How many teams are in the NBA? When did the Cavaliers join?

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers and Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics. Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers and Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics. Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images /

The National Basketball League is at the height of its powers right now. The league is packed with star players, offense is at an all-time high and drama, intrigue and athletic marvels are woven through it all. There has never been a better time to be an NBA fan.

How did the NBA get to its current size? And how many teams are currently in the league? Whether you are new to the league or simply interested in NBA history, here are some answers to those questions and more.

How many teams are in the NBA?

The NBA is currently made up of 30 teams. Those teams are divided in two conferences, the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. While NBA teams play everyone in both conferences during the season, in the playoffs each team will first play the teams in their respective conference before the winning teams meet in the NBA Finals.

Those two conferences are also divided into three conferences each. The Eastern Conference is made up of the Atlantic Division, the Central Division, and the Southeast Division. The Western Conference is made up of the Pacific Division, the Northwest Division and the Southwest Division.

Which NBA teams are in which divisions?

Each division has five teams, laid out like this:

  • Atlantic Division
    • Boston Celtics
    • Brooklyn Nets
    • New York Knicks
    • Philadelphia 76ers
    • Toronto Raptors
  • Central Division
    • Chicago Bulls
    • Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Detroit Pistons
    • Indiana Pacers
    • Milwaukee Bucks
  • Southeast Division
    • Atlanta Hawks
    • Charlotte Hornets
    • Miami Heat
    • Orlando Magic
    • Washington Wizards
  • Northwest Division
    • Denver Nuggets
    • Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Portland Trail Blazers
    • Utah Jazz
  • Pacific Division
    • Golden State Warriors
    • LA Clippers
    • Los Angeles Lakers
    • Phoenix Suns
    • Sacramento Kings

How many teams were in the original NBA?

The number of teams in the NBA was in flux right from the very start. Teams started and folded rapidly during the first few years. Officially, the league had 11 teams in its first season in 1946-47, but the following year they played with only eight.

Starting in 1955, the league began steady growth. They went from eight teams to 10 by 1966, 12 in 1967 and 14 in 1968. The league made it to 18 by the mid-70s, then made a big jump to 22 teams in 1976 and continued growing slowly throughout the 1980s. In 1989 the league made it to 27 teams, and in 1995 the league added another two teams to make it to 29.

When did the league expand to 30 teams?

In 2004 the NBA added the Charlotte Bobcats, placing a franchise back in North Carolina and officially landing the league at 30 teams. They have kept that number of teams for the last 19 seasons, which is the longest stretch without expansion in the history of the league.

When did the Cleveland Cavaliers join the NBA?

The NBA added three teams in 1970: the Buffalo Braces (now the LA Clippers), the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While many teams in league history have changed divisions or even conferences, the Cavs entered the NBA in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division and that’s where they are now.

When might the NBA expand to 32 teams?

There is no official timeline for expansion, but it sounds like it will be coming soon. It would not be a surprise to see the league add two teams in the next five seasons, creating space for the high level of talent around the world and increasing revenue for the league.

It seems like a lock that one of the two expansion teams will be placed in Seattle to revive the SuperSonics franchise. The other team could be placed in Las Vegas, but other cities like Louisville, St. Louis, Louisville, Austin, Vancouver and Mexico City have all been mentioned.

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