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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Timberwolves selling buzzwords instead of basketball

Glen Taylor graduated from Comfrey High School in 1959. Six decades later, he was introducing a new leader of his Timberwolves basketball operation for the fifth time at Target Center.

First, there was Kevin McHale in 1995, followed by David Kahn in 2009, Flip Saunders in 2013, Tom Thibodeau in 2016 and, on Monday, Gersson Rosas, 40, and hired from the Houston organization.

Taylor used “teamwork,’’ “hard worker,’’ “experienced,’’ “integrity’’ and “flexibility’’ as qualities he was looking for in a new president of basketball operations, and qualities that he found in meeting with Rosas.

These were words and phrases that would have been approved by Margaret Mett, the outstanding English teacher during Taylor’s time at Comfrey High School. They could have been used in a composition paper and earned Taylor as high as a B+, since those terms pretty much make a point.

I’m guessing the guy two seats to Taylor’s left – Ethan Casson, team president for business – would not have had a chance with Comfrey’s English teacher.

The televised portion of Monday’s introductory sessions included no questions from the media. It was spontaneity-free, other than Rosas’ 3-year-old twins, Giana and Grayson, arriving to disrupt the proceedings.

Watching on TV, this appeared also to be part of the planning, although there was disagreement on this from media members who had a 360-degree view of the kids’ charge to the stage and that I collaborated with later in the day.

(Note: I did not actually interface with these reporters; we talked on the phone.)

All questions came from Alan Horton, play-by-play man, and obviously were run through before the start of the 10 a.m. introductory session. There are rehearsal dinners for weddings; the Timberwolves now appear to have rehearsal breakfasts for what used to be called a press (or news) conference.

Opening statements were followed by Horton offering modified versions of this stickler of a question to the three parties: “How fantastic was the interview process that led to this incredibly wise decision – to hire and to accept this position?''

Rosas was first and threw in a “collaborative,’’ and Taylor, who owns the Star Tribune, tossed in a “culture,’’ but then Casson came along with a stream of buzz words and phrases that would have left Margaret Mett with a busy red pencil and a headache.

Somewhere on the paper, there would have been a grade of D-minus, and with the message, “Make clear what you mean, Ethan.’’

Casson was quick to say on Monday: “We talk about family, we talk about culture, we talk about alignment, we talk about collaboration ...’’

As for the family part, it looked on TV as if Gersson and his wife Susana are going to have their hands full with the pair of 3-year-olds attempting to run amok. Plus,claiming the family angle along with every other athletic enterprise (including those raising that bar to FAMILY, Forget About Me, I Love You) is now such a cliché that it did not cause viewers to pause and say:

“Wow, the Timberwolves will soon be dominant in the NBA after one playoff appearance in 15 years because they have become a family.’’

Culture – blah, blah, blah.

Alignment – with new vehicles, it’s not nearly the problem in the models that young Glen Taylor was driving long ago on the country roads near Comfrey.

Collaborative – reporters and co-workers gave Derek Falvey, in his third season as the Twins’ baseball CEO, such a hard time about his constant use of this one that he now fights himself to avoid saying it in a public forum.

Casson came back from that impressive flurry of four buzz words in one sentence with an interfacing, a 360-degree view, an interface, another collaborative and, finally, a very inclusive.

“Interface – Ethan?’’ Margaret Mett would have written on the margin of this composition. “Does that mean you talked to someone?’’

D-minus, son, and you were lucky to get that.

*

The entire televised non-news conference was intended to carry this message:

We know that you as fans came to dislike Thibodeau; well, we didn’t like him, either, and we’ve hired a really nice family man to replace bachelor Thibs as our basketball president, and after a thorough search of two or three days, he’s going to sign off on hiring a really nice young man, Ryan Saunders, from our favorite basketball family to continue as coach, and we’re going to take off from here as a collaborating, aligning, integrating, 360-degree viewing, interfacing basketball family.

And where is this going to lead?

Ah, we’ll be able to give you a better read on that next Tuesday when we find out where we wind up in the draft lottery.

