Stars, become accomplished players and the way they are also just, you know, multi-dimensional people with just great personalities and interests far beyond basketball, it’s a dream for the league.”