NBA locks out players, Rubio and Timberwolves cool their heels

The Minnesota state government wasn't the only thing that shut down at midnight last night. An hour earlier, at 12:01 Eastern time, the NBA entered a lockout that could postpone next season, if not cancel it altogether.

As the existing collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expired, players and executives issued ominous statements that hinted at a prolonged battle before teams get back on the court. For Timberwolves fans looking forward to the arrivals of Ricky Rubio, Derrick Wiliams and a new coach, don't hold your breath.

At stake in the lockout is the NBA's revenue, which last year topped more than $4 billion. The expiring CBA gave players a 57 percent cut of that pie, but owners want that number reduced to around 50 percent in the next agreement. The closest the NBA Players Association has come to that number is this week's last-ditch offer of 54.3 percent.

NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter called the gap between the two sides "mammoth." On the other side, NBA commissioner David Stern, who steered the NBA into and then out of a lockout in 1998-99, offered a dim view of the negotiations.

"It worries me that we're not closer," Stern said at a press conference Thursday. "We have a huge philosophical divide."

The NBA and team owners argue that the players need to cut salaries, and that 22 of its 30 teams lose money each year, a claim that the players dispute.

One of the teams most in need of a restructuring is the T-Wolves. According to a Forbes Magazine report in January, the team ranks 29th, or second to last, in value. The Timberwolves operated at a loss of $20 million over the last three years, and the organization had lost money in six of the last seven years, Forbes estimated.

In February, Timberwolves owners Glen Taylor, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson announced plans for a $155 million renovation of the Target Center. The renovation, deemed necessary to keep the facility in line with NBA standards, would put a new face on the Target Center, which is owned by the City of Minneapolis.

Between the city, state, Taylor, and Anschutz Entertainment, which operates the Target Center, all pledged to support the renovation, but who pays for what, and when, is unclear.

So there you go, Minnesota. Soon, your terrible arena and terrible team will be upgraded. Just don't ask when.

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