MIAMI – Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas has heard the accusations that his front office is in the midst of “tanking” — trying to better the team’s draft position by not doing everything possible to win games.
It was an accusation that became louder when the Wolves rested point guard D’Angelo Russell — resulting in a $25,000 fine from the NBA — in just the second game back from the nine-day All-Star break.
One of Rosas’ responses came after the Wolves beat Miami 129-126 on Wednesday.
“Tank that!” Rosas wrote on Twitter.
But he elaborated in a recent conversation with the Star Tribune on why he thought that notion was unfair, why the team rested Russell and how he feels about the job coach Ryan Saunders is doing.
“I wouldn’t say it gets under my skin, but it’s just disappointing when you don’t have all the facts,” Rosas said of the tanking accusations. “The reality is if individuals knew what was going on behind the scenes, how hard our coaches are working, our players are working — that’s the disappointing part because I think it’s disrespectful to them and what they’re putting in.”
There has been upheaval in this season for the Wolves, with Rosas executing a near-complete teardown of the roster from the offseason to the trade deadline. Only two players he inherited remain on the team.
That process, Rosas said, normally takes franchises two or three years to accomplish. The Wolves did it in eight months. With that comes the pangs of a rebuild, but that’s not tanking, Rosas said. These struggles — the Wolves have lost 18 of 20 even after the victory over Miami and are 7-32 since the start of December — are what goes with remaking the team, especially in the middle of a season.
“That process is a painful process …” Rosas said. “The side effects unfortunately for coach and his staff is you have nine players from three different programs, three different philosophies that are coming here and learning on the fly what we’re trying to do. When you’re playing good teams like we’re playing, you get exposed. That’s the stage we’re at.
“But to say we’re not focused day in, day out on winning? That’s false and inaccurate.”
The three programs Rosas was referring to are Denver, which traded Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez to Minnesota, Miami, where James Johnson came from, and Golden State, Russell’s previous home. All have been trying to acclimate to a new style of play and new terminology.
“As you try to build your defensive identity and offensive identity, those are some hard growing pains,” Rosas said. “You’ve got nine players you picked up in the last two to three weeks. Even the little things like terminologies, schemes and systems, we’re not on the same page with.”
Rosas has said this roster looks more like what he envisions for the future: young, can shoot well and play fast.
That being said, the Wolves need the final 25 games to evaluate what they have, especially as it relates to players such as Beasley and Hernangomez, who are set to be restricted free agents.
But the Wolves came under criticism for resting Russell for Sunday’s game at Denver after Russell played in only one game for the Wolves following the All-Star break. Rosas said the rationale behind the decision had to do with how hard the Wolves practiced in the two days before their game Thursday against Boston — the Wolves treated them like long training camp sessions.
It also had to do with the Wolves set to play many games in a short amount of time, and the fact that Russell has been dealing with various injuries this season.
“Those were high-load [practices] for not only D’Angelo but the rest of our team,” Rosas said.
“He came in a little bit banged up with a thigh contusion and our ability to look at the schedule and recognize that guys that are carrying heavier minute load and heavier workload — we’ve got to make sure to keep them developing and healthy, and part of that is making sure they get a day to rest.”
Rosas also praised the job Saunders and his staff have been doing in leading this rebuild.
“Ryan has been an unbelievable partner, both in terms of our philosophy and our alignment,” Rosas said. “It’s hard when you’re shifting a program and resetting not only the players, but the style of play, that’s a hard and painful process. This year for us wasn’t as much wins and losses as it was building an identity on both sides of the ball. I think Ryan and his staff have done a great job of working to continuing to grow, because it’s not over … Those guys have done an unbelievable job of being creative, being thorough and that’s what this year is about.”
Rosas knew the Wolves might not win a lot of games this season, but the idea that they would just throw away games doesn’t fit with what the Wolves are trying to build both on and off the court, he said.
“If you have the youngest roster in the NBA and you turn your roster over in a period where you can’t practice and can’t put in your offense or your defense, it’s going to be hard to win games,” Rosas said. “That’s where we’re living right now.”