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Pelicans Relocation Odds: NBA Headed Back in Vancouver or Seattle? Another Team in California?

Downtown Vancouver
Vancouver was home to the NBA's Grizzlies from 1995-2001. Photo by PoYang (Flickr) [CC License].
  • Seattle, Orange County, and Vancouver are among the favorites to land the Pelicans if the teams leaves New Orleans
  • Will the NBA give Vancouver another chance after its disastrous experience with the Grizzlies?
  • Has enough changed in the Canadian city since the NBA left town in 2001?

The NBA could be headed back to Vancouver

The Canadian city has emerged as one of the most likely destinations for the Pelicans if the team can no longer survive in New Orleans.

Vancouver is one of eight cities identified by Bovada in a prop forecasting the future of the floundering franchise. Other possible destinations include former NBA cities like Seattle, San Diego, and Kansas City, as well as US and international hot spots such as Orange County, Las Vegas, Mexico City, and Louisville.

Odds on Where the Pelicans Will Play Game 1 of the 2020-21 Season If They’re Relocated

City Odds at Bovada (01/29/19)
Seattle, Washington +300
Orange County, California +300
Vancouver, British Columbia +350
Las Vegas, Nevada +400
Mexico City, Mexico +400
San Diego, California +1500
Louisville, Kentucky +1500
Kansas City, Missouri +1600

New Orleans’ viability as an NBA host city has come into question this week after Anthony Davis’ agent revealed that the five-time All-Star has no interest in signing an extension with the team and would like to be traded. The 25-year-old center has been the cornerstone of the franchise since being drafted first overall in 2012, but has reportedly become disenchanted with the direction the team is headed in.

Even if Davis is able to net a treasure trove of assets from the Celtics or a number of young stars from the Lakers, as many suspect, concerns still persist about the Pelicans’ ability to draw fans and generate revenue.

New Orleans currently ranks 25th in the NBA in attendance with just 15,755 fans per game.

New Orleans currently ranks 25th in the NBA in attendance with just 15,755 fans per game, and was recently listed as the least valuable franchise in the NBA by Forbes in their annual review of all 30 teams. The publication pointed to the team’s high payroll, small market, and lack of postseason success for its poor evaluation.

The NBA originally left NOLA in 1979 after four lackluster seasons, and there are many around the league who believe history could repeat itself within the next five years. If it does – and that remains a big if – Vancouver is ready and willing to offer them a new home.

Vancouver Has a Long History with the NBA

Vancouver is no stranger to the NBA. Rain City was a popular spot for NBA exhibition games during the 1980’s and 90’s, and was briefly home to the Vancouver Grizzlies from 1995 to 2001. The team was initially met with great fanfare by fans and corporate sponsors alike, but their enthusiasm soon faded as the Grizzlies became the league’s punching bag.

Vancouver failed to win more than 23 games in a season and finished with a winning percentage below .200 in three of its six years in the Pacific Northwest. The team was eventually sold to US entrepreneur Michael E. Heisley, who moved the franchise to Memphis, where it currently resides.

Vancouver is Ready for a Second Shot

The NBA’s Vancouver experiment may have been a failure, but there are plenty of reasons to believe the city is ready for second chance. For starters, Vancouver’s population has exploded since 2001, growing by more than 476,000. Many of those new residents are originally from Asia, which is an important factor since China is the NBA’s second largest market outside of the US, and Vancouver has long been seen as a gateway to Asia.

The city’s basketball infrastructure has also improved exponentially. Back in 1995 basketball was still something most Canadian kids just did when they couldn’t get rink time, but the game is now part of the country’s fabric. Basketball has become the most popular team participation sport in Canada among youth between 12 and 17, and viewership of NBA games in Canada has doubled since 2012-13.

Much of the credit goes to British Columbia native Steve Nash, who won back-to-back NBA MVP awards in 2005 and 2006. The floppy-haired point guard convinced Canadian kids they could have a future on the hardwood and helped pave the way by creating a popular youth basketball league in his home province. Many of the same kids who grew up playing Steve Nash Basketball are now old enough to buy season tickets for a new team.

Steve Nash convinced Canadian kids they could have a future on the hardwood and helped pave the way by creating a popular youth basketball league in his home province.

“Basketball was such a new sport in the city back in the 90’s but the main thing that hurt us was our low Canadian dollar,” says Kat Jayme, a childhood Grizzlies fan and the director of Finding Big Country, a documentary about former Vancouver center Bryant Reeves. “A lot has changed since the Grizzlies came to town in ’95. Basketball has become a global game and Vancouver’s market has expanded tremendously. I believe we have the fanbase and economy to support a team today. Vancouver needs, wants, and deserves an NBA team.”

If the NBA team does return to Vancouver, it will be able to take up residence right away in Rogers Arena, a state of the art 18,630-seat venue smack dab in the city’s downtown core.

Potential NBA Cities by Population

City Population
Mexico City, Mexico 8.85 million
San Diego, California 1.42 million
Orange County, California 3.19 million
Seattle, Washington 724,745
Las Vegas, Nevada 641,676
Vancouver, British Columbia 631,490
Louisville, Kentucky 616,261
Kansas City, Missouri 488,943

Will the Pelicans Leave their Roost?

Bovada’s prop is contingent on the Pelicans leaving New Orleans before the 2020-21 season. It’s easy to see nothing but doom and gloom in the immediate aftermath of Davis’ trade demand, but the reality is that many teams have lost superstars before without collapsing or relocating. The Milwaukee Bucks are still around more than 40 years after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asked to be shipped out of town, and the Philadelphia 76ers are still flourishing 27 years after Charles Barkley was dealt to Phoenix.

It’s easy to see nothing but doom and gloom in the immediate aftermath of Davis’ trade demand, but the reality is that many teams have lost superstars before without collapsing or relocating.

However, if the Pelicans do leave, Vancouver and Seattle are both excellent bets. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken warmly about both cities and has admitted that they remain firmly in the league’s future plans. It’s unlikely it will happen in the next two years, but you can count on both cities eventually returning to the NBA to cater to the growing base of basketball-crazed fans in the Pacific Northwest.

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Ryan currently serves as an Editor and resident Lead NBA and MLB Writer for SBD. He has authored his own column for both Fox Sports and AskMen, and has created campaigns for the WWE, the NHL, and the NFL. Ryan's critically acclaimed stories have been published in 20 books.