When it comes to the WNBA, franchises go where there's an owner ready to spend the money

It has felt for a few years that Spurs Sports & Entertainment was losing interest in the Stars, who have had the worst record in the league the past three seasons, haven't reached the playoffs since 2014, and haven't posted a winning record since 2012. Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images

The details aren't all known yet. But if the WNBA's Stars move from San Antonio to Las Vegas as has been reported, it will be the culmination of what has seemed like a slow but inevitable breakup. And the destination is a matter of pragmatism.

In the WNBA's 21 seasons, the places where the league has worked haven't necessarily been where it was most expected. And other places where it would seem there was a natural fan base for women's basketball -- the state of Tennessee, for instance -- haven't gotten a franchise.

That's because the "where" of the WNBA has depended on one thing: interested, engaged and financially committed owners.

This probably sounds obvious to any professional sports franchise. But in the WNBA, it's paramount. Ownership of a franchise in one of the four major men's leagues in the United States at times can be a "vanity" possession. There have been owners who've stayed in possession of some of those franchises without being very effective, engaged or successful because they've still made money and/or they simply want the status.

With the WNBA, it is always about having ownership that really believes in the product -- or at least believes enough to have high-ranking employees who are fully invested in the WNBA.

But it also takes having the resources and realizing there might not be profit guarantees -- which is why when a WNBA franchise has moved, it hasn't always been to the places that the league's fans might want. The teams have gone where there was a buyer.

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been a target area for the league, especially after the Sacramento Monarchs folded following the 2009 season. Rick Welts, one of the important figures in the founding of the WNBA back in 1997, is Golden State's president and CEO, and the Warriors' interest in a women's team is well-chronicled. It was even thought for a while that the Los Angeles Sparks might move north before the Magic Johnson/Mark Walter-led group bought them in 2014 and kept them in place.

So it was natural that the news of the Stars' departure would bring hope of the team going to the Bay Area. But the timing isn't quite right yet. The Warriors' future home -- the Chase Center in San Francisco -- is in construction and won't open until the 2019-20 season. Many WNBA followers still seem to think at some point, the Bay Area will get a franchise. But it doesn't appear imminent.

Will Vegas work for the WNBA? Let's just say the league will be part of the pro sports "experiment" there. The newest NHL franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, opened play there this season, and the NFL's Raiders are scheduled to relocate there by 2020.

And whatever one thinks of gambling, sports wagering of all kinds -- including with fantasy leagues -- is an undeniably large part of what helps generate and maintain interest in pro sports. The WNBA has a deal for the first time with FanDuel this year for daily fantasy games, and being in Vegas can't help but increase the likelihood of wagering on WNBA games.

Again, we're still waiting for confirmation on the exact details of the team's ownership, where it will play, and then what kind of fan response there will be, both in terms of locals and tourists.

But the bottom line is, the WNBA has to go where there's an owner ready to spend the money on it. The Stars franchise was one of the original eight in the WNBA, and started in Utah in 1997. It moved to San Antonio for the 2003 season, made the WNBA Finals in 2008, and hosted the WNBA All-Star Game at AT&T Center in 2011.

But it has seemed for a few years now that Spurs Sports & Entertainment, which owned the Stars, was losing interest in the WNBA team for a variety of reasons. The team's results -- worst record in the league the past three seasons, no playoffs since 2014, no winning record since 2012 -- have both reflected and exacerbated that apparent apathy.

You can look back and say the writing was probably on the wall for the Stars' move going back to 2016, if not earlier. When longtime Spurs chairman and CEO Peter Holt stepped down in March 2016, his wife, Julianna Hawn Holt, took over those roles.

Former WNBA player Ruth Riley was hired as Stars general manager in April 2016, and longtime coach/GM Dan Hughes announced he would retire at the end of that season (although he was recently hired to be the Seattle Storm's coach). Then in December 2016, assistant coach and former player Vickie Johnson was elevated to the Stars' head-coaching role for 2017, but given just a one-year contract.

The organization was conflicted about what it would do with the 2017 No. 1 draft pick. Then after the selection of guard Kelsey Plum, Johnson appeared ambivalent at times about giving her a lot of playing opportunity, even after she'd recovered from a preseason ankle injury.

The Stars began the season 0-14 before getting their first victory June 30. They finished 8-25, and again have the best odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery.

And, it appears now, that is how the franchise will end its 15-year stay in San Antonio, with a season that had internal dysfunction and ownership disinterest, yet showcased some intriguing young talent with hope for more on the way.

That hope is probably the main thing to think about with a move to Las Vegas.