Sacramento Kings’ Impending Move to Seattle Will Trigger Divisional Realignment

Multiple news outlets are reporting that the sale of the Sacramento Kings is all but complete, as an ownership group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is purchasing the team for a reported $340 million with the intention of relocating the Kings to Seattle for the 2013 season. 

The franchise is expected to adopt the SuperSonics nickname, which was left behind when the city’s original NBA franchise relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.  Key Arena will likely serve as the team’s temporary home while a new arena is constructed in the Sodo District. 

Commissioner David Stern, whose reputation took a major hit during the Sonicsgate saga, has repeatedly stated that he wanted the NBA to return to Seattle before his retirement in 2014.  It looks like that goal has finally been achieved, though there is one remaining loose end that needs to be tied up.

With Seattle getting a new team, it is time for the I-5 Rivalry to be reborn.

Separated by 175 miles, the Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers enjoyed one of the great rivalries in all of basketball From 1970 to 2008.  The NBA went to great lengths to preserve this rivalry every time it realigned the divisions, which is how the Sonics and Trail Blazers franchises wound up in the Northwest Division with Utah, Denver, and Minnesota and remained that way when Oklahoma City came into being.

The Kings, on the other hand, were located in the Pacific Division with Phoenix, Golden State, and the two Los Angeles teams.  In other words, Seattle and Portland are set to be in different divisions next year.

So expect the NBA to take a long look at realignment, with Portland and Phoenix likely to switch divisions. 

In addition to preserving the I-5 Rivalry, this move also makes perfect geographic sense.  Right now, Portland and Phoenix are both located in divisions populated entirely by teams outside their time zones; by switching divisions, the Trail Blazers join a division populated entirely by Pacific teams while the Suns would be with the NBA’s other Mountain teams.  This would help the NBA save a little on travel, as divisional foes are guaranteed to play each other four times a year while conference foes can play either three or four times.

There are a few other realignment moves that the NBA could look at as well – Minnesota, Memphis, and Oklahoma City would be particularly interested in realignment – but ensuring Seattle and Portland are in the same division is both the most pressing issue and the simplest to solve.