By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Basketball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves have been saying all season the playoffs are the goal this year. Now they’re banking on it.
The Wolves are promising anyone who renews their season ticket or purchases a new one for next season a 10 percent discount if the team does not make the playoffs this year. The Wolves are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference, one spot out of the playoff field.
“It’s sort of a part pledge, part challenge,” Timberwolves chief marketing officer Ted Johnson said.
It’s also the latest in a series of aggressive marketing tactics aimed at getting fans to consider the Timberwolves again after years of struggling and getting them on the bandwagon as the team has started to show signs of promise. They started a sometimes painfully honest advertising campaign four years ago, telling fans they were beginning a “re-re-re-rebuilding” plan, alluding to the difficulty they had re-inventing themselves after trading star forward Kevin Garnett to Boston.
With fans turning away from the product, they went to great lengths to try to keep them coming to Target Center, slashing ticket prices and increasing the amenities given to season-ticket holders. During one of the roughest years of the recession, owner Glen Taylor even offered fans who purchased a season ticket the chance for a full refund if they lost their job in the calendar year. They also drew some jeers league-wide when they took out an ad in the local Star Tribune of Minneapolis acknowledging that they weren’t going to win the NBA title before the 2010-11 season began.
Now that the team is more competitive, with All-Star forward Kevin Love, dynamic point guard Ricky Rubio and bruising center Nikola Pekovic giving coach Rick Adelman a strong core, the Wolves are trying to seize some momentum.
“It’s just the next chapter in that process,” Johnson said. “We were very open and honest with our fans when we didn’t think we were going to be as competitive and we were asking their patience to bide their time and join the journey with us. Now that the expectations have changed we’re willing to put skin in the game. We know our expectations of ourselves will be to challenge for that (playoff) spot.”
It can still be considered a bold maneuver.
The Wolves started the season fully confident that they were going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 in the powerful Western Conference. But Rubio only returned from a torn ACL in his left knee in the middle of December and has been bothered by back spasms that have kept him out the last four games. Love missed the first three weeks of the regular season with a broken hand, then broke it again last week and is expected to be out for several weeks. The team is also missing Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard because of knee injuries.
Through it all they’ve managed to stay afloat at 15-15, but the playoffs are no sure thing. Another ad appeared in the Star Tribune on Monday morning, saying that “the days of the ‘building season’ are over.” Johnson said the campaign didn’t need to be discussed with the basketball side of the franchise because it is essentially an extension of what president David Kahn, Adelman and the players have been saying from the outset.
“If you commit to us for next year, we know that part of that is you’re making a commitment to a team that is competitive,” Johnson said. “We’re in the playoff hunt and our expectation is to challenge for the playoff spot. Just like we’re asking you to make us a commitment now for next season, we’re willing to make a commitment to you.”