The Sonics are staying put. Not in Seattle but in the Northwest Division. According to league sources, the NBA will not realign any divisions or teams to accommodate the relocation of the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Whenever the team lands in Oklahoma, either next season or in 2010, it will continue in its current division, which includes Utah, Portland, Minnesota and Denver. Although Oklahoma City is geographically closest to Southwest Division teams — Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Memphis and New Orleans — the league isn't interested in undoing the system's current balance by adding a sixth team to the division. The 30-team NBA has six five-team divisions. Realigning Memphis or New Orleans to add Oklahoma City to the Southwest Division also isn't an option, sources said, because of how well the division's current structure works. On a smaller scale, the league also wants to avoid an Oklahoma City team joining the Southwest Division mix and creating a glut of divisional teams competing in such close proximity. Mavs owner Mark Cuban, one of two owners who opposed the Sonics' relocation request last week, has said too many teams in the Texas and Oklahoma region is bad for the league. "There's not enough TV weight,” Cuban said earlier this month before the Sonics played the Mavs in Dallas. "There's not enough demand from a TV perspective from outside that little area. It's nice, but when you've got San Antonio versus Dallas, which you'd think is a great marquee matchup, no one outside our area (cares). That's bad. You don't expand the market at all.” The league last approved realignment in 2003 to accommodate the expansion Charlotte Bobcats for the start of the 2004-05 season. New Orleans moved from the East to the West, and Charlotte was placed in the East. That's also when the league went from two divisions per conference — Atlantic and Central in the East and Midwest and Pacific in the West — to its current six-division structure. But league officials think an Oklahoma City team can work in the Northwest Division. Although Seattle is much closer to Portland and Salt Lake City than Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City is much closer to Denver and Minnesota than Seattle. So, in effect, keeping the team in its current division would offset distance issues. From a competitive standpoint, division placement only marginally matters. NBA teams play divisional opponents four times apiece (two home games/two away games) and other in-conference opponents three or four times each. Teams play non-conference opponents twice each season (one home game/one road game). The NBA does, however, place importance on division winners, rewarding those teams with an automatic top four seed. Utah, for example, finished as this season's fourth seed despite Houston and Phoenix finishing with a better record. The No. 5-seeded Rockets, however, hold home-court advantage over the Jazz in the playoffs. That said, a Northwest Division placement could bode well for Oklahoma City's prospective team considering the heavyweights in the Southwest Division. But, there's no telling if the NBA will tweak the current playoff system as some enthusiasts prefer — or when the balance of power will transfer from the Spurs, Rockets, Hornets and Mavericks to the up-and-coming Blazers, Wolves and already formidable Jazz and Nuggets.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was one of the two owners to vote against the Sonics' relocation. He has said he's opposed to having a ‘Dust Bowl Division,' because of the region's smaller TV markets. Associated Press