By Jon Krawczynski
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MINNEAPOLIS _ The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years and just traded the face of their franchise so he can go chase a championship with LeBron James in Cleveland.
Kevin Love is gone now, and yet somehow the Timberwolves have parlayed that into a record-setting week at the box office.
After completing the long-rumoured trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week.
That beats the previous record in 2011 that was set when Ricky Rubio announced that he was coming over from Spain to play for the team.
“The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice-president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said. “Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.
“But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.”
The front office and players weren’t the only ones stuck in limbo this summer because of an NBA rule that prevented the blockbuster trade from being consummated until 30 days after Wiggins signed his contract.
The Timberwolves’ sales staff had to sit on its collective hands and wait for the official announcement to come before reaching out to fans to beef up a season-ticket base that dropped from 7,400 for the 2013-14 season to fewer than 6,000 this summer.
Sales representatives were barred from discussing the trade with inquiring fans and the team certainly could not advertise the wholesale changes that were coming.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a really challenging summer for our sales staff,” Tanke said. “When you don’t have the story to tell, you have to go to painstaking lengths to make sure they don’t tell a story and stay off of rumours. We’re unable to talk about that stuff so your challenge is compounded when you can’t even talk about it.”
As last Saturday _ the first day that Wiggins was allowed to be traded _ got closer and closer, more reports started to come out that the deal was going to happen.
Still unable to confirm anything officially, the Wolves still did start to see some momentum build. They sold 200 full season-ticket packages in the three weeks leading up to the announcement, with fans growing more and more confident that the deal was a matter of when, not if.
And when the announcement finally did come down, well, the staff Wigged out. An army of 50 sales representatives wore brightly colored wigs to the office on Saturday morning to celebrate, and they started hitting the phones.
The players were unveiled at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday, drawing large crowds wherever they went. The Wolves also set a new five-day record with 500,000 page views and 200,000 visitors to timberwolves.com.
“I can’t hardly get 20 steps without someone stopping me and saying, ‘Hey Mr. Taylor, we’re really excited about your team,”’ owner Glen Taylor said at the fair. “So I see the enthusiasm among our fans to watch these players. Now, maybe it will be a dunk contest here for a while, but, we certainly have some athletic young men.”
And even though the second-best player in franchise history was departing, the deal has been met warmly by fans thanks to the promise of Wiggins, a sensation since his high school days who spent one season at Kansas.
Bennett was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 and Young is a well-regarded veteran forward that has given some the impression that this isn’t just the latest in a long line of restarts that have come since Kevin Garnett was traded in 2007.
“We’ve been talking about it this week. Why does this feel so much different?” Tanke said. “You hope another deal works out or a trade for Kevin Garnett, you hope it works out. For this one, for whatever reason, both internally and externally with the sentiment of the fans, everybody truly believes this one is going to work out.”
Timberwolves President Chris Wright, who has been with the franchise for 23 seasons, put the reaction from the fans on par with some of the biggest moments in the franchise’s history.
“This certainly is definitively up there,” Wright said. “The reaction of the marketplace has been very comparable to those moments in time.”