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Recycling and Rebuilding: Roster Reconfigurations Render Hope; Sells Tickets

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The Minnesota Timberwolves have resided in the doldrums of the NBA for most of their 25 year existence. After trading Kevin Love, the Wolves subsequently entered what is potentially the most important phase of rebuilding since being inaugurated in 1989.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The following is according to Nick Halter of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Business Journal.

In the five days following the official announcement of the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade, the Timberwolves said they have sold 300 new full-season-ticket packages. That's on top of 200 new packages in the 30 days leading up to the trade, when most fans knew Wiggins would be the centerpiece of the deal.

Halter's column goes on to state that last week - one week removed from the blockbuster Kevin Love trade that brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota - was the busiest for season ticket sales for the Minnesota Timberwolves in three years.

The last time sales representatives saw this type of business was in 2011. The Wolves finished the 2010-2011 season ranked 24th among the NBA in attendance, prior to the increase in season ticket sales three years ago.

It would have been interesting to see when ticket sales really began increasing. When did those who purchased season tickets believe the trade was imminent? How could they have known that the trade was certain to happen, or were they just assuming?

At any rate, the season following the Wolves' last peak in ticket sales ('11-'12) was delayed, and subsequently shortened due to a lockout. This left teams with 33 home games, instead of the usual 41. Still, if Halter's report is correct, season ticket sales increased prior to the lockout-shortened season.

Why?

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Back in 2009, Ricky Rubio (18 years old at the time) was still playing in Spain with Joventut Badalona of Liga Endesa (ACB). He missed the first 11 games of the ACB season recovering from a hand injury, but performed well throughout the season and in the Copa Del Rey.

Rubio finished the season leading the league in assists per game, and ranked atop the league in assists per-40 minutes (pace adjusted). This DraftExpress column reveals Dan Fegan, Rubio's agent, thought there was a chance his client could be selected as one of the top-three players in the upcoming NBA Draft.

A crop chalk full of potentially prolific point guards (Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Ty Lawson and Darren Collison), Rubio was still considered to be one of the highest rated prospects in the 2009 draft.

His pick-and-roll prowess, vision and knack for getting into passing lanes enticed Timberwolves Manager David Kahn enough to select Rubio fifth overall in said draft. Kahn said afterward Rubio was "a virtuoso and somebody special."

It is speculated that Glen Taylor, former head coach Kurt Rambis, assistant GM Tony Ronzone, and Kahn spent almost two years working to convince Rubio that Minnesota was the place to realize his NBA dream. By the time he arrived, word was out, and fans went as far as to envision this Spanish point guard as the "Pistol" Pete Maravich.

Whether this was a lazy, or unrealistic, comparison didn't matter: Those who waited for Rubio all that time were going to finally see what he could do in the NBA.

I exchanged emails with a former season ticket holder looking for answers as to why the Wolves saw an increase in attendance during the lockout-shortened season. I have elected to keep the name of this person anonymous.

I got my tickets (3 total) the year before Ricky Rubio got here so 2010-2011. We actually had even cheaper seats but decided to upgrade when the Wolves got the 2nd pick in the 2011 NBA Draft (This ultimately became Derrick Williams).

Over a span of 33 games in the beginning of the ‘11-'12 season, the Target Center welcomed a total of 577,197 spectators, meaning that an average of 17,491 attended each game. Minnesota finished the year 15th in attendance, jumping ahead of nine teams from 24th in '10-'11. It was Rick Adelman's first year at the helm as head coach.

The Wolves finished 26-40.

Minnesota went 31-51 in ‘12-'13 and fans began losing interest.... again. The Wolves dropped six spots and finished 21st in attendance with an average of 16,341 spectators per home game. The total count was 669,976 over 41 games.

Our anonymous source states they considered not renewing their season ticket membership following following the '12-'13 season.

We almost dropped the tickets prior to last year as our section received a 180% price increase. But, we liked the direction the team was going so decided to stay.

As the '13-'14 season approached, optimists predicted the Wolves would end a nine year playoff drought. The new President of Basketball Operations, Flip Saunders, committed over $115 million in contracts by renewing a few deals (Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic) and signing some new additions (Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, and Ronnie Turiaf).

The pieces to at least be a competent contender in the Western Conference theoretically had been assembled.

