Gersson Rosas has no shortage of items to address as the Timberwolves’ new president of basketball operations. Rosas must make a decision on a head coach. He must decide how he wants to shape the basketball operations department, including whether he wants to retain Scott Layden as general manager.
He will be introducing new ways of thinking to a franchise that was largely stuck in the past under Tom Thibodeau. There are roster decisions to be made and salary-cap space to clear. Rosas has countless hours of work ahead as he begins the process of trying to make the Wolves a legitimate NBA contender.
But perhaps the most important task facing Rosas, at least in the short term, is something that no one with the Wolves previously has been able to come close to solving. Can Rosas be the man to unlock Andrew Wiggins?
This isn’t saying that Rosas has a chance to make Wiggins a star. That ship has sailed and the only star on the Wolves roster is Karl-Anthony Towns — end of story. But with Rosas running the show can Wiggins go from being too often an uninterested liability to a consistent contributor who embraces his role on a nightly basis?
Perhaps that’s abandoning his tendency to take long two-pointers and instead becoming a master of the corner three. Maybe it’s coming off the bench. Wiggins is no longer a young player who will grow into his game. He’s 24 years old, just completed his fifth NBA season and made $25.5 million dollars in the first season of his five-year, $148 million max contract.
That’s superstar money for a guy who is nowhere near being a superstar. Wiggins shot a career-low 41.2% from the field in 2018-19 — his previous low was 43.7% in his rookie year — and averaged 18.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Those were career-bests in rebounds and assists, but still far from the type of total production expected from someone making Wiggins’ salary.
“I think most fans would say, ‘Let’s just package Wiggins up and get him out of here,'” Wolves television analyst Jim Petersen said on “Mackey & Judd with Ramie” on Monday on SKOR North. “I don’t think Gersson’s of that mindset. I think he’s of the mindset, ‘I want to help this young man because I feel like he’s a supremely talented young kid.'”
Petersen is right. The majority of fans do want Wiggins traded, but because of his contract that’s next to impossible. Especially now. If Rosas could move Wiggins, it would come at a price to the Wolves because he would need to attach assets to Wiggins in order to get a team to take that contract. That means Wiggins almost certainly is going to be back in Minnesota in 2019-20.
Rosas is the latest Wolves’ employee who appears ready to give Wiggins the benefit of the doubt — something many of us who have watched his entire career aren’t going to do.
“I think, to be fair to Andrew, it’s a process, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Rosas said at his introductory press conference on Monday at Target Center. “There’s been different coaches, there’s been different systems, there have been different platforms. The only thing I can go off of is the experiences I have with Andrew. I’ve spoken with Andrew. He’s very motivated about this, he’s very excited about it.
“We’re going to work day in and day out investing with him in every way possible to make him the best player. The reality is this: If I go out on the market to get a player I’m not going to find a player that has got a bigger upside than Andrew. He’s a very talented individual, he’s got a ton of physical tools and he’s a great kid. We have to mature him into a great player and that’s our responsibility.”
That’s a responsibility the Wolves took on in August 2014, when Flip Saunders acquired Wiggins from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade. Wiggins had been the top-overall pick in the NBA draft that June by the Cavaliers and the expectation was he would turn into an All-Star in Minnesota. That hasn’t come close to happening, but the Wolves still decided to reward Wiggins with a maximum contract.
That was a mistake that Rosas can do nothing about at this point. It’s up to him to try to fix the situation as best as he possibly can and that means finding a role in which Wiggins can succeed. “I know what his impact could be,” Rosas said. “I’m going to invest every resource I can to help Andrew be successful. Because the reality is that a player at that level, with that talent, in the right system, playing the right way is something that is very important.”
That sounds great but the buy-in will have to be high from a guy who hasn’t seemed overly concerned about buying in in the past. Rosas has to hope he isn’t the latest to find out Wiggins’ maddening ways (and play) can’t be changed.