Wolves team president Chris Wright (bio) was kind enough to take a few minutes to sit down with us yesterday to answer a few questions. In lieu of simply transcribing a word-for-word report of the call, I thought I'd take the following approach to relaying the information from the interview to you, our dear readers: I will write down my entire primary question followed by Chris Wright's response followed by my overview of his answer and a quick bit of commentary (in italics) at the bottom of the page. Follow up questions and responses were integrated into the main answer as best as possible and notations were made when this happened. Mr. Wright is very conversational and I thought it would be too hard to follow the tone of the conversation had I simply thrown in all of the follow up questions in order. The interview is below the thread:
#3 ME: How does the team plan to capitalize, if at all, on the Twins' new ball park. Are their opportunities for increased advertising and fan development?
CW: As you know we have a lawsuit [with the management of Target Center] and we expect a judgement by this Friday. We believe that we did well in presenting our case and that we will prevail and that we will be able to develop some level of signage on the backside of our building. We are going to be very careful with what we do there because the naming rights for the Target Center are up on September 30, 2011 and we may do something that gets us to that date rather than investing in some massive singage system through that particular day because whether target reups or there is a new company, that new company or Target will have a big say of what goes on the corner of that building. We might do something in the mean time that could be then moved to another part of the building after the new deal. We are definitely gong to devleop that corner of the building.
#4 ME: David Kahn has laid out a vision of how the next three years will go. With one year almost on the books, how do you see his plan working so far?
CW: Obviously, I think how I would characterize that is that David has a position to take advantage of, possibly, the biggest off-season in franchise history. It is up to him and his staff that the assets we have accumulated are utilized correctly. The fact that we have a top 5 pick, the fact that we have Utah's and Charlotte's pick and expiring contracts, and that we are positioned well in a massive free agency market, it can be potentially one of the great summers in our franchise. As you know from watching the NBA, you only need 3 players to be a very good franchise. Look at how Oklahoma has turned themselves around very quickly in the past few years. We hope to be in a position like that [where we can quickly turn it around] this summer. By this time next year, we think we can be a completely different team in the NBA.
CW: We've got to compete for a playoff spot next year. That is success on the court and with the potential of Rubio the year after, and one more round of free agency, and lotto in the event that we don't make the playoffs; all that being said, I think we will compete for the playoffs next year at this time and if we do not, I will be very disappointed. With this comes expectations of attendance. I think we should be averaging 16k people again.
It's not off base but it's not completely accurate. We are not the best or the worst in the league; we're in the middle...We've made some upgrages in our downstaris facilities as well as some upgrades in our core and strength workout areas for our players. Maybe when you're in a stand-alone building away from the main facility [as is the case with some of the more high-speed NBA practice facilities], it's good, but for us, proximity is key and we're very close to one another [the players, support staff, basketball operations, and business operation]...As a team operation it makes things more streamlined and less stressful.
#7 ME (a feral-inspired question): Will there be any changes to the team's TV schedule in the near future? This year saw a reduction of the number of games offered on local TV. Is this something team is working to correct and will there be more HD offerings next season?
Also, I think it is incorrect of Mr. Wright to say that everyone believes in the vision right now. I think a lot of people are worried about the vision; whether that is because of past team performance (we really are tired of getting burned) or something else, I don't know, but I think most of the die-hards are at or near their last straw and it's more "wait and see" than belief. He is 100% correct that this off-season has the potential to be their biggest ever and that they have positioned themselves about as well as possible to take advantage of it. To me, that's the best pitch the team has right now along with their ticket offer. They have positioned themselves as well as they possibly could have and it's up to David Kahn and his basketball operations staff to seal the deal. I think people want to see some execution before they believe in "the vision".
#2 COMMENTARY: This was obviously disappointing. We have done some digging on various sports statistic sites offered to professional sports teams and from what we can tell, they are generally in the area of $100,000-$150,000 per year plus a staff member to run the program/data sets. To us, the proper use of something like Synergy Sports (which could be had for between $150-200k/year) could lead to a massively productive return on investment. Take a look at what the Wall Street Journal found about teams that employ a stats department:
According to interviews with every team, The Wall Street Journal found that half the league's teams this season have at least one of these statisticians who helps make in-game, draft-day and trade-deadline decisions. Many of these teams are among the NBA's best. The list accounts for all six division leaders, including the Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks, who have a data analyst traveling with the team. These 15 teams that have invested heavily in statistics have combined to win 59.3% of their games this season. The 15 teams without such analysts have won 40.7% of their games, and only three -- the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks -- are on pace to make the postseason.
The Timberwolves are not one of those 15 teams. This is the cutting edge of front office management in the NBA and it is something that seems to provide a significant return on investment. A team that can find a starter or a significant contributor late in the draft is going to find greater value than one who blows a lotto pick on a guy who never really develops. The same goes for the team that can put its best lineups on the floor on a consistent basis as well as telling its players what their relative statistical strengths and weaknesses are. The employment of a data analyst obviously isn't the cure-all, but it does seem to be heavily coordinated with success. 59-41 matters. A lot. That being said, we obviously do not have access to the team's internal survey of its ticket holders and we have no idea how dire things are (ore are not) or were (or were not) vis-a-vis the need to do things like lower ticket prices and provide other in-arena fan-friendly amenities. Regardless, I'm putting this one down in the disappointing column.
UPDATE: I have confirmed that the team uses a product called StratEdge from a company called StratBridge. I'll try to find out more about it.
#3 COMMENTARY: None on this one.
#4 COMMENTARY: With all of the rumors flying around about Kevin Pritchard, Tom Penn, and the Portland, this question was crafted as something of an attempt to get a hedge; to see if there would be any hesitation in his commitment to David Kahn. There was no hedge and no pause. Mr. Wright went right into some comments about how this team has spent a lot of time in a losing environment building up to this single off-season and that it will be up to David to bring it all on home. This is Kahn's off season and there are very clear things that the club is telling fans they should expect: free agent spending, a big player in the draft, and 1-2 more additions. Whether you believe it or not, those are the benchmarks for player addition. It led into my next question (courtesy of Wile E. Coyote..PS: Oklahoma employs a data analyst).
#5 COMMENTARY: There you go. Playoffs and increased attendance. I think they are banking on a turn-around that will approach historic league levels, but that's what they're rolling with. I really hope they make it. The odds are definitely not in their favor.
#6 COMMENTARY: I wish I could provide some context on what other team facilities look like compared to the rest of the league. I thought this was a good question because we hear whispers about it every now and then. I've made some efforts to get some context from our contacts with other teams.
UPDATE: The team has also upgraded its players lounge.
#7 COMMENTARY: I will follow up on this one at a later date. They are in the very early stages of planning next year's TV schedule and they simply aren't at a time where they'll be able to tell us about the number of games on Channel 45, the number of HD games, and...well, I completely forgot to ask an important part of feral's main question: Why does Wolves HD look different than other HD programs on FSN? I'll follow up on that.