|Courtesy of TCBMag.com|
Ed.: This article's author, Dr. J, is an esteemed and respected member of several online Minnesota sports communities. The Timberwolves' recent front-office moves inspired this friend and colleague to jolt this hibernating community back to life. Welcome to the 2 1/2th renaissance of MSE, and thanks, Dr. J, for this thought-provoking piece.
Glen Taylor is not a “basketball guy”. He likely wouldn’t be able to dissect his players’ pick-and-roll defense or tell you the intricacies of a motion offense. Hell, I don’t even know if he has ever played an organized sport. But one thing the current Timberwolves owner has always been is a businessman. And the recent moves made to his basketball operations staff this offseason only add to his business savvy. Pairing a young, talented roster with an equally talented coach and front office has the potential to make Glen Taylor richer. How much richer? How about hundreds of millions of dollars richer?
Last Wednesday, Taylor officially hired Tom Thibodeau as the new Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach along with Scott Layden as the General Manager. These moves are a far departure from the way Taylor has previously conducted business with the Timberwolves. Taylor has had a long history of hiring familiar faces and propagating a “country club” atmosphere of Minnesota basketball nepotism. Look no further than the coaching staff for the 2015-16 season, all having heavy ties to the organization: head coach Sam Mitchell (former Timberwolves player), Sidney Lowe (former Timberwolves head coach), Ryan Saunders (son of the late Flip Saunders), and David Adelman (son of former Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman). And the list goes on.
But that’s why the addition of Thibodeau marks such an important transition. The hire has been widely acclaimed by both media outlets and “basketball people”—and, more importantly, it doesn’t reek of country club laundry. While Thibodeau did have a brief stint as a Timberwolves’ assistant coach in the earliest chapter of the franchise, it almost certainly did not factor into the hire, as the outside firm Korn Ferry handled the selection process.
|Thibodeau: Timberwolf times two. Courtesy of Vice.|
Handing the decision making power to someone with more expertise is not exactly Glen Taylor’s specialty. Previous to this hire, Taylor was comfortable making his own basketball decisions, like handing the keys to the franchise over to a Minnesota great (Kevin McHale) rather than an outsider with extensive front office experience. By staying within this bubble, many Minnesota fans felt that Glen Taylor was never really invested in the success of the franchise, that the team was more of a status symbol to the billionaire than an avenue of competitive enjoyment. The anti-Mark Cuban, if you will.
And Taylor’s results since purchasing the team? A consistently futile team whose only successes involved wasting many of Kevin Garnett’s prime playing years. The roster has been consistently plagued with ill-advised personnel moves, including, but not limited to, the Troy Hudson extension, illegal Joe Smith contract, multiple draft debacles, and whatever the hell you want to call having Darko Milicic on the roster.
|Real AP story headline: "Darko Milicic loses kickboxing debut: 'I'm invincible.'" Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.|
The move to hire competent people from outside the so-called “country club” signifies a well thought out change in the franchise’s direction. Glen Taylor took a step back from the hiring process because, for once, he wanted... needed… to get this one right, for the good of the players, for the good of the fan base, and for the good of his wallet.
From Farm to Finance
Glen Taylor grew up in a small southern Minnesota town, far away from the “bright lights” of Mankato (much less Minneapolis). Fifty miles west of the home to his booming Taylor Corporation in Mankato, Taylor was raised on a farm, helping out however he could to keep the family from going under. In school, he excelled at math and physics and was the top student in his graduating class. His sharp thinking and attention to budgets helped him to eventually buy the printing business he worked at during his college years. This acquisition was the first of many for Taylor, who now owns over 80 businesses and is worth over $2 billion.
|Your visual reminder to stock up on interactive print and marketing solutions. Courtesy of taylorcorp.com.|
In keeping with his small town roots, Taylor has always been a loyal Minnesotan. He served on the Minnesota State Senate during the 1980s and, even after stepping away from politics in 1990, has continued his civic service to Minnesota in ways the average citizen could never do. In 1995, only two years removed the heartbreaking departure of the North Stars, Taylor stepped in to save the Timberwolves from a potentially similar fate, buying the team for $88.5 million and preventing a move to New Orleans. While this investment will surely pay off, Taylor’s main reason for buying the franchise was with Minnesotans in mind. In 2014, with the Minneapolis Star Tribune struggling, Taylor bought the newspaper for $100 million. Taylor surely knows that newsprint is a declining market, but once again, he wanted to keep the Minnesota business in the hands of a Minnesotan.
