Detroit Pistons release statement saying the team is not moving to Las Vegas

Wow. That Pistons-to-Vegas rumor gained steam pretty quickly there. Let me tell you what I think may have helped it: people like Rob Otto writing things like this:

The purpose of this article is not to tell you what I want to happen, it is to tell you what I think could happen.

The Pistons moving to Nevada could be a viable possibility.

This whole thing basically started with David Stern’s press conference the other day, when he was asked about the Pistons’ future in Detroit. He gave a very Stern-like response:

“We like to stay where we are, but if you judge us by our past we haven’t been entirely successful,” Stern said. “But our first choice is always to have the team sold to somebody that will keep it in the market.”

Now because he’s David Stern, this caused the, “Oh my God, the Pistons are totally moving,” bandwagon to get started again. This, coupled with the fact that the Las Vegas Sun reported that an anonymous team was already under contract to move to Vegas, provided public funding for a new arena could be delivered, meant that the Pistons were totally out of here.

Hysteria ensued, causing the Pistons to release a statement denying all of this:

“While there is no substantive news to report regarding the sale of the Detroit Pistons, our ownership group has absolutely nothing to do with any proposal that would move the team to Las Vegas. As stated since the beginning of this process, the preference is to find an ownership group that is committed to Detroit and the surrounding area.”

But hey, the team has to deny this, right? I mean, even if this were true, they’re still going to be in Detroit for a while at least, and probably want to avoid the embarrassing lame-duck status the Thunder Sonics went through in their last season in Seattle. Well, if that’s not enough of a denial, there was this report from Vince Ellis of the Free Press:

“We categorically deny that there is an NBA team under contract (to move to Vegas),” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told the Free Press today.

Teams with much richer histories than the Pistons have moved. But they are far from the only NBA franchise with a not-so-great financial situation going in their home city. Vegas has long been a desired NBA market, and only recently has Stern become more amenable to going against those pesky moral stands on gambling he’s taken in the past. So of the handful of teams that may have an interest in moving, why are the Pistons automatically the most logical choice?

The ownership situation is obviously a factor. But teams get sold fairly often, and in the last 30 years, only five franchises have moved. What other cities should be worried about their team moving to Vegas? I’d say these teams all would have at least tepid interest: New Orleans, Charlotte, Memphis and let’s throw Sacramento in just because of that whole Maloof connection, even though they are denying. These franchises all have as many, if not more, uncertainties than the Pistons, with the added bonus of not really doing well attendance-wise.

Even with a miserable season, the Pistons still ranked eighth in the league in attendance last year. They were first in 2009, first in 2008, second in 2007, first in 2006 and first in 2005. Compare:

  • Kings: 29th; 30th; 27th; 16th; 14th; 13th
  • Hornets: 28th; 19th; 26th; 15th; 11th (aided by playing games in Oklahoma City); 30th
  • Bobcats: 22nd; 26th; 24th; 27th; 22nd; 28th
  • Grizzlies: 23rd; 29th; 29th; 30th; 26th; 19th

Typically, when a franchise wants to move, it has to prove to the league that it’s not in a market where it can viably succeed, either because of facilities or lack of a fanbase. The Pistons still have one of the best facilities in the NBA at the Palace of Auburn Hills. And as the attendance suggests over the last six years, they can routinely fill the building.

When the Sonics left Seattle, there were issues with the arena and the team had been in the 20s in attendance for several seasons. Some of the above teams, to me, would have much better cases to leave a city than the Pistons, even if new ownership did want to move the team. The Kings, even in the early 2000s when they were a title contender, couldn’t crack the top 10 in attendance. The Grizzlies were a playoff team before they gave away Pau Gasol, and yet only made it into the top 20 once in six years. The Hornets have one of the five best players in the league and only made it into the top 15 once, and that was when they were playing a significant portion of their home games in Oklahoma City. The Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and were purchased by the biggest star in NBA history last year, yet couldn’t get into the top 20.

So yeah, when people like Otto write that it “could be a viable possibility,” they are kind of right I guess. But it’s not particularly easy to move a franchise, let alone one with a great building and a strong history of filling it every year. To say that the Pistons are anything more than a very remote possibility to move seems like a pretty big stretch.

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