MINNEAPOLIS — It would seem every offseason brings with it a new set of challenges and considerations for Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.
But this upcoming summer may be one of the 72-year-old printing and electronics mogul’s most pivotal yet.
Taylor likely has a new coach to hire. His star player can opt out of his contract after next season. The franchise has made strides — winning 40 games this year for the first time since 2004-05 — but is now 10 years removed from its last postseason appearance.
So much for kicking back and enjoying the view from the owner’s suite.
With Minnesota’s 40-42 season winding down, FOXSportsNorth.com reached Taylor for an exclusive, one-on-one interview to discuss the owner’s thoughts on this season, next season and the futures of both Rick Adelman and Kevin Love with the Timberwolves.
FOX SPORTS NORTH: It obviously didn’t end the way you would’ve liked, but how would you sum up this season as a whole?
GLEN TAYLOR: "First of all, we made a lot of improvement, especially when you look from the games we won last year. Getting up to 50-50 is a big step, but I can’t say I’m satisfied, because in watching our guys play and how good they looked in various games, we probably should’ve been up there with those other teams playing for the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth spots in our conference. So I’m disappointed we didn’t find ourselves in that group or even a little above that group, because I’ve seen that potential since the beginning of the season and at the end of the season, and in parts of games and some of way we play."
FSN: Can you put your finger on why this team didn’t perform up to its potential?
TAYLOR: "I think I’m gonna let them rest a little bit and wait till the end of the season then talk to coaches, (president of basketball operations) Flip (Saunders) and some of our other people, too, and get their evaluations before I go public on anything. I don’t think there’s one single thing; I just think it leaves me with the impression we had higher expectations from some of our individual players. We’re going to do our best to get that out of them starting with a strong summer program, but I would say it’s spread out."
FSN: How do you feel about the job Flip has done in his first year as president of basketball operations?
TAYLOR: "It’s very much like I thought it would be, so I’m very pleased with it. He and I communicate often, and it’s easy communication. I think he just makes a point of communicating, not in many long conversations, but a lot of quick ones, which I appreciate. Sometimes, it’s just talking about a game. Sometimes we’re talking about ideas we’ve got as far as thinking ahead, how to develop a player, and those sorts of things. You can definitely tell he sees what he’s seeing going on around the league."
FSN: What kind of conversations have you had with Kevin Love (who can opt out of his contract after next season)?
TAYLOR: "Nothing that I would call regarding contracts, because he’s got an agent, but I don’t get too involved with that, anyway. Kevin and I talk about how much I appreciate his leadership, how he’s played a little injured and deserves to be commended. I make it a point to go tell not only Kevin but other players that I appreciate their effort and that they’re doing this for the fans. But I do that with everyone, not just Kevin."
FSN: Has Kevin’s perception of the franchise changed any in the past season?
TAYLOR: "It’s really a question that should be asked of him, but I think some of the differences might be that he and Flip have built up good communications. I think that’s important and it’s something where we didn’t have that a year ago. We’ve definitely made steps towards our goal of being in playoffs but didn’t achieve it. I don’t think that he would think much differently than I do in that his expectations are that we need to improve and take another big step next year."
FSN: You remain committed to doing whatever possible to keep him around, correct?
TAYLOR: "Oh yes. I just think that he’s a unique player, a very special player, and it should be our goal and his goal to keep that relationship. I don’t think moving to another team really helps him or probably won’t help us. We both have a common interest of developing this team with young people. We all have to realize that this team is fairly young, and other good teams probably have more seasoned players on them."
FSN: When you look back at the decision not to give him a max contract (in 2012 when the Timberwolves could’ve given him a five-year, $80 million deal as its "designated player"), how do feel about making that choice?
TAYLOR: "I would say that he has probably played as good or even better than I would’ve thought he could back then. To me, if there was a way to know that then, we probably would’ve it extended it out to the fifth year. That would’ve been the best thing to do, but on the other hand, it isn’t like he’s going to lose any money. We’re still in a position to get him the money one way or another that it would be the same. It isn’t any loss to him in the long run, but it just has to do with, maybe, the commitment at that time."
FSN: Has coach Rick Adelman given you any word about his future?
TAYLOR: "I’ve made a point of not talking to Rick about this next year, so he hasn’t said anything to me one way or the other. We’ve talked a lot about a lot of things, but more so about family and other things like that. I think there’s more things than just the team that go into his decision, and I haven’t pressed him on that. I just want to give him an opportunity to finish the season. Once we knew we weren’t going to the playoffs, we did talk about it a little bit and came to the conclusion that we’d just do the best we can the rest of this season, don’t get the players or public involved and see how it goes."
FSN: If, for some reason, he indicated he’d like to stick around, would you have him back?
TAYLOR: "I don’t think it’ll work that way. I think, first of all we just want to sit down and talk about if he’s interested in staying, what are his plans and etcetera. We’ll do all those things before we make up our minds what the decision is. We’ll let that all play out first."
FSN: Regardless of what happens with him, how have you liked working with a future hall of fame coach the past three seasons?
TAYLOR: "I’ve really enjoyed the relationship the two of us have. He’s really a nice person. I’ve enjoyed his family. We’ve been able to spend a lot of time talking about a lot of things, so that to me has just been really nice. The other thing is to listen to him on his basketball experience — and I’m not all that qualified to gauge appreciation of a good coach — but you probably have an ever better appreciation of what a good coach he is when you become familiar with his basketball wisdom. With him and Flip around this year, there’s been a lot of knowledge floating around, and they’re willing to share it with you. I find that very fun."
FSN: You probably feel like you know a thing or two about basketball till you get into a meeting room with those guys.
TAYLOR: (Laughs) "I’ve got to be careful about that. That’d be dangerous if I thought I knew too much."
FSN: Has Ricky Rubio made the necessary strides this season the franchise would like to see out him?
TAYLOR: "I think it’s gonna be a really difficult year to evaluate. With him, we had our hopes up really high. I think him coming out of the injury (torn ACL in 2012) took longer than anticipated, and he had difficult times during the season, and that showed in his play. Then it got even more complicated when Rick starting give J.J. more minutes (in the fourth quarters of games) and played Ricky less. Then Ricky started getting his shot hitting and became more confident. He’s been a little bit up and down. I think it’s gonna be difficult for anyone to sit back and say exactly the type of player that he can be yet. I just don’t think we’ve had the consistency during this year that we saw at the very beginning, but the last part of the season makes you very hopeful that he’s got a lot of improvement in him. That’s where I’m at today. I think we have to remember he’s a young person. If we give him time, I think he’ll be able to make better decisions out there. He’s a hard worker, so I think he’ll improve on his shot. But I don’t know how one would fully evaluate Ricky this year, so next year is really important for him."
FSN: What are your mindset and plans for the team heading into what is a rather pivotal offseason?
TAYLOR: "I think first what we’ll do here is sit down with our players and look at who we have and see what type of commitments we can get from players to do things over the summer. I think a couple of them, we’re gonna ask them to lose weight. Others, we want to get strong like Kevin (Love) did — and Kevin really did that last summer. We’ve got a couple players like that and a couple others we for sure want to get stronger and work on that. I’d like to see the commitment from a few of them to work on their shot. We’ll go through that scenario and see which ones are committed to doing what we’ve ask them to do. I think they’ll commit to it and do it next year. If, for some reason, any of them don’t see why they need to do it or think they have other things that are more important, we’ll have to decide if we want them on our team or not. We always want guys who are willing to go to that next level, and we’re already now looking into any potential trades out there and at who we might be able to sign with free agency. We won’t be able to do much with that, but I think, nevertheless, we’ll still go around and talk to some other teams and ask ‘Do we have all the defensive talent on this team that we need, or do we need someone else to give to us? Is there a style or size of a shooter out there that’s better than a player that we have?’ If there’s a team interested in a trade that has other needs, I’m sure Flip will do that and have those conversations with all those teams. Then we’ll go ahead and get guys signed. We’ve got a good basis still to work with, and I want to see a lot out of our players over the summer. Then we have our draft choice, so we’ll see how lucky we are there."
FSN: Were you at least pleased the team finished where it did (10th in the Western Conference) and didn’t have to forfeit that (top-13 protected) first-round pick in this summer’s draft?
TAYLOR: "I’ve never played that game. Even in the years that we did lose a lot, I’ve always said to our players ‘the fans pay us a lot of money. They signed up for the last five games of the year or the last 10 games of the year expecting you to be playing for a playoff position. So you ought to play like you are.’ That’s what we’re doing. We want our guys trying to win. Besides, we’ve never had good luck anyhow as far as moving up or back in the draft. You’ve got to hope our two draft choices from last year prove to be really quality guys, and I think there’s still some promise that that could be the case. And then if Flip is able to look once we finish out this year, if we keep the 13th pick, hopefully there’s a pretty good player out there."
FSN: On that note, what’d you think of Gorgui Dieng’s performance in his rookie season?
TAYLOR: "The young man, right from the very beginning that very first week in Mankato (at training camp), he just worked really hard, showed he was really smart and never gave up. He had to guard Pek (center Nikola Pekovic) and everybody was just really appreciative of how hard he worked. Now, it took a long time to get him out on the floor, and once he did he got a bunch of fouls so he couldn’t stay out there very long. But he developed a lot, and Pek being out (for most of the second half of the season with an ankle injury) gave him an opportunity. He took that chance and came out looking like a totally different player. You could tell he learned a lot, the refs let him play a little more, and we all figured out he’s got a shot on offense. He’s always been able to block shots. We know we’ve got to be better defensively, and he’s bringing that to us very quickly."
FSN: How are things coming with the team’s new practice facility (set for completion by the start of next season)?
TAYLOR: "As far as the practice facility, we’re making good progress. It’s all on schedule, and we feel good about the practice facility. The Target Center, though, appears to be moving very slow."
FSN: Where are things at with those ($97 million worth of) renovations?
TAYLOR: "Where we’re at in that process is they’re picking an architect now. I believe they’re down to four and now trying to get it down to one."
FSN: When would you anticipate workers to begin making the upgrades? (They were originally supposed to begin as soon as the Timberwolves’ season ends.)
TAYLOR: "No idea; that process has always been something where I’ve guessed wrong on it, so I don’t even guess. I really don’t know."