Alex Rodriguez will be a part of the ownership group that will eventually take on a majority stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves. The news leaked a few months ago and became official in May, but the purchase by A-Rod and partner Marc Lore is getting bogged down in lawsuits filed by the team's minority stakeholders.
None of this is going to matter until 2023 anyway, when current majority owner Glen Taylor agreed to transfer those stakes to Rodriguez & Co. But, as is often the case with sports franchises changing ownership, it did not take long before rumors began to pop up about a possible move to a different city. In this case, Rodriguez's connection to Seattle is the catalyst for discussions about a possible relocation.
Last week, The Athletic's Timberwolves writer Jon Krawczynski broke down the legal struggles ensuing around the purchase and the various ramifications that may come of it. In the article, he noted that the legal process made the language of Taylor's deal with A-Rod's group public, and there is no language in the contract that prevents either the Wolves or the Lynx from moving from the Twin Cities:
Nestled into a rather mundane court filing, which was first reported by ESPN, was a little bombshell clearly designed to get some attention. The purchase agreement between Taylor and Lore and Rodriguez does not include any language or stipulations that the Wolves and Lynx remain in Minnesota, the lawsuit said.
Taylor said publicly on multiple occasions that any agreement would include such language to ensure that a struggling team playing in one of the oldest arenas in the NBA would have a long-term future in the Twin Cities.
Krawczynski went on to say that public statements don't mean much in the grand scheme of it all. But there isn't any reason to presume what the new ownership group wants to do, given that public perception of those groups often differs greatly from what their true goals really are:
None of that guarantees that the Wolves will remain in Minneapolis. Residents of Seattle will remember emphatic statements from Clay Bennett when he bought the SuperSonics, only to move them to Oklahoma City the first chance he got. On the flip side, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens were viewed as carpetbaggers from New York when they bought the Milwaukee Bucks and were sure to move them out of town or sell them to another buyer who would. Same went for Zygi and Mark Wilf when they came in from New Jersey to buy the Minnesota Vikings. Both ownership groups have stayed for years, become model owners and helped get new stadiums built that have secured both teams’ futures in their markets for the long term.
The big takeaway from all that is while Taylor didn't include specific language in a sale agreement to keep the Wolves and Lynx in Minnesota, jumping to conclusions helps nobody. Any efforts to not overreact may be hampered, though, by a new tidbit that popped up in Charley Walters' weekly column for the Pioneer Press over Memorial Day Weekend:
There’s buzz now that Kevin Garnett, who is said to be worth more than $200 million, will be heavily involved in the Timberwolves basketball department if he joins franchise investors Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore if/when they gain full control in 2023. The word is Garnett, the ex-Timberwolf, wants the franchise to remain in Minnesota but Rodriguez wants to move it to Seattle, where he played for seven seasons.
This is the first rumor that says it all out loud: A-Rod may want to move the team to Seattle. It's a tempting connection to make because of his past there and the fact that Seattle had an NBA team less than 15 years ago before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.
As is often the case in this situation, it will all be rumor and conjecture before something (if anything) actually happens. How many times have we heard that the Kings are not long for Sacramento? Krawczynski mentioned the Bucks' situation above, and there were similar fears surrounding that purchase. Besides, Rodriguez will not be the sole owner if and when the deals go through. He's a partner in the ownership group and his desires to move the team may very well not matter. There were even mutterings Steve Ballmer would want to move the woeful Clippers to Seattle because of his Microsoft connections. Yet here we are, without a team moved since OKC.
There is also the fact that the NBA and, specifically, all the owners involved, would make a lot more money if a new team was founded in Seattle as opposed to relocating an existing team to the city. Earlier this year, Adam Silver said an expansion fee of $2.5 billion was low in his eyes. Expansion fees would be split among the league and the owners. There's no official number for what a relocation fee might look like, but when the Supersonics moved south in 2007 and became the Thunder, the ownership group had to pay the NBA $30 million. Even taking into account the inflation in value of NBA teams and moving expenses over the last 14 years, it would be immensely more profitable for the league and the owners in the short and long-term to expand rather than relocate.
That's probably the most important note. It's always about the bottom line and relocating a team is a bit of an ugly exercise from a PR perspective. Expanding, on the other hand, is fun and games for everyone involved, even the people cutting the checks to found the new team.
We may as well buckle up because teams don't get purchased very often. I doubt this will be the first rumblings we'll hear connecting Rodriguez and his ownership group to Seattle.