Minnesota Timberwolves: Exploring the ownership saga

Owner Glen Taylor is looking for a buyer for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Until 1989, Minnesota had gone without professional basketball for 29 years after the Lakers departed for Los Angeles, excluding a brief stint in the ABA.

After winning one of the four expansion bids in 1987, the Lakers’ original owners Harvey Ratner and Marv Wolfenson prepared to bring professional basketball back to Minnesota in the 1989-90 season.

After a few years of truly awful performances, Glen Taylor came into the picture and purchased the team for $88 million in 1994, keeping them in the Twin Cities. Twenty-six years later, Taylor is looking to sell the team, now valued at nearly $1.4 billion, for a reported $1.2 billion.

What a bargain.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Exploring the ownership saga

The initial reaction from many has been pure glee and excitement to finally rid the franchise and league of an owner long perceived to be one of the worst. After all, since their inception, the Timberwolves’ winning percentage of 39.6 ranks last in the NBA. When we look at Taylor’s reign along, this skyrockets to a measly 41.5 percent, which jumps the Wolves to the No. 28 spot all-time.

With only nine playoff appearances and two playoff series wins in 26 years, the Timberwolves have been one of the least successful franchises across all sports. Of course, losing is commonplace in sports. To reach the peak of any industry is beyond difficult.

But while losing can be excused, incompetence is far more difficult to ignore.

Throughout Taylor’s reign, the Timberwolves have been associated with frugality, front office blunders, and general ineptitude.

Historically, the Timberwolves have been known not to invest in their roster and be willing to build a winning team. With an average league salary rank of No. 17 over the last 26 seasons, the Timberwolves have proven that they are not willing to spend money unless they have an established superstar.

Sure, other factors go into this, and most notably the market and an ability to attract free agents, but unless that star isn’t already in-house, the money will not be spent.

In 1995, the Timberwolves’ gamble on drafting a high schooler named Kevin Garnett could not have had a better result.

Garnett quickly proved to be an elite defender and a player that you want to build your team around. He fell in love with the city and was essentially forced to leave after years of losing basketball. From the 1996-97 season through the 2003-04 season, the Timberwolves proceeded to make the playoffs every season, but only won two playoff series. Even though the Timberwolves had a future Hall of Famer in his prime, the commitment to bring in new talent came too late.

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After the Garnett trade, the team’s salary ranking quickly plummeted to the bottom as they had no intention of competing anytime soon. The hesitation to spend in a small market is entirely understandable. However, the indecision on spending, combined with awful talent evaluation and historical front office incompetence, spawns the mistrust and apathy from the fan base.

Most of the best owners in sports are typically ones we rarely hear or see. This is because they treat it like a business, hire the right people, and get the hell out of the way. Until recently, Taylor did not have this approach. He has historically been too involved and hired awful front offices, but hey, at least he looked Andrew Wiggins in the eyes before massively overpaying him.

Taylor’s involvement and poor hiring practices led to front offices guilty of under-the-table contract deals, embarrassing drafts (including taking two different point guards before Steph Curry), and 12 head coaches (yes, some of them were re-runs) since 2004.

On a national level, Taylor doesn’t get enough grief for how poor his tenure as the Timberwolves owner has been. That said, he has been instrumental in keeping basketball in Minnesota.

His original purchase of the franchise in 1994 kept the still-young expansion team from dissolving, which would have likely kept basketball out of Minnesota for an exceptionally long time. Despite threatening to move the team to Las Vegas at times to receive arena renovations (not the most original threat from an owner), there has never really been any threat of the Timberwolves leaving.

During previous rumors of Taylor selling the team that never came to fruition, a significant stipulation was the requirement of the Timberwolves remaining in Minnesota.

Even now, as Taylor is looking to sell the team, he requires that the team remain in Minnesota. Fans can and should be upset with how Taylor has mismanaged the Timberwolves over the last 26 years. Still, they also need to appreciate his determination to keep an NBA franchise in Minnesota.

So, where does this franchise go from here? There hasn’t been a clear frontrunner established yet, but a few groups have emerged as having interest. First, the Wilf family (owners of the Vikings) have been linked to having interest. Despite being a notorious user of the Vegas threat, the Wilf’s wouldn’t be the worst option as they’ve been able to build competitive Vikings teams.

Second, Meyer Orbach, a current Wolves minority owner and New York real estate developer, has been linked to having interest.

Finally, Kevin Garnett is forming a group of investors to make a run at the team. This is the ideal option. Garnett is a franchise legend who has made his love for Minnesota well known. He desperately wants to bring winning basketball to Minnesota and had planned to do so once his playing career was over.

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Garnett’s acrimony towards Taylor is well known. When Garnett returned to the Timberwolves late in his career, the understanding was that he would have the opportunity to get involved with team ownership. However, once Flip Saunders tragically passed away, that understanding disappeared. Now that Taylor is publicly looking to sell, let’s hope egos can be put aside, and the right decision is made.

Whether Garnett is part of the new ownership group or not, the ideal outcome is an owner who is committed to investing in the team. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a mixed bag of results on new owners.

In Golden State, they have invested wisely in their front office and coaching staff, which has allowed them to draft wisely and attract free agents. In Philadelphia, we saw owners buy into the process before quickly becoming impatient and drastically changing course. In Milwaukee, they’ve trusted the front office to build around the star while the owners focus more on the business side.

In Houston, one of the most hands-off owners was replaced by a frugal hands-on owner with family ties to the mob. In Sacramento, the owner views himself as a high-level talent scout and has profoundly influenced roster decisions that have led to extraordinarily little winning.

What I’m getting at is that while anything new is exciting, trepidation isn’t unwarranted. Overall, however, it will be hard for any new owner to be a downgrade from Taylor’s reign with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Let’s hope that the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t lead us off a cliff.