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Sale of Minority Stake in Timberwolves Stalls

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Due to the difficulties lead buyer Steve Kaplan is having disposing of his minority stake in the Memphis Grizzlies, the sale of 30% of the Timberwolves remains on hold. What does it mean for the short-term future of our beloved Wolves?

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Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press reported yesterday that the deal between Glen Taylor and a group led by Steve Kaplan to sell Kaplan and partners a 30% share in the Timberwolves with an option for majority ownership is on hold as of now due to Kaplan's difficulties in extricating himself from his ownership stake in the Memphis Grizzlies.

The deal has been in the works for months and the hope was to have Kaplan in place before the end of the season so that he could be involved in the key decisions that have to made for the Wolves in the off-season, but that will not happen now, and whether the deal ever comes together is up in the air.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders (@stevekylerNBA) sent out a series of tweets this morning giving some information on why Kaplan is having such a difficult time disposing of his stake in the Grizzlies. He points out that there are roughly two dozen shareholders in the Grizzles and that Kaplan is one of the bigger ones with a roughly 15% share, but that...

He also suggests that Kaplan probably isn't the only Grizzlies partner who would like to sell, and that getting value for a minority share when Pera has control of the franchise is not easy.

Thus there is no timetable to get this done and whether and when Kaplan is able to cash in his Grizzlies stake is unclear. One imagines that the NBA would no longer be willing to approve of the ownership structure in place in Memphis.

This is a real frustration.  Regardless of your views on Glen Taylor's ownership (and he would continue to be the majority owner even if the sale goes through, at least for a while), it's hard to argue that some new blood wouldn't be welcome. This franchise has struggled over the last decade at least in part because the process of decision-making has fallen behind modern approaches in sports. While the "old-boys" network certainly still exists in the NBA, it's also true that more and more aspects of the business are data driven and the people being hired to make these decisions are more frequently educated and trained in areas like economics and statistics as opposed to being basketball "lifers."

There is no way of knowing how much influence or decision-making power Kaplan would or will have if the sale goes through eventually, but certainly he would have been a new voice with presumably some new ideas, something the Wolves could certainly use.

Meanwhile, whether this delay has any effect on the decisions about the general manager and head coaching positions is unclear. There was thought that Kaplan was expecting to have some say in these basketball operations decisions even with a minority stake, but now that he's out of the picture for the near future, it appears that Glen Taylor will once again be making those decisions himself, a prospect that does not fill me with confidence.

There have been hints from relatively plugged in local reporters including Jon from AP and Darren Wolfson that it remains a possibility that Sam Mitchell is given the head coaching job on a non-interim basis. I admit that flabbergasts me, and of course it will have to await the event. Meanwhile, there has been nothing on the likely future of Milt Newton, the GM, who took over primary player personnel responsibilities following the illness and death of Flip Saunders.

I was not in favor of "guaranteeing" either of these men their positions for the entire season, because it inevitably results in a time crunch, something the Wolves have never dealt with well. Once the season ends, there is not a ton of time before the draft is upon us and then of course free agency and the trading season. Who will be in charge of that?

Further, who will make the decision about the head coaching position? Generally the preference would be to hire someone to run your basketball operations (as GM or "POBO" in recent Wolves parlance), and let them conduct a coaching search, but it's entirely unclear if that's how things will play out this spring.

As of today, I have heard nothing about even exploratory searches for potential GM/POBO candidates. That doesn't mean it isn't happening, but to be honest I really doubt it is.  I think Taylor is likely to wait until the season ends to begin thinking about this seriously, which strikes me as a mistake.  You can criticize the Nets on various grounds and they deserve it, but their decision to hire Sean Marks as GM during the season at the very least gives them a headstart on their rebuilding process.

The Wolves, on the other hand, will likely be scrambling.  That, or they retain Newton (and likely in that case Mitchell), something I cannot endorse. Neither man was intended for the job he currently holds, and it's hard to imagine that either is the best possible option.  My fear is that one or both of them will be retained without a serious search for alternatives, which would be much in line with the Wolves way of doing things under Glen Taylor's ownership as well as beyond frustrating to me.

Of course all of that is speculation about what might happen, and we will have to await the events. But it's certainly true that the recent history of the Wolves has not been one of proactive change or quick decision making, and I fear that the failure of this sale (at least for the time being) will serve as another excuse for the team to drift along with the status quo.

It's impossible to know what a minority Kaplan ownership (or eventual majority for that matter) would look like. There are worse things things than the care taking but limited ambition style ownership we have had with Glen Taylor (See Sterling, Donald F).  However, I was looking forward to having some new voices in the Wolves organization, and am disappointed that it will have to wait.