Timberwolves fans may be forgiven for viewing their favorite franchise as a dystopian hellscape, because it has been.
They may be forgiven for expecting the Timberwolves to move to Ottumwa or Newark, because no one has reason to trust Alex Rodriguez.
But if you watch the 2021 NBA playoffs, and study NBA history, it is just as likely that in the coming years the Timberwolves will be a dangerous playoff team with little chance of imminent relocation.
Let’s start with the playoffs. LeBron James got knocked out in the first round. The Lakers, Celtics and Knicks, those coastal-elite glamour franchises, have departed. Steph Curry, LeBron, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Zion Williamson and Russell Westbrook are playing golf.
The teams that remain shouldn’t scare even the fans of a historically inept, not-all-that-big-market franchise.
There are two major-market coastal teams remaining.
The historically woeful Los Angeles Clippers, who are losing their series to Utah — a smaller-market team winning because of coaching, defense and a scorer, Donovan Mitchell, taken with the 13th pick in the draft.
The former New Jersey Nets are battling with the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix is winning with coaching, the veteran savvy of Chris Paul and — stop me if this sounds familiar — a dominant scorer taken with the 13th pick in the draft, Devin Booker.
The Denver Nuggets are winning with coaching, ball movement, defense and the league MVP, Nikola Jokic, who was taken with the 41st pick in the draft.
The 76ers are winning because they were patient with their best young players, and the Atlanta Hawks are relying on the reincarnation of Pete Maravich, Trae Young.
These NBA playoffs are not about royalty or market dominance. They’re about the subtleties of basketball — coaching, drafting, development, roster building and player cohesion.
Which leaves the Timberwolves without any excuses. They have three star-caliber scorers and a handful of quality role players. If they play well together and play defense like they want to win, they should be a playoff team next year, and might even be dangerous in the playoffs.
Maybe they’ll even become a perennial playoff team for the next decade in Target Center.
Because of some combination of Midwest modesty and Minnesotan insecurity, we always expect our teams to leave.
Rodriguez and Marc Lore moving the Timberwolves will always be a possibility. But it’s not something that should cost you sleep, not if you study Minnesota sports history, or NBA history.
Red McCombs didn’t move the Vikings to his hometown of San Antonio.
The Wilfs didn’t move the Vikings, or even try.
Carl Pohlad threatened to move the Twins to North Carolina, but he was lying about that being a real possibility. He also threatened to contract the Twins, but he was probably lying about that, too.
The Timberwolves might have moved to New Orleans in the ’90s, but Glen Taylor bought the team and kept it here.
Minnesota hasn’t lost a major league professional sports team since the North Stars left for Dallas because owner Norm Green was getting sued for sexual harassment.
No NBA team has changed markets since 2008.
NBA owners can make billions by charging expansion fees to cities like Seattle and Las Vegas.
If the Wolves were to move, the only way they could find a similar-sized market would be to go to Kansas City or St. Louis. There is no evidence that those would be good NBA cities.
St. Louis is a baseball town that tolerated the NFL as long as the team was of championship caliber.
Kansas City is a great sports town, but an NBA team would not compete well with the University of Kansas men’s basketball team.
Expect Lore and Rodriguez — who, I believe, go by the handles “M-Lo” and “Al-Ro” — to hint at or threaten a move to get public funding for further renovations of Target Center, because that’s how these things work.
Actually moving the franchise? That’s more of a theoretical possibility than a likely threat at this point.
The Timberwolves are built to be the next midmarket success story. And they will likely enjoy that success in this midmarket.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. [email protected]