The Minnesota Timberwolves have existed for 30 years. They have employed a number of transcendent players. Sadly, that number is “1.”
Before they drafted Kevin Garnett in 1995, the Timberwolves were a franchise built in Bill Musselman’s image. They spent their games urging mediocre players to take charges.
After they traded Garnett in 2007, the team’s lack of star-power led Minnesotans to believe that if they could land just one great talent, their franchise would be revived.
Then the Wolves traded for Andrew Wiggins, the 2014 No. 1 pick, and drafted Karl-Anthony Towns, a No. 1 pick, and brought in former All-Stars like Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague, and hired the most accomplished and expensive coach on the market in Tom Thibodeau, and they earned the right to experience Warriors-level melodrama without the Warriors-style success.
The myth that the NBA is about nothing other than spectacular talent is pervasive but inaccurate. The best NBA franchises use analytics to determine their style of play, develop and discover long-shot talents to deepen their rosters and find the occasional steal on the international market.
On Wednesday, we learned the Wolves will hire Gersson Rosas, the Houston Rockets’ vice president to become their president of basketball operations. He is qualified to address the Wolves’ biggest problems.
If the Wolves are going to become relevant in the Western Conference and on television sets across the Upper Midwest, they need a basketball boss who can make the entire organization smarter. General Manager Scott Layden was not going to make that happen. Layden may have value as an evaluator and collaborator, but he is not built to be the top decisionmaker for a modern franchise.
The Wolves chose Rosas over three other intriguing candidates — Chauncey Billups, Calvin Booth and Trajan Langdon. Billups was the inexperienced star, Booth the familiar face, Langdon the growth stock. We have no way of knowing if the Wolves made the right decision, but their process was thorough and logical, and they chose a respected figure from one of the smartest organizations in sports.
Look at the Rockets’ key players. They traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks who became Steven Adams, Mitch McGary and Alex Abrines for Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward.
Harden had been considered the third-best player on Oklahoma City’s roster. The Rockets correctly identified him as a future franchise player, and he became an MVP in an offense built to highlight his unique skills.
Clint Capela was the 25th pick in the 2014 draft. The Rockets have developed him into a force. The Rockets signed underappreciated veterans Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker to spread the floor for an offense that succeeds because of the three-point shot and spread-out defenses. They were able to attract Chris Paul because of Harden and their playing style.
Since becoming the Rockets’ general manager in 2007, Daryl Morey has averaged 50 victories a season in a brutish conference. The Timberwolves have won 50 games in a season four times — all with Garnett in his prime, and not since 2004.
Along with neglecting the three-point line and failing to develop their fringe players, the Wolves have failed to sign or develop the right international players. Rosas has served as Team USA’s International Player Personnel Scout since 2015. He knows international basketball and has built relationships that could give him a competitive edge.
Rosas is a safe pick with upside and an independent streak that caused him to leave the Mavericks in 2013 when he realized that working for Mark Cuban might not be as much fun as it looks on TV.
Rosas is too experienced not to recognize the Wolves’ systemic problems. He may also be perceptive enough to recognize the franchise’s advantages — an owner who will spend big, a superstar in the making in Towns, and a fan base that will respond to quality basketball.
If Rosas is the right hire, he’ll prove that winning NBA games in Minnesota is not be as hard as the Wolves have made it look for most of the last 30 years.