Unfortunately, repeated underwhelming performances in late game situations and untimely injuries throughout the year hindered the Wolves from qualifying for the postseason-- where the franchise has remained absent for 10 consecutive seasons.

The Total Home Attendance through the '13-'14 venture finished at 597,157, averaging out to 14,565 spectators per game. Minnesota finished 27th among the NBA in total attendance. They were supposed to be playoff contenders.

After Minnesota drafted Ricky Rubio in ‘09, one year after executing a draft-day trade and landing Kevin Love, excitement built steadily amid the fanbase before peaking two years later. Despite the lockout, people wanted to see the Wolves play.

So, desire to see the new-look team is ultimately what the increased ticket sales and attendance. However, when Glen Taylor freed his team from the wrath of KAHHHHHNNNN, fans had already grown tired of all the losing and quit going to games.

Prior to the '13-'14 campaign, according to Forbes, the number of Wolves season tickets sold hovered somewhere around 7,400. After the season ended, prior to last week, that number fell to approximately 6,000 -- a drop of 20-ish percent.

Impressively, though, according to Halter's column, that number has since increased to a reported 6,800. The organization has established a foundation, at least as far the product the team will sell for the '14-'15 season is concerned.

The decline in season ticket sales prior to last year indicates that fans were bored, tired of wondering about Kevin Love's future with the team, and they were sick of losing.

Tellingly, in a press conference shortly after Love-Wiggins/Bennett/Young trade was announced, Flip Saunders, who also became a minority owner when he was hired as President of Basketball Operations, told the media that the team tried to hit a home run by drafting Zach LaVine with the 13th overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Saunders must have been aware that the fans needed a different direction, then, as the Timberwolves have never prospered in the NBA Draft lottery. They have only ever traded down from their projected draft position, and have, over the lifetime of the team, gone down by a net of 15 draft positions (!!!).

Minnesota now possesses the last two players taken with the #1 overall selection.

Trading Love was indisputably the correct thing to do from a business standpoint, and the Wolves fared well in terms of return-value in addition to fan approval by doing so. Uncertainty, questions seeking the truth behind the knuckle pushups story and, more importantly, whether or not he would leave after his contract expired, may not have ceased entirely with Love's departure.

Saunders flipping what became of Kahn's infamous decision making for young, talented players eager to prove they belong in the NBA, regardless of where they play, was an exceptional exchange by anyone's standard. Removed was the rotting, unstable structure left by the previous regime and what's left is a formidable foundation to build upon.

Rubio, who has, and still continues to, excite the likes of many with ostentatious passing skills is now paired with high-flying, highly touted -- though undeveloped -- assets. Ergo, he will be used as a catalyst to facilitate what aspires to, at the worst, an intoxicating product fans are willing to see no matter the cost.

Which is why Taylor, Saunders and Chris Wright (who's responsible for the day to day business operations) used the Minnesota State Fair as a platform to promote the new-look Timberwolves. This maximizes the commodity's value before it ever is ever in position to fail.

Recently, the Minneapolis City Council approved financing in November for a $97 million dollar plan to renovate the Target Center. The city of Minneapolis agreed to put forth $48.5 million and AEG, the building manager, will be billed for $5.5 million. The team will pay the remaining balance of $43 million (Forbes).

Thus, coincidently revamping the roster while modernizing the aesthetics of the grounds it performs on, the Wolves can detach itself from the stigma of a franchise stuck in the ways of old by promoting an entirely new look-- internally and externally.

If years down the road the Wolves replenish the current core with complimentary pieces then perhaps, years from now, those who purchased season tickets prior to the '14-'15 season will be able to look back at this offseason as the one that turned the franchise around. Stadium renovations, but mostly a new collection of players who represent hope, and the relief felt after closing a bitter chapter of the team's history renders an optimal premise for a complete rebuild; a culture change.

Ultimately, though, sustaining and improving such circumstances is dependent on one thing and one thing only...


...winning.

By the time this, potentially, final venture during Taylor's reign as team owner is determined to be a success or failure, the Timberwolves will have already given the fans, and particularly the most loyal fans, decades of sad, infuriating futility.

If they are unable to cash in from their complete rebuild, from the roster to the stage on which the team is presented, there may not be many willing to invest hard earned dollars into the local NBA franchise, anymore.