DES MOINES – Two days before Golden State and Cleveland meet in an NBA Finals matchup that was nothing if not a foregone conclusion, the Timberwolves took what they call a small step to someday making themselves a championship contender.
They did so by unveiling their new D League team in Des Moines. It’s one formerly known as the Iowa Energy, but now starting Tuesday rebranded the Iowa Wolves after Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor bought it in a transaction finalized earlier this month.
Buying the franchise’s very own team in the D League — soon to be the G League (named after sponsor Gatorade) this coming season — was among Tom Thibodeau list of musts when he agreed 13 months ago that he’d coach Taylor’s team.
He did so by telling Taylor he is driven to coach a championship team.
“This is a big day for us, this is part of who we are,” Thibodeau said Tuesday at a convention center across the street from the 17,000-seat Wells Fargo Arena where both the Wolves and Wild minor league teams now will play. “Our goal is to win a championship. In order to do that, there are a number of things we felt we had to have. This was one of the things when Glen hired me that I felt we needed. He promised he would do it and he did it.”
That list of things include a state-of-the-art practice facility opened in 2015 and a $140 million renovation of Target Center that will be completed by fall. There’s also a roster rich with young talent, namely blossoming stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and a head coach signed to a $40 million contract with four years left on it.
“We want to be the championship team,” said Taylor, whose team has not made the playoffs since 2004. “It takes a lot of things you have to put together.”
Coming rather late to the party, the Wolves now are one of 26 NBA teams who either operate or own their own D-League team. Soon all 30 teams are expected to do so.
Until now, the Wolves haven’t utilized the D League much, partly because they needed their young players to play in the NBA, partly because they needed to find an existing team that had roster space to play a Wolves player who needed development or rehabilitation time. They placed Shabazz Muhammad with the Iowa team and Tyus Jones with the Boise, Id., team the last four seasons.
Now they will hire a coach, general manager and president to run the Iowa Wolves using the same philosophies and same system of play that Thibodeau uses in the NBA. The Iowa team will give young players stuck on an NBA bench need playing time and perhaps provide veterans a place to practice on their way back from injuries.
Starting this season under a provision in the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, NBA teams also will add two extra roster spots for young players who can shuttle between both leagues.
“It makes a lot of sense on a lot of different levels,” Thibodeau said. “Running the same system with the same terminology, it’s just smart.”
The Wolves looked at markets such as Rochester, Minn.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Omaha, Neb.; and Fargo, N.D. before Taylor struck a deal to buy the Iowa Energy. They also considered owning a D League team in St. Paul like Utah and Toronto, among others, have done in their own cities so they can easily shuttle players back and forth between leagues.
Wolves CEO Ethan Casson called Tuesday’s unveiling of a new name and new logo “the right team” at “the right time” in a city and state he said “loves” its basketball.
“Frankly, all roads led back to Des Moines,” Casson said.
Taylor discovered the Iowa team was for sale during discussions he had to sell 30 percent of the Timberwolves to Los Angeles-based investor Steve Kaplan, who also owned a piece of the Iowa team. Taylor’s negotiations with Kaplan never were completed, but Taylor’s purchase of the Energy did. He said Tuesday he believes he can make a profit running the Iowa team, like he now does with the WNBA’s Lynx.
A farm boy raised in southern Minnesota not far from the Iowa border, Taylor also said he feels a connection with the state because of his upbringing and agricultural businesses he owns that employ what he called hundreds of employees. He also owns considerable farmland there.
“I’m excited about it for a lot of reasons,” Taylor said. “We have to be thinking about the long run. We’re not interested in being champions one year. We’re interested in being up there playing for a championship year after year. We think we have set the foundation for that.”
• Thibodeau helped introduce the new team in Iowa Tuesday in the middle of cross-country travels to attend numerous “pro days” held by agents for clients who are among the NBA draft’s top prospects. The Wolves own the seventh pick in the June 22 draft.
• While in Des Moines, he was asked about the NBA Finals that start Thursday. “It’s going to be very interesting,” he said. “You look at Golden State and the way they’re playing, it’s pretty dominant. But then never bet against LeBron if the game is close down the stretch. He can take it over. But the depth of Golden State is pretty strong.”