Are the Minnesota Timberwolves now in danger of leaving the Twin Cities?

The latest report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reopening the question: are the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Twin Cities for the long haul, or is a relocation of the franchise a legitimate possibility?

The past several weeks have come with several assurances regarding the long-term status of the franchise in Minneapolis from outgoing owner Glen Taylor.

But now, all of his recent statements can be called into question.

Agreement to sell reportedly does not include language to keep Minnesota Timberwolves from relocating

Wojnarowski reports that the sale agreement between Taylor and the new ownership group led by former Major League Baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez and tech billionaire Marc Lore does not include a clause or provision that would compel the new group to keep the franchise in Minnesota.

Taylor has, on multiple occasions and as documented by Wojnarowski, stated that the purchase agreement would include language to keep the team in the Twin Cities. That now appears to not be the case.

This has all come to light following a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis by the team’s largest minority owner, Meyer Orbach. The complaint is regarding Taylor allegedly not allowing Orbach to exercise his company’s “tag-along rights”, which would allow him to divest of the team prior to the sale of the majority ownership.

From Wojnarowski’s piece:

The complaint filed by Orbach, a New Jersey real estate mogul who owns more than 17% of the Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx, also includes a significant revelation: Despite Taylor’s public statements to the contrary, he has included no provision in the $1.5 billion sales agreement with Lore and Rodriguez that requires the new ownership group to keep the franchise in Minnesota upon taking control of the team, according to an exhibit in the complaint.

In fact, new details of Taylor’s sale agreement with Lore and Rodriguez — expected to be completed by July 1 — include a clause under “Governance Matters” that lists several actions that would require new ownership to “present to the Advisory Board for discussion” — including any plan to “relocate the team outside of the Twin Cities market.”

According to an exhibit in the complaint, the agreement between Taylor and the Lore-Rodriguez group acknowledges that the “Advisory Board is advisory only … and no action … requires the approval, in any form, by the Advisory Board to be effective.”

Essentially, there are no contractual limitations to keep Lore and Rodriguez from moving the Timberwolves to a new city.

Whew. That appears to be a direct contradiction to everything that Taylor has stated publicly since news of an exclusive negotiating window between Taylor and the Rodriguez-Lore group broke back at the beginning of April.

What are the chances that the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise relocates?

There are plenty of factors at play.

First, is the sale even completed in the wake of Orbach’s complaint? That’s clearly the first hurdle that needs to be cleared, and Orbach certainly appears to have a case to make.

Even if Rodriguez and Lore take over, it’s unclear if they’d even be motivated to relocate the franchise. As we’ve documented here at Dunking With Wolves going as far back as last summer, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is the No. 15 media market in the United States and outranks plenty of NBA markets, including Miami, Denver and Cleveland. Seattle, the oft-mentioned target of any future relocation attempt, ranks No. 13.

The Twin Cities are a more-than-viable professional sports market and a city that has supported all of its teams when they’ve found a modicum of success. That includes the Kevin Garnett-era Timberwolves teams, of course, and any concern about team attendance over the past decade and a half has to be tied directly to the complete and utter lack of anything resembling on-court success.

Lastly, the league has to be on board with a move. Not only is it expensive to relocate a team, and the league would have to be on board with vacating the No. 15 market. The NBA is on board with expansion, with commissioner Adam Silver going so far as to call it “inevitable”.

Why move the team in the No. 15 market to the No. 13 market when the league could just add more teams? Additionally, the league has an expansion fee of $2.5 billion, so it’s more financially expedient all the way around for the NBA to encourage expansion versus relocation.

In other words, it’s still highly unlikely that the team will relocate. But that doesn’t change the fact that many of Taylor’s claims over the past few weeks have apparently been false, and there’s certainly cause for eyebrow-raising from across the league, not to mention the beleaguered Timberwolves fanbase.

So, will there be another twist in the ownership saga surrounding the Wolves? It certainly seems to be a safe bet at this point. Stay tuned.