Schmidt Printing owner Glen Taylor, center, shares a laugh with Minnesota Timberwolves owners Marv Wolfenson, left, and Harvey Ratner, right, during a news conference announcing the sale of the team Friday in Minneapolis. MINNEAPOLIS -- For the second time in less than three months, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been sold. But this time, the NBA is giving the deal a preliminary thumbs up.

Glen Taylor, a former state senator from Mankato, announced Friday that he and several unnamed Minnesota businessmen have reached a deal to buy the troubled franchise from Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner. Among Taylor's many holdings is Schmidt Printing with plants in Rochester and Byron.

At this point, it's a deal bound by a handshake, with details still to be finalized and an NBA vote required to make it official. But NBA representatives, who have worked closely with the parties, are sounding positive.

``When these guys shake hands, there is a deal,'' said Adam Silver, chief of staff for NBA commissioner David Stern.

Taylor, who would own more than half the interest in the team and would serve as managing general partner, wouldn't disclose a purchase price: ``What I paid for the team was too much.''

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Wolfenson and Ratner also declined comment on the subject.

But Silver said that it was very close to the nearly $90 million that Bill Sexton was set to pay until that deal fell through earlier this week. It appears that $54 million in public funds still will be used to buy Target Center from Wolfenson and Ratner.

Asked at Friday's news conference if it was a bittersweet time, considering that he and Ratner had brought the team to Minnesota only five years ago but couldn't make the situation work financially, Wolfenson said: ``No, it's really a sweet time. I think we've got the perfect buyer. I can just tell. I can sense it. He's a great businessperson who has great people around him.''

Taylor wouldn't disclose the names of his partners and said that the amount paid by each partner had not yet been finalized.

He said he wasn't moved to act until the Sexton deal fell through.

``I did not get involved when I thought the other deal was moving ahead,'' said Taylor, an Independent-Republican senator until leaving in 1990 to focus on businesses that have given him a personal worth estimated at $400 million. ``This is a Minnesota resource. I was afraid it was going to leave the state, so I got involved.''

Sexton, Wolfenson and Ratner had apparently reached terms this week, but talks broke down when Wolfenson and Ratner wouldn't guarantee Sexton protection from legal action by Top Rank of Louisiana.

This spring, state lawmakers passed a bill designed to keep the Wolves in Minnesota through a public buyout of the Target Center. But Wolfenson and Ratner announced in May a surprise deal with Top Rank, spearheaded by boxing promoter Bob Arum.

A month later, the NBA delivered a surprise announcement of its own, rejecting Top Rank's $152.5 million bid to move the team to New Orleans. The NBA said the deal was inadequately financed and filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court here to prevent the Timberwolves from being sold to Top Rank.

Top Rank also filed suit, in state court in New Orleans, accusing virtually all parties involved of interfering with the sale.

U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum ordered a halt to proceedings in the Louisiana court, and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed that order pending a hearing.

Neither Taylor nor Silver seemed especially concerned about pending lawsuits.

``Certainly it was a concern,'' Taylor said. ``But I have been advised that because we are consistent with what the court order is, it appears to me that there is no liability.''

Arum was traveling Friday evening and could not be reached for comment.

Stern said he is pleased that the issue apparently has been resolved and that the team will be staying in Minnesota.

``The fans in Minnesota have enthusiastically supported the Timberwolves throughout their five seasons, and we are happy for them that this agreement will keep the team in the Twin Cities,'' Stern said in a statement.

Though the Timberwolves have played to near-capacity crowds on paper, actual paid attendance had dwindled to below 13,000 per game last season.

Nevertheless, Wolfenson and Ratner were making money on the team. It was Target Center, built at a cost of about $100 million, that was causing them to lose millions of dollars annually.

Taylor won't have to deal with the Target Center albatross. And the Timberwolves, he said, have potential to be even more profitable.

``When the team wins, the team will make money,'' he said. ``And I want to make money. Or is it I want to win?''

The Timberwolves have averaged only 21 wins since joining the NBA as an expansion team in 1989-90.

Taylor, 53, isn't used to losing -- especially when the subject is money.

He is president of Taylor Corp., a North Mankato-based firm that includes several printing and graphics companies that employ more than 7,000 people nationwide.

Listed as the ninth-richest Minnesotan, Taylor also has interest in real estate and companies in industries related to printing, as well as in a string of community banks. Annual sales of just his printing business are estimated at $750 million. In April, 1989, he bought Schmidt Printing of Rochester from Al Tuntland. He began his business career working in a small Mankato printing shop where he worked while attending Mankato State University. He graduated from MSU in 1962 with a teaching degree in math and physics but continued working for the printing shop that he eventually bought.

He served 10 years in state office, including a run as Senate minority leader.

Taylor said Wolfenson and Ratner would be retained indefinitely as consultants. He said Bob Stein, Wolfenson's son-in-law and the team president since its inception, also would be offered a consultant job. But he said that his own son-in-law, Rob Moor, would become team president. Moor recently was fired from his marketing position with the Los Angeles Kings.

Taylor added that he wouldn't make any decisions on the basketball end for some time, meaning the jobs of general manager Jack McCloskey and coach Sidney Lowe are safe for the time being. AP-CS-08-06-94 0102EDT @et BOX: 1989: Minnesota Timberwolves enter National Basketball Association.

May 7, 1994: A $42 million Target Center buyout bill is narrowly approved by the Minnesota Legislature, but $34 million more is needed to cover the debt on the arena. Prospective buyers interested in keeping the team in Minnesota can't come up with enough money.

May 23, 1994: Timberwolves' owners Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner accept a $152.5 million offer from Top Rank of Louisiana, which plans to move the Timberwolves to New Orleans.

June 15, 1994: The NBA relocation committee unanimously rejects Top Rank's bid for the team. The NBA, anticipating a lawsuit by Top Rank, files suit to protect its right to govern its league. Talks begin with Minnesotabased group headed by Bill Sexton.

June 21, 1994: The NBA Board of Governors votes against the sale to Top Rank.

July 9, 1994: Timberwolves announce the end of negotiations with Sexton group saying it couldn't come up with enough money.

July 21,1994: Sexton group makes a new offer for the Timberwolves.

Aug. 1, 1994: Sexton drops $143.2 million bid for Timberwolves when legal issue can't be resolved.

Aug. 5, 1994: The team is sold to businessman Glen Taylor for an undisclosed amount. The sale is pending NBA approval. @etp