In 1995, Glen Taylor purchased the majority ownership in the Timberwolves for $95 million, and if Forbes is to be believed, the Wolves are worth $720 million some 20 years later. But Taylor said recently that if anything, the current status of the franchise — at least from a basketball perspective — is very similar to when he purchased it.
“I just think when we first bought it, we had a franchise that was pretty down and hadn’t done very well,” recalled Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. “We put a plan to get some young guys in here. That’s when we went out and took a gamble on KG [Kevin Garnett] and [Stephon] Marbury and our goal was to build for the long run and get a better team. We did that. It took us a while to get a championship team.
“In one sense we’re sort of like that again. We have a lot of young guys and we have to be patient, and I’m hopeful we’ll have a chance for the championship again, just like we did during those earlier years. So I’d say we’re similar.”
Taylor got some great news Friday when the city of Minneapolis finally approved the $129 million remodeling of Target Center, of which the Wolves will pay $49 million. Construction will start this spring.
But one thing that Taylor has had difficulty with lately, through no fault of his own, is his attempt to sell a minority ownership to Memphis Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan.
The deal looks to be in trouble because of reported infighting in the Grizzlies organization. Taylor had planned to sell to Kaplan with the idea that Kaplan would take over majority ownership down the road.
Taylor talked about his current ownership status. “At the start I think I had about 15 partners that came in with me,” he said. “Right now we have, I think, seven of those, I haven’t changed any, except I think about eight of them have left and seven are still here.”
League has great growth
The biggest development in the NBA in the past decade has been the influx of money from television rights. In October 2014 the league announced a new nine-year, $24 billion deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, and the deal was extended last month.
That money is going to continue to increase the salary cap for every team, and Taylor said that’s the main purpose of the TV rights, to increase league values and player salaries.
“It’s just unbelievable how much that has changed,” he said, “the amount of money that is coming in from the TV revenue. But on the other hand, because all of that money comes in, 50 percent of that goes to the players so it goes out as fast as it comes in.”
How does Taylor feel about the growth of the league?
“I think it has just grown so much [since I joined],” he said. “It’s just a much bigger organization. I think internationally we’re way ahead, we’re all over the world and we bring income in from all over the world. We have so many more players that come from around the world, that is probably one of the biggest changes.
“The amount of money has just grown tenfold since when I came in. It is the TV contract, the sponsorships, all the things we do as a league. It has really grown.”
Young stars vs. old stars
With the Wolves at 22-47, they are headed for another lottery pick this season, but anyone watching the team can see its improvement.
Taylor was asked if the team has ever had a young core like the one he has in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
“I think at one point when we had KG and Marbury and maybe Tom Gugliotta would fall in, but Tom was older, and all of these guys are really young at 20 years of age,” Taylor said. “We’ve never had anything quite like this.”
How would Taylor compare Towns now to what he saw in Garnett as a rookie?
“Well, there’s a lot about them that is really similar,” he said. “They both are sort of tall and lean type of body, and they both have the ability to do a lot of different things. They can move away from the basket. I don’t want to compare Karl to KG because KG turned out to be a superstar, and I don’t know if Karl will, but he certainly has the ability to get there.”
Taylor believes Wiggins, who is 19th in the league in scoring at 20.6 points per game, can still improve.
“I think Wiggins has a high upside, and part of it will just be as he gets stronger and gets older and mature, that we’ll just see him improve over time,” he said.
Taylor has been really pleased with the development of LaVine.
“He has been a great surprise, I shouldn’t say that too easy, because I was with Flip when Flip talked about him and Flip talked about why he wanted to draft him,” Taylor said. “Flip had always told me that he thought he had a big upside, so that part I really believe in what Flip said. It’s coming true, what Flip said.”
Taylor was asked if it would be difficult to fire the coaching staff and front office that has helped develop those players. “I like my coach [Sam Mitchell], I like my general manager [Milt Newton], they’re really nice people,” Taylor said. “We’re working together. What I told them is in this business of basketball, we’re going to do the whole season first and then at the end of the season we’ll do the evaluation.”
Regarding Taylor’s other basketball team, he remains loyal to running the Lynx. While several NBA owners have folded their WNBA franchises, Taylor, whose wife, Becky, is a big influence, stayed with it even though he lost a considerable amount of money until the franchise became profitable with its three recent championships.
• CBS Sports reported last week that with the Vikings signing Andre Smith and Alex Boone, they now have the most expensive offensive line in the NFL at $35 million for the 2016 season. This area is lucky that the Wilf family bought the Vikings franchise and is willing to spend any amount of money to bring a Super Bowl to Minnesota.
• Aaron Hicks, who was traded by the Twins to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy, is hitting .280 (7-for-25) with two doubles, a home run, three RBI and two runs scored this spring.
• Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, both No. 1 overall picks, were expected to be superstars with the Timberwolves when they were drafted. But nobody, except for the late Flip Saunders, expected Zach LaVine, who put up 28 points and made a career-best-tying six three-pointers in the victory over Memphis on Wednesday, to be quite the star he is. My prediction is he will be the best off guard the Wolves have ever had. LaVine has scored 20 or more points in six of the past 11 games.
• While everybody is down on Gophers coach Richard Pitino and the men’s basketball team’s terrible season, he is not going to get fired. And Pitino will get a good chance to win next year with a great recruiting class, something I’m sure he will do.
• Starting at point guard for the St. Thomas basketball team that played for the Division III championship Saturday night was Grant Shaeffer, a junior who was the starting quarterback for Mike Grant at Eden Prairie.
• How about Glen Mason as a candidate to be the Gophers’ next athletic director? He has qualifications equal to anyone the school would attract.
• Former Gophers linebacker Mike Rallis is still wrestling professionally with WWE NXT under the name Riddick Moss. His brother Nick had a good year in 2015 with the Gophers and is being counted on to make a lot of tackles this season.