Gersson Rosas’ desk in his office at the Timberwolves practice facility is bare-boned, his workspace still much like a new employee’s who has been too busy to add any personal touches.
Sitting atop frosted glass is only a computer with two monitors and a lonely looking keyboard. Rosas said he needs to make some upgrades to the décor, adding, “I need some pictures of my wife and kids,” before joking they might not remember what he looks like.
This is perhaps the most important time in Rosas’ brief tenure as the new president of basketball operations, for there are many basketball operations to execute over the next few weeks — without much spare time to go shopping for office furniture.
There’s Thursday’s draft, where the Wolves have the No. 11 pick. Shortly after that is the beginning of free agency, and upon its conclusion fans should have a good idea for how Rosas is going to shape the Wolves’ future. He’s already made significant additions to personnel in the front office and has helped mold the assistant coaching staff with Ryan Saunders. Now comes the most intriguing part: Molding the roster.
In an interview with the Star Tribune recently, the former Rockets executive vice president spelled out philosophies on how he wants to run the Wolves. More than once, one of Rosas’ favorite phrases “questioning the norm” came up. That includes more than looking at numbers and figuring out ways to maneuver around the salary cap. It means everything the Wolves do, from players wellness, to travel, nutrition, scouting, analytics and health. All of these are competitive fronts in the NBA, and the Wolves can exploit each area when it comes to getting an edge.
“Our approach on a day by day basis is we have to maximize every resource,” Rosas said. “That’s a lot similar to what we did in Houston. You’ve got to be creative with everything we have whether it’s assets or resources or a structure in place, and where can we gain a competitive advantage. … The mandate of having a world-class organization demands a thoroughness, a diligence, creativity, a strategy that other organizations don’t have. That’s what we’re trying to build here.”
Rosas minces no words when it comes to evaluating the roster. This is Karl-Anthony Towns’ team, and the Wolves universe revolves around Towns, their lone All-Star who beings his five-year $158 million deal next season.
“How do we maximize an individual like Karl?” Rosas said. “That’s in all senses of the word. How we play, player wellness, our roster, our philosophies. Because he’s our biggest driver to winning. … It’s going to take a lot of time and effort, but we are going to be a very player-centric place where guys can come in and maximize their talent.”
That last part has been easier said than done for the Wolves’ other maximum contract player, Andrew Wiggins. There has been a tumultuous relationship between the fan base and Wiggins, whose tantalizing athletic potential has not lived up to his on-court production.
“I would say to be fair, the organization hasn’t fulfilled that potential,” Rosas said. “That’s everybody. There’s demands on every member of this organization, whether you’re a player, staff, whatever the case may be, we have to execute. We talk a lot about our plans and philosophies, but the reality is we haven’t done anything and it’s actions over words, and that goes to not only Andrew but Karl and to me and to Ryan and everybody in this organization. We’re saying a lot of nice things and there’s a great vision in place, but we have to do it.”
How to do it?
Rosas isn’t ruling out any way to improve the team, but he conceded free agency can be a “hard place to live.” That’s not to say the Wolves won’t look to make significant additions there.
“The only way you can improve in this league, because it’s a very smart league, is you have to be creative, you have to think outside the box and you have to look at things differently in order to create opportunities,” he said.
The Rockets are an example of that. Rosas was part of a front office that made savvy signings and trades that helped the franchise get in position to make a big splash in 2012 by acquiring James Harden in a trade with Oklahoma City.
Rosas’ hire for executive vice president, Sachin Gupta, is known for being able to work around the margins of the trade market to help teams acquire assets or cap relief. Rosas’ attitude is this: There’s always a chance to make a move that’s going to help you, you just have to find it. The Wolves don’t have much cap room, with nearly $109 million committed to eight players. The cap next year is $109 million with the luxury tax threshold at $132 million.
Advancing the franchise
Analytics are going to play a big part in how the Wolves approach Thursday’s draft and free agency, and bringing minds like Gupta, who attended MIT and Stanford, tells you analytics are going to play a big role in the team going forward. Rosas wants to find a way to mold the worlds of analytics and scouting, which can sometimes exist in conflicting realms.
“We truly value both sides of that perspective,” Rosas said. “Some of our best basketball conversations have come about as a result of arguments or discussions between analytics and basketball. I’ve always believed that the analytics side will present and bring up questions that only basketball people can answer. And when you answer those questions and you have one side pushing the other, I think you get to create basketball values.”
Those discussions have to exist in a healthy culture, where plenty of voices can articulate their opinions. It’s not always easy to get everyone pulling in one direction, especially if people disagree with the final decision.
But when all that is over, Rosas has to be the one owner Glen Taylor has entrusted to make the final decisions. When he came to Minnesota for his interview, Rosas jumped out to the committee who was interviewing four candidates for the job. CEO Ethan Casson, who helped run the search, said the committee was potentially going to recommend two candidates to meet with Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. But when they met Rosas that wasn’t necessary, and a deal between Rosas and Taylor came together at Taylor’s home in Mankato.
“He’s someone that has a vision for not just who we are right now, but what are we a year from now?” Casson said. “What do we want to be three years from now? He’s someone that can think that far out and almost reverse-engineer the process to do the things we need to do to get to that point.”
Year 1 of that process begins this week.