Minnesota Timberwolves: Eerily similar to the Seattle SuperSonics’ path

Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who fired Gersson Rosas on Wednesday. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who fired Gersson Rosas on Wednesday. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

At the start of the 2020-21 season, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor informed the public that he would be selling the team.

Although Taylor made it clear that the new owner would need to keep the Timberwolves in Minnesota, the immediate reaction heard around social media was, “Seattle needs an NBA team again.”

Seattle, of course, has been without a team since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. The Supersonics had some great runs, but also had plenty of struggle.

What ultimately happened in Seattle, and are the Timberwolves going down an eerie similar path?

Similarities between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Seattle SuperSonics

Slow beginnings for both the Timberwolves and Sonic franchises

After coming into the league in 1967, the Supersonics posted four straight losing seasons, and six of their first seven seasons were below .500.

The Timberwolves came into the league in 1989 and posted a below .500 average in their first seven seasons, but did ultimately make the playoffs in that seventh season at 40-42.

The Turnarounds

The Supersonics then flipped the script and made the playoffs in eight of their next 10 seasons with a little help from up-and-coming duo Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma, as well as Gus Williams. Johnson was traded before the end of his rookie contract.

As for the Timberwolves, counting that first playoff appearance, they made eight consecutive playoff appearances with a little help from their up-and-coming duo Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett, and eventually, Wally Szczerbiak. Marbury, of course, was traded before the end of his rookie contract.

The Downfall

After only two seasons of missing the playoffs, the Supersonics were right back in the picture after drafting Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. But, their downfall eventually came. In the 1998-99 season, the Sonics missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years and ultimately only made the playoffs in three of their 10 ten seasons. They hit franchise-low winning percentages of .378 and .244 in their final two seasons.

After the year that should have been in 2003-04 when the Wolves lost in the Western Conference Finals, the Timberwolves could not deliver the following seasons as age caught up with them and the roster overhaul began. Missing the playoffs in all but one of the next 16 seasons, the Wolves hit franchise-low winning percentages of .183 and .195, and in 12 of those seasons did not crack the .400 mark, including the current 2020-21 campaign.

The Promising Future

After making a surprise run in 2005 with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis (and our guy Luke Ridnour), the wheels fell off in the next two seasons and Allen was dealt to the Celtics. The Sonics headed into their final season with Rookie of the Year and future MVP Kevin Durant and fifth-overall pick Jeff Green.

Finishing with a 20-62 record, and the first overall pick if it weren’t for the lottery dropping them to fourth. With that pick, they selected future MVP Russell Westbrook and nabbed an absolute steal at No. 24 with Serge Ibaka. These were the SuperSonics’ final two draft selections.

After an injury-riddled year that followed the 2004 conference finals run, the Timberwolves also fell off and traded with the Celtics as well to begin their rebuild — a rebuild that has been going on for almost 15 years.

Finally, however, the future appears to be bright. With young All-Stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Lo and this year’s draft choices Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels blossoming, the Timberwolves seem to finally have life if they can stay healthy. It’s an intriguing roster for a potential buyer.

Renovations/leasing of the facilities and selling of the teams

In the mid-1990s, the Supersonics renovated their stadium for $74 million and in return agreed to play at KeyArena through 2010. But once the sale to Clay Bennett for $350 million was finalized, he demanded a new $500 million arena. After an agreement couldn’t be made, Bennett found the right dollar amount to move the franchise to Oklahoma City, paying $75 million to the city of Seattle.

In Bennett’s initial pitch, he said it was his “desire to have the Sonics and WNBA Storm remain in Seattle.” We can see how that worked out.

Beginning in 2016, an 18-month renovation of more than $145 million took place at the Target Center. Along with this renovation, a new lease was signed that tied the Timberwolves and the Lynx through the 2034-35 season, with a “break-up fee” of $50 million.

With an asking price of $1.4 billion for the franchise, the fee seems minuscule, not to mention that we’ve seen someone promise that a team will stay before moving them.

In 2006, the Supersonics were listed for $187 million by Forbes, No. 15 out of 29 teams, per the above-linked ABC News piece. Currently, the Timberwolves are listed on Forbes for $1.4 billion, No. 28 out of 30 teams.

Differences between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Seattle SuperSonics

The success of the Timberwolves and SuperSonic franchises

The Seattle Supersonics only posted a sub-.300 win percentage twice in their entirety: in their first and their last season in Seattle. They also had 25 out of 41 seasons above .500., not to mention an NBA Finals win back in 1979.

As for the Timberwolves, they posted 12 seasons (including 2020-21) with a sub-.300 win percentage and they only have nine seasons above .500 in their 32 years in the league. And no, they have not won a ‘ship.

The final word on the Wolves-Sonics comparison

As you can see, the Timberwolves are walking down a path that has been traveled. The only thing that could make this more strange would be the Timberwolves relocating to Seattle.

Next. An early look at the 2021 NBA Draft. dark

It’s a future that Minnesota Timberwolves fans can only hope never transpires.