Well, that happened fast. One day we’re all complaining about the effect Glen Taylor’s country club mentality has had on the Minnesota Timberwolves since he purchased the team in 1994. The next, it feels as though they’re as good as gone. Alex Rodriguez and billionaire Marc Lore’s $1.5 billion bid won Taylor over, and now we’ve got something else to worry about.
Just as the NBA has started to boom, elevating to become the second most popular sport in America behind the NFL, we may be left without a team. Rodriguez has direct ties to Seattle, a growing, basketball-crazy city that has desperately wanted an NBA franchise ever since the Sonics left in 2008. A-Rod was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1994 and spent the first seven seasons in the Emerald City. Both Rodriguez and Lore are from New York and neither has any direct ties to the Twin Cities.
Rodriguez and Lore have signed a letter of intent to purchase the team, but Taylor will remain in control of the franchise until 2023. Wolves loyalists have wanted Taylor to sell the team for years, but with the caveat that the new owners keep the team in Minnesota. To his credit, Taylor has been aligned with the fans on that, but he has only one way of doing that.
The Wolves have to become winners before the sale is complete.
We know that Minnesota is an underrated basketball state. Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers highlighted the talent from the state during March Madness. Minnehaha’s Chet Holmgren is one of the biggest recruits in the nation. Tyus and Tre Jones were stars at Duke and are currently in the NBA.
Not only that, but the only reason Target Center isn’t packed every night is because the Wolves are literally the losingest franchise in America’s big four sports leagues. They were a hot ticket during the Kevin Garnett era, and fans are quick to respond when the team shows flashes of winning. It was packed to the brim when Ricky Rubio arrived from Spain, only to empty out after he injured his knee. It was electric when KG returned in 2015. People chanted “Wolves in six” when the Jimmy Butler-led team won a playoff game in 2018. There are still about 10,000 people per night who will attend games when things open up again next year.
The Timberwolves aren’t unpopular because people don’t care about basketball here. They’re not popular because they usually aren’t very good. Not Vikings “rip your heart out” bad. They don’t have a playoff losing streak going back to 2004 like the Twins. They’re not an expensive first-round playoff team like the Wild. They’re just plain bad, and few are going to pay for parking and a $10 beer to watch a team that is almost certain to lose on any given night.
Taylor can’t guarantee the Wolves will stay in Minneapolis once he sells the team, try as he might. An ownership group that is willing to buy a team for $1.5 billion isn’t worried about a $50 million fine for breaking the Target Center lease. He’s already tried peering into Andrew Wiggins’ soul to ensure he’d play hard. It didn’t work with him, and it won’t with A-Rod, either. Taylor didn’t buy the Wolves because he likes basketball; he paid $88 million for them in 1994 to keep them from moving to New Orleans five years after they were established as a franchise, and a year after the North Stars departed for Dallas. It’s not a lack of desire that will keep them from moving to Seattle. It’s a lack of control.
But he is the person with the most power to turn them into a winner now. He has to trust he made the right hire in Gersson Rosas, and that Rosas has made the right call with Chris Finch, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. He has to hope that Anthony Edwards plays to his potential and that they somehow, against the odds, keep their pick. Ultimately, he has to give his management as much license and budget as possible to become a winner. Sadly, ownership, above all else, has the most influence over which franchises thrive and fail.
The Wolves aren’t moving if they’re playing in front of a full house every night. And people will pack it so long as they’re a winner. The expectations aren’t unrealistic here. Nobody knew if the Rubio-Kevin Love team was ever going to be a contender. Everyone understood KG wasn’t the same player he was when he returned at age 38. Few chanting “Wolves in 6” thought they’d actually beat the Houston Rockets in six games. We just need hope. The team just has to be as good as the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets. They have to show some promise that they’d eventually contend.
Thankfully, Seattle has been through this before. Oklahoma businessman Clay Bennett bought the Sonics with the intent of moving them to OKC. They’re also a mid-market city that has suffered with the Mariners and, well, used to with the Seahawks before they got good. And the league is popular and talent-rich enough to expand. If the NHL can carve out a niche in Las Vegas and, ahem, Seattle, then the NBA should thrive there.
The Wolves aren’t as good as gone. But if they don’t become winners in the next two years, they may be.