Gersson Rosas and the Timberwolves are going to have to forgive those of us who elect to take the cautious approach to the latest major move and, in this case, in-season overhaul done to the team’s roster. Even if it was surrounded by a pomp and circumstance that, honestly, felt a bit too familiar.
A few years back, a large contingent of excited fans gathered in the rotunda at the Mall of America to welcome Jimmy Butler in his introductory press conference. Tom Thibodeau, then the president of basketball operations and coach, was beaming that day (a rarity for bellowing Thibs) as Butler played to the crowd by giving out his cell phone number. Butler got the Wolves to the playoffs in his one full season in Minnesota but then quickly decided he wanted out.
Thibodeau and Butler were long gone on Friday as the Wolves and Rosas, the newest president of basketball operations, attempted the latest reset for a franchise that has had far more lows than highs since entering the NBA in 1989-90.
This time the Wolves held a press conference before fans and media at City Center in downtown Minneapolis with Rosas and coach Ryan Saunders on hand as the team introduced seven players acquired in trade deadline deals this week. The Wolves sent up three players at a time before the marquee acquisition, D’Angelo Russell, took the stage last with Rosas and Saunders by his side.
Russell is the guy that Rosas began pursuing last offseason shortly after taking the Wolves job on May 1. He made an attempt to acquire the point guard in a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn but lost out to Golden State. Rosas then turned his attention toward talks with the Warriors and shortly before the NBA’s trade deadline at 2 p.m. on Thursday he finally was successful.
Russell will join his longtime friend from their AAU days, Karl-Anthony Towns, in becoming the latest pairing to try to turn around the Wolves. Towns gets as much credit as anyone for the fact Russell will be wearing a Wolves uniform. Everything the Wolves have done since trading Butler and firing Thibodeau has revolved around keeping Towns happy, including hiring the 33-year-old Saunders as coach, despite his inexperience.
So will it work this time? Given the history of this franchise you would have to consider it a long shot. Will many of us to be curious to see how it works? Absolutely. But to get excited about it, well, that would be a mistake. Wolves fans who have shown excitement before — dating to the 1996 decision to make a draft-night trade to acquire Stephon Marbury and pair him with Kevin Garnett — have too often ended up experiencing heartbreak.
Rosas was applauded for not only acquiring Russell but also getting the Warriors to take the contract of the disappointing Andrew Wiggins. But reading the stories that came out of the Bay Area on Friday, it quickly became clear the Warriors were equally as happy to unload Russell after only three-plus months and before they could see how he worked with the injured Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic wrote: The Warriors, as much as anything with this move, gave up on Russell. Seven months after they contorted the entire franchise into a pretzel to get him, five months after he showed up to camp, the Warriors abandoned The Russell Project. They were so eager to get rid of him that they are embracing a player considered to be on one of the worst contracts in the league.”
The Wolves are banking on a happy Towns combining with Russell to form a one-two punch that Towns and Wiggins never managed to give the franchise, despite the fact both were No. 1 overall picks. The rebuild around Towns also has been massive and the only two players left on the roster from the day Rosas was hired are Towns and Josh Okogie. Rosas said Friday he knew this type overhaul would be necessary from the day he took the job, especially since the Wolves’ style of play (taking as many three-pointers as possible) didn’t match their personnel (guys who couldn’t shoot the three).
“The reality is we knew the roster needed help but there was a lot of talent there,” said Rosas, who came from the Houston Rockets. ” … Because you know you need to make changes, 29 other teams (aren’t) going to say, ‘OK, we’re ready to go.’ The reality is we were very aggressive in the offseason, we were very aggressive in the draft and sometimes things don’t work out for you. We were very aggressive at the trade deadline and things lined up for us. We’ve been fortunate. Having been part of organizations and front offices that have done this, I know what this plan looks like, I know what the timeline looks like, I know what the experiences (are) and this was another part of that.”
There is plenty of work left to be done for Rosas and the Wolves, who have gone 5-27 since a surprising 10-8 start to the season. The addition of Russell will create an immediate buzz about the latest changes at Target Center but how long will that last?
Worst case, the 23-year-old Russell, the second-overall pick in the 2015 draft, will give us a firsthand look at why he’s on his fourth team on five seasons. If that happens, Towns likely will continue to bemoan the fact that he’s stuck in a losing situation and eventually force his way out of town.
That’s not the negative view when it comes to the Wolves, it’s the realistic one, and that’s why the addition of Russell and six new teammates should leave the fan base more curious than excited.