Since the fall of 2016, when the Twins announced Derek Falvey as their new chief baseball officer and Thad Levine as their new general manager, both the Timberwolves and the Wild have had major shake-ups in their front offices.
On Monday, the Wolves introduced Gersson Rosas as their new president of basketball operations, continuing the recent trend of Minnesota pro sports franchises bringing in new leadership to try to become championship contenders.
Rosas spent 17 seasons with the Houston Rockets, who are battling the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals. The Wolves are hoping Rosas will bring some of the Rockets’ innovation to a franchise that has made only one playoff appearance in the past 15 seasons.
Before the Wolves’ major hire, the Wild made a similar move in May 2018 in bringing in Paul Fenton to be their general manager. Fenton spent 20 seasons with the Nashville Predators before coming to Minnesota.
The Predators have made the NHL playoffs for the past five seasons. They reached the second round in three of those five years, including losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
The Wild have dealt with quite a few recent playoff disappointments, as have so many pro clubs in the Twin Cities. This year the team didn’t even make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Coach, cap questions
The Twins’ decision to hire Falvey and Levine signaled that the club wanted to go in a new direction and pursue a more modern approach to baseball after nearly two decades with Terry Ryan as the primary decisionmaker.
At the time, Twins owner Jim Pohlad required that anyone who took over the club retain then-manager Paul Molitor. And while Falvey and Levine have said they got along great with Molitor, there is no question they wanted to hire a manager who was more in line with their approach to running the franchise and they did so this offseason by bringing in Rocco Baldelli to replace Molitor.
So far that decision has paid off. Baldelli has led the Twins to the best winning percentage (.657) in the major leagues through 35 games.
The question for Rosas, as he takes over the Wolves, is whether he will run into the same issue as Falvey and Levine did when they were hired: Will owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, insist Rosas keep Ryan Saunders as coach? Saunders has a lot of support around the locker room and is considered a players’ coach.
And whatever shortcomings Saunders had in the record department last season (17-25 after taking over for Tom Thibodeau), they were nothing compared to the amount of injuries he had to deal with. Key players such as guards Jeff Teague, Tyus Jones and Derrick Rose and forward Robert Covington all missed substantial time.
“The head coaching position is critical and an important part of that. I’m doing my due diligence,” Rosas said at his news conference. “I think Ryan and Scott [Layden, Wolves general manager] have done a very commendable job considering everything that happened this season. I look forward now to sitting down and visiting with them and talking about the organization. That’s a major objective we want to address here sooner rather than later.”
Another difficult area Rosas must navigate, which will be familiar to Twin Cities sports fans, is dealing with the Wolves’ salary cap.
When Fenton took over the Wild, he knew he would have winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter taking up a combined $15 million annually in salary cap through the 2024-25 season.
The Wolves are in a similar bind. Forward Andrew Wiggins is due $27.5 million next season, $29.5 million in 2020-21, $31.6 million in 2021-22 and $33.6 million in 2022-23. On top of that, center Karl-Anthony Towns is due $27.3 million next season, $29.4 million in 2020-21, $31.6 million in 2021-22, $33.8 million in 2022-23 and $36 million in 2023-24.
The Wolves already have $111.7 million in salary allocated to 10 players for next season. The 2018-19 NBA salary cap was $101.9 million and the luxury tax was $123.7 million.
Still there are some bright spots for the Wolves, especially if Covington can stay healthy. He missed only 44 games in his previous four seasons but missed 47 games in 2018 because of a right knee bone bruise.
The Wolves went 12-10 in the 22 games Covington played in.
And if Taylor is willing to go into the luxury tax, they have the right of refusal for any contract offered to Jones, who is a restricted free agent. Teague’s $19 million-per-year deal comes off the box following next season.
Vikings stay steady
While the Twins, Wolves and Wild have been trying to completely revamp their front offices and coaching staffs in recent years, the Vikings have had the steadiest leadership.
The Wolves have had five head coaches from the 2013-14 season to now, which is shocking considering how much control they gave Thibodeau when he was hired in 2016 as the president of basketball operations and coach.
Bruce Boudreau has been with the Wild for three seasons. but after the team finished in last place in the Central Division this year one has to wonder how long Fenton will keep him on staff.
The Twins seem to have settled on a manager who fits what they’re trying to do in Baldelli, after four seasons under Molitor.
But with the Vikings, coach Mike Zimmer is entering his sixth season after two playoff appearances and developing one of the best defenses in the NFL. Helping him this season will be a whole slew of new assistant coaches on offense, and a new contract extension reached in February that runs through the 2020 season.
The Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman reached a similar deal in March with a one-year extension through 2020.
Whatever you think of the Vikings’ recent success — and last year’s 8-7-1 record and missing the playoffs were disappointments — they have a clear philosophy as an organization from top to bottom.
That’s why they have made it a priority to succeed in the draft, find a way to sign those key players to long-term extensions and build around that core group.
It doesn’t seem like a hard thing to do, but the past three years have shown that other pro teams in the state are playing catch-up in terms of getting their franchises on the same page from the front office down to the coaching staff.