The Minnesota Timberwolves finally have a President of Basketball Operations again. The position that had been vacant since the team fired Tom Thibodeau in January was filled on Wednesday afternoon as the team elected to hire Gersson Rosas away from the Houston Rockets.
Rosas has spent the better part of the last 16 seasons in Houston in various roles, most recently as the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations. The front office in Houston has been one of the more forward-thinking groups in basketball.
This hire is one that should inspire hope in Minnesota. There have been some dark days in the history of Minnesota basketball. The team has – for the most part – always been behind the times of the rest of the NBA. They’ve never been an innovative bunch, but the days of that being the case could very well be over.
Team CEO Ethan Casson was a large part of the hiring process, and that appeared to go smoother than many of the previous hirings in Minnesota. There was no search firm this time, there was no asking the NBA Commissioner for advice – as both had been done in the past. The four candidates that interviewed were quality candidates, and that’s not something that’s always been able to be said.
In Houston, the Rockets went from a squad that employed an aging Dwight Howard, to a team that was built around James Harden, Chris Paul, and mathematical brilliance in just two seasons.
Houston’s turnaround – from a team that finished 41-41 to a team that is a legitimate championship contender – was certainly less daunting than the one Rosas will hope to engineer with the Wolves, but the fact that it happened is wildly impressive. Yes, the Rockets have both Harden and Paul, but they’ve also been really creative in the way that they’re used and the way that they were acquired, specifically Paul.
During the summer of 2017 Paul decided he wanted to play for the Rockets, but the problem was that the Rockets didn’t have sufficient cap room to make that signing happen. Instead, Paul opted in to the final year of his contract and then Houston traded seven players to LA – including a couple of non-guaranteed deals – to make it work. That move was one that required the utmost creativity to make happen.
It’s not known at this time how much influence Rosas had over that deal, or several others, but it’s fair to think that he’s had some. Creativity like that will need to be part of the solution in Minnesota. Houston never faced the salary cap hell the Wolves are facing, but they built themselves up without bottoming out.
Part of the reason the Rockets were able to turn into a championship contender without ever dropping below the .500 mark is that they’ve created the optimal system to run that fits their roster. It’s well known what the Rockets like to do – shoot an insanely high number of 3-pointers and play heavy isolation style basketball with Harden, Paul, and Eric Gordon.
It’s unlikely that the Wolves will look like the Rockets next year, or even anytime in the foreseeable future, but it is likely that the team will have a style of play that’s both in conjunction with the new line of thinking in the NBA and optimized for the roster in Minnesota. It’s hard to envision the Wolves looking anything like that, but it’s safe to say that what the Wolves do will be centered around Karl-Anthony Towns. The next thing that needs to be done is defining roles for the remainder of the roster, and that’s where the real change will be.
Interim coach Ryan Saunders – who will likely be retained as the full-time head coach – has mentioned analytics in meetings with the media in the past. It’s not known how big of a believer he is in them, but he seems more open to it than previous coaches for the Wolves. It might not be fair to attribute the fact that the Wolves shot less 3-pointers under him than they did Thibodeau, but regardless that’s a stat that will probably change.
The verdict of this hiring won’t be known for years. It will be unfair to evaluate Rosas in the short-term. He’s faced with cleaning up a mess that will prove to be no easy task. If he does it, the stability that’s been missing from this franchise for years will finally arrive. That won’t be known for a few years. At the very least it inspires hope in the present.