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Five options for WNBA as league prepares for expansion

(AP Photo / Mark J. Terrill)

No matter which league you’re talking about, expansion is a touchy subject for sports fans.

Leagues like the NBA and NHL have room to replicate the NFL’s 32 franchises, but fans worry about the quality of play going down as you spread talent across more lineups.

Meanwhile, some MLB fans have concerns about low attendance numbers that franchises like the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins deal with, and worry that adding a team in a city like Las Vegas or Montreal could simply add to those issues around the league.

But, one league that has pretty widespread agreement about the need for expansion is the WNBA.

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With just 12 teams at the moment and loads of talent across women’s basketball, there’s plenty of room around the country for the WNBA to take advantage of. The league hasn’t expanded since 2009, and too many female basketball stars are falling through the cracks in a 12-team draft each year.

It’s not a matter of if the league will expand soon, but rather when it’ll happen.

Whether it’s rejuvenating a defunct franchise in a popular city or starting from scratch somewhere else, the WNBA has a lot of options to choose from.

But, five stand out as the league plots out its immediate future:

  • Oakland/San Francisco

The Bay Area has become a popular basketball spot over the last decade, mainly thanks to the success of the Golden State Warriors.

Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green brought three titles to the region from 2015 through 2018, and appeared in five straight NBA Finals from 2015 through 2019.

Add in the perennial success of Stanford’s women’s basketball program, and the sport has kind of become the Bay Area’s thing over the course of the last six years.

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So, as the WNBA looks to expand, it’s not surprising to see cities like Oakland and San Francisco pop up as potential destinations.

Former Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks star Alana Beard is leading an ownership group for a proposed franchise in Oakland, and Warriors owner Joe Lacob has the financial resources to bring a team to his new arena in San Francisco.

With so many resources in the region and so many big names to help promote the team, the Bay Area is one of the best options for the WNBA at the moment.

  • Portland

It’s funny how these things work out.

The NBA has a successful team in Portland with the Trail Blazers, but constantly hears from fans about their desire to have a team return to Seattle.

Meanwhile, the WNBA has a powerhouse franchise in Seattle with the Storm, but could create a big rivalry if the league could brought the now-defunct Portland Fire.

Both the Storm and Fire were introduced to the WNBA in 2000, but the two franchises could not have been more opposite after that.

The Storm have lasted in the league for more than two decades, bringing four titles to their home city throughout their tenure.

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Meanwhile, the Fire folded in 2002, lasting just three seasons in the league. They recorded just 37 wins in their brief history, and were the lone WNBA team to never qualify for the postseason.

However, times have changed in Portland over the last 19 years. The Trail Blazers house two of the NBA’s most talented players in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and have made it to the playoffs in 11 of their last 13 seasons.

They even advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals in the 2018-2019 season, their first time in the Conference Finals since the 1999-2000 season.

The Seattle-Portland rivalry would be huge for the WNBA, especially with big names like Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart in Seattle to hype it all up, and it would take advantage of an under-utilized market across all of sports.

If there was ever a time to strike while the iron is hot in Portland, it’s now.

  • Houston

Another defunct WNBA franchise could gain some steam in the 2020s, though the team had a lot better run in the league than the Portland Fire.

Since the Las Vegas Aces took over the San Antonio Stars’ spot in the WNBA, fans have been clamoring for another team in Texas to contend with the Dallas Wings.

Now that the league is looking into expanding, it has a few different opportunities to pursue in the Lone Star State.

One of the league’s first eight teams, the Houston Comets could make a comeback in the WNBA’s modern era, serving as a nice throwback to honor the league’s history.

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Despite folding in 2008, the Comets brought four titles to Houston in their WNBA tenure, winning four straight league championships between 1997 and 2000.

They’re one of three franchises with four titles to their name, but their active counterparts, the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm, have the chance to add to their respective totals.

How cool would it be if the Comets could make a comeback in the 2020s to make sure they don’t get eclipsed, fighting to hold onto a historic mark in the WNBA’s history?

Amid a dark time in the city’s basketball history after the departures of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the addition of a WNBA team could do wonders in Houston.

  • Charlotte

The last city on this list with a former WNBA team, Charlotte could be an interesting expansion option for a few reasons.

First off, the Charlotte Sting would give the league another chance to honor its history as it looks ahead following its 25th anniversary season.

After making just one appearance in the WNBA Finals in 2001, the Sting folded in 2006 and were replaced by the reigning WNBA champion Chicago Sky.

Fast-forward 15 years, and things are a little more interesting in Charlotte.

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Michael Jordan’s presence instantly makes the city more interesting from a basketball presence, and his Hornets in the NBA are loaded up with young talent like LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges.

Bringing a WNBA team to the city could add to Charlotte’s hype, and could bring in loads of young fans that are flocking to the Hornets to watch some of the NBA’s rising stars.

The Atlanta Dream represent the WNBA’s lone team in the southeastern part of the United States, and the addition of the Sting could give the Dream a rival to make things more interesting for that market.

It’s not as appealing as some of the other options on this list, and the Sting don’t have the same history as a franchise like the Comets. But, if the league tries to get to 16 teams in the near future, Charlotte would be a solid choice.

  • Des Moines

Iowa definitely isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking about professional sports. That makes a lot of sense because, well, the state doesn’t have a single professional sports team.

However, the state finds itself in the middle of one of the country’s most popular college basketball conferences, and the University of Iowa has fared well in both the men’s and women’s college basketball worlds in years past.

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Currently, Iowa’s women’s basketball team is a top-10 team in the country, and Iowa State women’s basketball team is a top-15 squad, as well.

There’s a ton of hometown talent to work with in an untapped market from a professional sports perspective. Why wouldn’t the WNBA want to take advantage of that and make history by bringing a team to Des Moines?

There’s room to bring in multiple teams if the league wants to. So, the WNBA could easily bring back a few of its former franchises as a throwback, while still adding something fresh in a brand new city like Des Moines.

Where do you think the WNBA should go next? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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