Timberwolves face the Suns as A-Rod eyes team control

a man crosses his arms
Alex Rodriguez, who owns a minority stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves, looks on during Game 1 of the playoffs at Target Center on Saturday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

The Minnesota Timberwolves take on the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night in Game 2 of the NBA playoffs. The Wolves won convincingly on Saturday as Alex Rodriguez sat courtside for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.

Rodriguez, the former baseball star, and his business partner Marc Lore, the former CEO of Walmart, are fighting to gain majority control of the team from Glen Taylor after a deal between the three of them fell through. ESPN reports that a mediation session has been set between for May 1.

Wall Street Journal reporters Robert O’Connell and Sarah Nassauer have been following the negotiations. They joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer on Minnesota Now.

The following is a transcription of the audio heard using the player above, lightly edited for clarity.

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Glen Taylor agreed to sell a majority stake in the franchise back in 2021 with installment payments. Is that an usually structured deal?

O’Connell: You’ll often see with these sports franchises across the league it’s a fairly quick transaction of one payment. An example of that would be when Mark Cuban recently sold the Dallas Mavericks, or his majority share in the Dallas Mavericks. It’s been kind of strange from the get-go that Alex and Marc Lore have been buying this team sort of in an installment plan.

Does that mean they don’t have the deep pockets needed to front this team?

O’Connell: There’s been some cloudiness around their finances. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but it’s certainly been the case that they’ve been bringing other investors and they’ve been borrowing some of the money to make the plans. It’s not exactly as cut and dry I’ll say as most NBA franchise transactions are.

Why did Glen Taylor want to sell the team in the first place?

Nassauer: I don’t think it’s 100 percent clear to anyone at this point exactly what point he was considering. But in 2021, this was COVID times, right. The year previous the season had shut down. People were just coming back to games with masks or when they were vaccinated. It was a very different time. And anyone who’s followed Taylor, you know, for a long time in Minnesota, he's thought about selling the team many, many times.

Did anyone see this ownership trouble coming?

O’Connell: Yeah, it was just kind of this looming cloud on the horizon, the question of would the new owners be able to fund this team in perpetuity that they’re about to have if they keep this roster together a very expensive payroll next year. And that was kind of the question, would this be the Timberwolves one chance this season? Or would the new owners kind of be able to keep it together?

Nassauer: I don’t think we can know for sure. This is something that every team sort of goes through when they’re at this place where suddenly the Timberwolves are better than they have been at least, I’m a Minnesotan, they’ve been most of my lifetime.

They’re gonna have to come up against this decision — should we keep paying in the way that we need to pay to keep these people and then pay the luxury tax or not. And what you’re seeing come out I think in other press is rumblings that they didn’t plan to. I don’t think that means that we know what would have happened at this point.

If they choose not to pay the luxury tax, would that result in the departure of players?

Nassauer: Yeah, I mean, that’s what is at stake, right is who would stay and who would go. But until that is decided we don’t know it. You know, this is what every team in the NBA that’s in this position kind of has to decide. I don’t think that we can say for sure what’s going to happen until we until we get there on this one.

What level of wealth is needed to own team like this?

O’Connell: Well, it kind of changes depending on the market, you’ve got teams that do very well without going all that deep into luxury tax. You know, a team, for example, like the Oklahoma City Thunder right now is doing a great job of that. They’re very young, they have a lot of players on smart contracts.

So it’s possible to win at the highest level without going into that tax that Sarah talked about. But for teams that choose to do that may certainly have an advantage. The classic example of that at this moment is Steve Ballmer, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers has a vast amount of wealth at his discretion. And you know, they they’ve paid the luxury tax for a few seasons now, without it affecting him terribly much.

I wonder what would play out in a mediation session between all parties?

Nassauer: We don’t know for sure but I think it could be not much. Mediation is part of the contract. That’s why they have to go this direction, they have to jump through these hoops. And if nothing is agreed upon next week you know, there will be arbitration and then there could be a lawsuit and this could take a while.