Tim Connelly watched this season as the Timberwolves beat his former team, the Nuggets, three times, and he also watched as the Wolves pressed the Grizzlies in a playoff series the Wolves should have won, if only they could have gotten out of their own way.
As Connelly takes over as Wolves president of basketball operations with only a few weeks to go before the NBA draft and free agency, he said he is not in Minnesota to remake the team from the ground up. His goal is to keep the team on an upward trajectory.
"I'm not joining a team that's broken," Connelly said during his introductory news conference Tuesday. "This is a team that's trending in the right direction. It's made a ton of really, really smart decisions, most recently extending [coach] Chris [Finch] and getting Pat Beverley on the additional year extension, so I'm not here to impede progress, I'm here to promote it."
In that statement, Connelly alluded to two people he will be working closely with — coach Chris Finch, whom Connelly referred to as "Finchy," and executive vice president Sachin Gupta, who has run the basketball operations since Gersson Rosas was fired in September and made the moves in extending Finch and Beverley's contracts. Connelly heaped praise on both, and has worked with Finch during the coach's one year as an assistant in Denver.
Connelly didn't delve into many roster specifics — he's still learning all he can about the Wolves, he said — but he did address the two highest-paid players in Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell.
Towns, who has two years left on his current contract, recently made the All-NBA team and is eligible for a supermax contract extension that can pay him an additional $210 million over four years.
"KAT is one of the most talented guys in the NBA," Connelly said. "He's got a relentless work ethic. He's probably the best-shooting big in the NBA. I'm getting to know him. I don't know him well. I look forward to getting to know him better."
Connelly knows he's the latest in a long line of front-office leaders the Wolves have had during Towns' time. Contrast that with Connelly's time in Denver, when he was helming the team as general manager, then president, for the entirety of two-time MVP Nikola Jokic's career.
"The best thing we can give KAT is stability," Connelly said. "He's a guy that's seen a lot of different faces on the sidelines, a lot of different faces in the front office. I think with stability he will see a better version of himself."
Before Connelly's arrival, there was thought around the league the Wolves might try to move Russell as he enters the final year of his deal. That notion became stronger after Russell was on the bench for the final minutes of the Wolves' season-ending loss against Memphis.
Connelly pointed to Russell's clutch shot-making and ability to score in bunches as his best qualities.
"I don't know how or what our roster is going to look like on draft night or into free agency, but certainly this team doesn't win 46 games without the contributions of them both," Connelly said. "It'll be fun to get to know both guys."
Connelly and Wolves ownership got to know each other well during Connelly's courtship. A day like Tuesday wasn't on Connelly's radar, he said, as he sat on a stage at the Wolves' practice facility with owners Glen Taylor, Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez.
"I wasn't looking for this," Connelly said. "It was such a unique opportunity that was presented to me. The last nine years for me have been the best nine years professionally I could have ever imagined. … We're extremely happy personally. Our kids were both born there [in Denver], so there was a lot of sleepless nights.
"As you had those sleepless nights, it makes you dig even deeper internally, even more introspective and ask yourself if it's something you want to do. It's a leap of faith, certainly. But what led us to this moment is the collective approach of the men and women who talked about what this was going to look like."
Connelly signed a five-year deal worth $40 million and Taylor clarified that the other part of Connelly's contract was like a "bonus program" tied to the franchise's value, not an outright equity stake in the team.
"If the team does well, he does better," Taylor said.
Lore and Rodriguez said they knew pretty quickly Connelly was the right fit.
"It starts with core values and we really believe … in trust and empowerment," Lore said. "That's really the starting point. It's not trust but verify, it's just trust. We have full confidence and trust in Tim and he's going to be empowered to build a first-class, world-class organization. Full stop."
Connelly said the Wolves are on the right track. He's here to make sure they stay on it.
"When these conversations started … you're excited, you're confused, you're scared," Connelly said. "But as those conversations developed and took on more substance, you realize this place has an unbelievably special core and I'm here not to mess it up."