‘Kansas City Raptors’ for ’20-21: Desperation heave or smart play?

Where the Raptors will be playing their home games next season is down on the NBA’s list of offseason priorities. But at least the league already knows that one U.S. city is ready to take in the franchise if Toronto can’t be the locale.

Kansas City, Mo., told commissioner Adam Silver and Raptors ownership at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in a two-page letter Tuesday that the 2019 NBA champs could use the city’s T-Mobile Center if they can’t play at Scotiabank Arena. The Canada-U.S. border is closed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, making travel to and from the NBA’s lone Canadian city next to impossible.

It appears the letter isn’t the first contact between the city and the league, either. Sources told The Kansas City Star that back-channel discussions about a possible move are taking place.

The letter was signed by Kansas City Mayor Quinton D. Lucas, a Democrat; U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., whose district includes Kansas City; and U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both R-Kan. 

Notably absent from the letter was the signature of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who has assailed the NBA for not standing up to the Chinese government for its alleged human rights abuses.

DeCOURCY: Hawley, Blackburn ooze hypocrisy with NBA-China criticism

If the NBA wants a template for a temporary transfer, it could look at how MLB handled the move last summer of the Blue Jays from Toronto to Buffalo, N.Y., home of the franchise’s Triple-A affiliate. The Blue Jays made significant upgrades to Sahlen Field to get it as close as possible to MLB-standard. The Raptors and NBA wouldn’t need to make any upgrades to the 18,972-seat T-Mobile Center, an NBA-ready facility that has hosted the Big 12 Conference men’s basketball tournament since 2010.

It also could lean on its own recent history for ideas. The league moved the Hornets (now Pelicans) from New Orleans to Oklahoma City for two seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07) after Hurricane Katrina. OKC was so good as an NBA market that it became the new home of the relocated Seattle SuperSonics in 2008.

That  history with OKC is why Kansas City’s bid isn’t entirely an act of altruism. It needs dates for the arena (the Star reported that the arena’s operators sent their own letter to Silver pitching the facility) and it wants to make an impression with the league if there’s expansion or the possibility of a franchise relocation in the near future. Kansas City last hosted an NBA franchise in 1984, the year the Kings moved to Sacramento.

“It’s an opportunity to have a test run,” Lucas told the Star’s Sam Mellinger. “We understand these are different times. Nobody’s filling up an arena anywhere probably in the first two quarters of 2021. That’s not happening. But you get a team on TV, you see what the ratings are like here in Kansas City, you see the engagement in things from apparel sales to interest online . . .

“Those are the sorts of things that tell the Raptors and the NBA more broadly that this is a city that we should really look at.”

Kansas City reportedly is competing with Louisville, Ky., for the privilege of hosting the Raptors if a move becomes necessary.

The NBA and the Raptors have not formally responded to the letter. 

The NHL is facing a larger dilemma than one team moving. Multiple reports say an all-Canada division is being considered as part of a temporary realignment for the 2020-21 season. The league’s seven Canada-based clubs — Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg — would only play each other and not venture south of the border, at least for the early part of the season.

Realignment might also have to be on the NBA’s docket if the Raptors move to Kansas City. They play in the Atlantic Division with the Celtics, Nets, Knicks and 76ers. The league could add them to the Central Division with the Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers and Bucks. Or, it could continue to stress the conference standings format and not be concerned about which division in the East houses the team.

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