For sure, there is an early lesson to be taken for Rosas from the Thibodeau experience here:

If you wind up with the fifth pick in your first draft, don’t take the senior from Providence who can’t shoot (Kris Dunn), take the Kentucky freshman who can shoot (Jamal Murray), and then you can sell the basketball, not the ingredients of a D-minus composition paper.

Reusse: Decision on keeping Saunders will say a lot about Rosas

The rapid response to the Timberwolves’ decision to hire Gersson Rosas as their basketball boss was largely positive, both from the media and in public comments. This is based on the idea that owner Glen Taylor and his new favorite executive, team president Ethan Casson, have gone beyond the chummy confines of the Target Center/Mayo Clinic Square complex to hire an outsider.

Of course, the Timberwolves also went outside those walls to hire Tom Thibodeau as both the basketball boss and coach following the 2015-16 season. Thibodeau had served two seasons as a young assistant to Bill Musselman, but The Muss was fired in 1991 and Thibs had no true connection to Taylor’s organization.

Casson had much to do with Taylor’s decision to fire Thibodeau in the middle of this past season. I’d guess that part of the selling point for the mid-season axe was the decline in attendance, which the boss of a business operation obviously would find more convenient to place on a coach unpopular with fans than on a misplaced decision to follow the first playoff season in 14 years with a substantial rise in ticket prices for many seats.

The Jimmy Butler fiasco certainly did turn off any ticket buyers still on the fence, and it was going to get Thibodeau fired in January or April. Casson led the charge to have Taylor do it sooner rather than later.

The Timberwolves were 19-21 (.475) when Thibodeau was fired and went 17-25 (.405) with the inexperienced Ryan Saunders as the interim coach. There were numerous injuries down the stretch, offering an excuse much-embraced by Saunders backers and Thibs bashers for the contrast in wins and losses.

Either way, there was no improvement in the consistency of Wolves play or effort to recommend the return of Saunders as coach – not with a proven commodity such as Dave Joerger having been made available by Sacramento, where the wacky Vlade Divac runs the Kings.

We’re supposed to be excited because Rosas comes from an organization that’s into analytics (not as much the Holy Grail in basketball as in baseball, but gaining steam) and has a team that shoots more threes than any in the NBA.

Sorry. I’m not a big believer in shooting 40 threes with a roster with Gorgui Dieng as one of your marksmen, rather than the Rockets lefty with the beard.

Rosas handled the G League and international scouting for the Rockets, and he should be able to bring a couple of fine H-O-R-S-E players into the Wolves’ mix for next season.

Yet, what’s most important this summer is to fix the Andrew Wiggins’ problem, in the strong likelihood that Wiggins has to stay. There was no evidence that Saunders had any more answers to offer on the mysteries of Wiggy World than did his predecessor.

One late-breaking mystery was why Andrew decided to play with full interest in a final few meaningless games. Is that what it takes to fire up Wiggy? Get him on the court when nothing matters and look out.

Assuming Saunders winds up as the coach, there will be attempts to link this with Derek Falvey being instructed by Twins ownership to keep Paul Molitor for the last season of his contract as manager, when Falvey was announced as the baseball boss in November 2016.

Paul Molitor, Hall of Famer, savant in playing the game, four decades in big leagues and then the Twins organization, vs. Ryan Saunders, ordered to be retained as an assistant and given little responsibility with Thibodeau; yeah, that’s quite a valid comparison in resume.

If Rosas comes in here and says he took a hard look at the options and young Mr. Saunders was the clear choice to continue as coach, I am not going to believe him. I’ll believe, instead, that not all that much has changed in the Timberwolves’ operation, where chumminess has been a much-admired quality.

Which in retrospect makes it a surprise that the previous basketball boss was ever hired … what with chummy being way down the list of Thibs’ strengths.

As for Saunders, a very fine young man, I'd offer him a chance to coach the G League team in Des Moines, and thus demonstrate his potential to lead an NBA team.