This tendency towards familiar connections is the exact attitude that has shaped Taylor’s leadership of the Timberwolves. But now, after two decades of owning the team, Glen is ready to move on. His team is on the market, waiting for the “right” buyer. However, Taylor is in no rush to unload the franchise, saying he would like to transition the sale over the next few years. Also over the next few years, the Timberwolves’ roster should be talented enough to rescue the franchise from NBA perdition. That’s why it is no coincidence that Taylor’s decision to change the way he runs the organization is also coming at a critical time in the sale of the franchise. At this point, the wisest financial decision is to wait until the roster grows into an exciting force and maxes out interest in the franchise. Much like Taylor’s farming roots, it is best to wait until the crop is ready before it is harvested.
By many accounts, the current roster is one of (if not) the best groups of young talent in the league. Taylor recognizes this. He also recognizes the skyrocketing value of NBA franchises. And with the upcoming sale of the team, Taylor has a great opportunity on his hands. What he doesn’t have is a winner. A top notch squad capable of long playoff runs and the associated exposure/revenue that goes along with it. That’s where the new front office comes in.
|One-half of the new front office fun squad. Courtesy FSN North.|
Molding this young team into a contender would greatly increase this team’s value. Currently, the Timberwolves are valued at $720 million by Forbes, good for 27th in the league (out of 30 franchises). Despite this low ranking, the Minneapolis/St. Paul market is roughly in the middle of the league in terms of market size, which is perhaps the largest factor in assessing franchise value. Just for reference, the top 5 valued franchises are based in New York, Chicago, Boston, and the two Los Angeles teams. The Knicks, the NBA’s highest valued team, are currently assessed at $3.0 billion.
So what gives? Why aren’t the Timberwolves valued higher? Well, another equally important parameter used to assess franchise value is the team’s brand and product interest, which can both be related to the team’s success. Let’s just say the Timberwolves have been lacking in this department for the last decade-plus.
Let’s compare the Timberwolves to the San Antonio Spurs. This comparison may seem unreasonable, and in some ways it is, as the Spurs are the best organization in the league and historically the Timberwolves are probably the worst (sorry Timberwolves fans). Despite a market size roughly double San Antonio’s, the Timberwolves are worth about $400 million less. A respected front office and the corresponding successes it can bring add significant value to a franchise.
Now, if the Timberwolves were able to create a more watchable product and bring their value to, say, middle of the league and more in line with their market size, it could increase the value of the team by roughly $250 million (the Portland Trailblazers are currently at the middle of league, 15th in value at $975 million compared to the Timberwolves’ $720 million). After a successful campaign in the early 2000s, the Timberwolves had, at one point, the 16th highest valued franchise in the NBA. Thus, it would be safe to assume a similar jump is possible for the current team, given the great roster potential and front office guidance. [Note: This is probably a conservative estimate because the impending Target Center renovation will only add further value to the franchise.]
By hiring Thibodeau and Layden to run the show, Taylor has put his franchise in very capable hands, giving his team the best chance for future success and added value to the franchise. Unsurprisingly, this non-traditional Glen Taylor decision comes at a crucial time in his tenure as owner when, you know, he will actually cash in on his investment (likely to the tune of an extra $250 million). While Glen Taylor’s run as the Timberwolves owner has often seemed like a casual ode to Minnesota rather than a functional business, the latest move proves that Glen Taylor the NBA owner can be as shrewd as the Glen Taylor the billionaire entrepreneur. And you don’t need to be a “basketball guy” to see that.
Dr. J’s required reading: