Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is engaged in serious talks to sell an approximate 20 percent stake in the franchise to a group led by Memphis Grizzlies minority partner Steve Kaplan, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
For the Kaplan group, a significant motivation in purchasing the minority share of the Timberwolves is vested in hopes to position itself to buy the majority stake once Taylor decides to sell in the future, sources said. Nevertheless, whatever its wishes, there's no assurance Kaplan's group would have an inside track on eventual majority ownership.
Kaplan is partnering with controversial ex-Memphis Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and Indonesian billionaires Handy Soetedjo and Erick Thohir, league sources said.
Kaplan, a Los Angeles-based private equity investor, would need to divest its ownership stakes in Memphis to complete a deal with Minnesota.
Kaplan's group bid unsuccessfully for majority ownership of the Atlanta Hawks in 2014. It lost out to an ownership group led by Tony Ressler.
Levien has been a part of constructing two majority ownership groups, including Philadelphia and Memphis. In these cases, Levien has invested far more in political navigation of the NBA purchase process than his own financial resources, sources said. Through it all, Levien has maintained his ability to navigate the system with strong relationships at the highest level of the league office.
Across brief stays with three NBA franchises, Levien has had a tumultuous run as a front-office executive and minority ownership partner. After leaving the player agent business to become an assistant general manager and general counsel with the Sacramento Kings in 2008, Levien was forced out within 18 months on the job.
Levien partnered with Josh Harris to purchase the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011 with the expectation he'd have a prominent basketball operations role, but an overwhelming resistance to Levien by numerous members of the organization – including coach Doug Collins and president Rod Thorn – marginalized Levien's influence.
Eventually, Levien worked with majority owner Robert Pera and Kaplan to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012. Levien was installed as the top basketball executive and CEO for two years, but ultimately was ousted under circumstances that still largely remain a mystery.
Levien and Thohir are co-owners of Major League Soccer's D.C. United franchise.
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