Many people believe that if you win games, you will get attendance, and that will provide all the revenues you need. However, the correlation is not as strong as you'd think. Of the bottom ten teams in attendance last year, five were play-off teams.
What does a team need besides winning to draw in fans? They need to produce something entertaining, that fans don't want to miss seeing. One thing that a losing team can sell to ticket-buying fans is hope. "Watch our young talent show occasional flashes of brilliance! Dream about what they may one day become!"
Hope comes bundled in a fresh batch of rookies every year. They are selected for potential, and their emergence provides a better story than a steady NBA veteran any day. This is particularly true of lottery picks, since they often have the greatest chance of becoming the NBA's most valuable commodity: a superstar.
These players are cash cows. They don't get paid much, because the CBA institutes a rookie scale, but they drive fan interest. Check out the salaries that star rookie players get in other sports, and you'll see how much dreams are worth.
You may imagine that if these players are so valuable as revenue generators, we may see them traded for a healthy sum. However, you'd be wrong -- we don't see teams that are willing to trade them at all! While picks get swapped around a lot on draft night, I can think of only two lottery players in the last twenty years that were traded during their rookie season. Once draft night passes, fans dream about a potential superstar wearing their favorite team's uniform, and they quickly become "more valuable to us than you," when the owner checks his books.
With Derrick Williams though, the Wolves are in a unique situation - almost historic. On almost every team, that lottery pick rookie is the player that the team's fans dream about. Nobody trades any lottery pick after the draft, and certainly not the #2 pick! However, in the Wolves case, all that love falls on Ricky Rubio. Add in the questions of fit, and whether Williams can be an NBA SF, and it's created a perfect storm that could put him on the trade market.
For buyers, this may be the one time in history where a hopeless team, hurting for revenue, actually has the opportunity to trade for the #2 pick from this year's draft. He provides four years of hope, four years of cheap rookie scale, four years of revenue from tickets and merchandise, and probably seven years of control before he can leverage his way off a bad team. #2 picks also carry a lot of publicity from their last year of college, and news at the lottery and the nba draft.
Derrick Williams does not carry all this extra value on the Timberwolves. I'd love to see if he becomes a superstar, and his small contract allows us to devote more payroll to our other pressing needs. However, on a team like Phoenix, who's losing Nash, the guy would be invaluable, especially for a cheap owner like Robert Sarver. How much revenue does he create for a team like Charlotte, Milwaukee, or New Orleans -- teams that need to rebuild and get fans interested in their teams to break even?
I would love to see Williams stay on the Wolves, but I recognize that he would have more value filling our needs in a trade. However, if we decide to trade him, we need to make sure we treat him with the value commensurate with the uniqueness of the situation.
Hope sells. If we sell it, I hope we get full value for it, in talent and income-generating potential.