Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported last night that Glen Taylor is in significant negotiations to sell a 20% stake in the Timberwolves to a group headed by Steve Kaplan, who currently owns a minority share in the Memphis Grizzlies, Jason Levien, who was part of ownership groups in both Philadelphia and Memphis but left both (as well as an earlier job with the Kings) under less than ideal circumstances, and two wealthy Indonesian businessmen, one of whom, Erick Thohir is an owner of DC United in MLS (along with Levien) as well as Italian football giant Inter Milan.
Obviously the Kaplan group is buying in with the hopes (and perhaps the promise) that they will be able to buy a majority share at some point in the future when Taylor decides to sell.
Whether this minority sale indicates a looming plan to sell the majority stake remains unclear, as does how the death of Flip Saunders plays into this plan. There has long been talk that a group fronted by Saunders and Kevin Garnett would likely buy the team from Taylor once Garnett's playing days were done. Of course that bid would have required significant financial backing from other sources. Whether Saunders and Garnett had those sources lined up, and whether the Kaplan group was intended to be a part of that is unknown, as is whether Kevin Garnett will have the opportunity to move into ownership if the Kaplan Group takes over.
Jason Levien appears to be the deal maker of the group and is a polarizing figure around the NBA. He got his start as a player agent, once repping current Timberwolf Kevin Martin early in his career. Later, he went to work for the Sacramento Kings, as the heir apparent to Geoff Petrie as President when the team was owned by the Maloof brothers. Unfortunately, as would be the case at later stops, he did not get along with people in the front office and was accused of playing politics and leaking things to the press in order to solidify his position. He lasted only 18 months in Sacramento before being ousted.
Later he put together the group that bought the Philadelphia 76ers, but again did not last long with the organization. Derek Bodner, our colleague at Libertyballers sent me this:
There's not a whole lot "on the record" about Jason's time here. He came in as a minority owner, although he was reportedly the one who spearheaded the effort to buy the team and got the major players of the ownership group working together. Just a year later, Levien had sold his interest in the Sixers to join Robert Pera's group in Memphis and become their CEO and managing partner.
Most of the interest during Levien's short time here was centered around the persistent rumors that he was looking to slowly but surely position himself as the head basketball decision maker in the organization. The problem was, especially after Doug Collins guided the team to a surprising turnaround and playoff run, Collins wanted more say in basketball operations as well, and the two were on a collision course that Levien couldn't win at the time.
Judging by Jason's history with the Sacramento Kings, 76ers, and Grizzlies, it wouldn't shock me if moving up in the organizational chart as a decision maker was in his plans.
It seems clear that Levien wants to run a franchise, especially the basketball operations part of things. This seems to have been his driving desire in Philadelphia, but he ultimately left after apparently losing a power struggle with then-coach Doug Collins.
He then became part of the group that bought the Memphis Grizzlies that included current majority owner Robert Pera as well as Kaplan. He became CEO of the Grizzlies, and, among other things, hired John Hollinger. However, once again he was ousted in unclear circumstances when the relationship with Pera soured. This seems to be a theme in Levien's NBA history: relationships souring quickly.
Levien and Kaplan put a group together to try to buy the Atlanta Hawks, but were outbid, and now seem to have moved their focus onto the Minnesota Timberwolves.
At this point, we have a lot more questions than answers about where this is going. Kaplan will have to divest himself of his stake in the Grizzlies before this deal can be consummated, and what sort of power the new group would have in operations remains unknown.
Meanwhile, it looks like Levien is once again angling to get control of a franchise, something I view warily. Guys who can't last more than five minutes at a stop over multiple stops make me nervous. He does not have the best reputation around the league, at least among certain people, and could be interpreted as a higher level David Kahn-type figure.
Here are links to two articles (h/t to tanat-0s for linking these elsewhere making them easy to find):
A piece from the Sports Business Journal from October 2013 that paints him as a forward thinking, successful deal maker, and a Sean Deveney Sporting News article from May, 2014 after he left the Grizzlies that isn't as complimentary, and includes anonymous quotes such as "(Levien is)...just a bad guy."
I'll leave it to you to form your own opinion, but while I've been calling out for new ownership for a long time, these are not the guys who would be at the top of my list. Levien especially has a history of franchise hopping and failed relationships that make me very nervous about handing him power over the Timberwolves.
We'll follow this story as it develops.