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Zulgad: Making their Marc: Wolves’ new owners take charge with hire of Nuggets’ top executive

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves
Apr 12, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves co-minority owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore celebrate a victory over the Los Angeles Clippers after a play-in game at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez’s plan to buy the Timberwolves from Glen Taylor for $1.5 billion first made headlines a year ago. For fans of a franchise in desperate need of a fresh start, this was mostly welcome news but it came with one important caveat.

The tech mogul and former MLB star wouldn’t immediately take control. A 20 percent stake was purchased last July, shortly after the NBA Board of Governors approved the duo to become part owners of the Timberwolves and Lynx. Another 20 percent purchase is scheduled to be purchased this year and then another 40 percent, on or before Dec. 31, 2023, will make them majority owners.

This timetable raised some questions about how quickly we might see Lore and Rodriguez get involved in the key decision making? Any doubt was removed in the past week as the Wolves moved to make a significant hire to replace president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, who was fired in September. There were many who assumed that Taylor would promote Sachin Gupta.

Gupta, the Wolves’ executive vice president of basketball operations, had taken over Rosas’ duties and drew standout reviews from coach Chris Finch. That was meaningful considering the Wolves qualified for the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons. Gupta, though, would not have qualified as a splash hire.

News surfaced over the weekend that the Wolves were closing in on a deal with well-respected Tim Connelly of the Denver Nuggets. On Monday, the Wolves made it official: They had landed the 45-year-old who had been the Nuggets’ president of basketball operations. Connelly was extremely loyal to the Denver organization but this was an offer too good to pass up. He reportedly receives a five-year contract worth more than $40 million and, maybe most importantly, gets ownership equity in the Wolves.

What might have been most interesting was the play-by-play of how the hiring unfolded. This wasn’t Taylor hiring a search firm to tell him Tom Thibodeau was available. This was Lore and Rodriguez identifying whom they wanted to pursue and then looping Taylor in at the end because, well, they had no choice. It’s unclear if  it was more important that Taylor approved of Connelly, or Connelly approved of Taylor, but the meeting with Taylor did not occur until the weekend.

By then it’s likely Lore and Rodriguez had presented their vision for a franchise that they saw take a significant step this past season — often with both new owners sitting courtside — before a disappointing six-game loss to Memphis in the first round. This is not meant to bash Taylor. He played a huge role in saving the NBA in Minnesota 28 years ago this month. The league might have blocked the Wolves attempted move to New Orleans, but someone had to step up and buy the franchise and it was Taylor who emerged.

The Wolves, though, long have needed new life pumped into them and Lore and Rodriguez seem determined to bring that.

Connelly will lead a basketball department that has been beefed up and it’s likely Lore and Rodriguez will try to keep Gupta as well. Connelly will have to make a decision on an extension for Karl-Anthony Towns — he can be offered a four-year, $210.9 million extension, in addition to the two years, $69.8 million he has left on his current deal, if he makes All-NBA — and also make the call on whether he wants to extend guard D’Angelo Russell’s contract beyond next season.

Connelly, by all accounts, has a top-level eye for talent and is the guy who drafted two-time MVP Nikola Jokik with the 41st overall pick in 2014. Lore and Rodriguez are betting that Connelly can continue his pattern of identifying talent and add to a roster that already includes Towns and standout Anthony Edwards.

Their thinking probably goes something like this: If the Milwaukee Bucks can win an NBA championship, why can’t the Minnesota Timberwolves? Lore and Rodriguez also know that until the Wolves become a consistent draw there is little hope of doing something else the Bucks recently did. That would be getting a new arena. That certainly has to be a primary goal for the owners of a team who have seen that a renovated Target Center isn’t going to be nearly as attractive as a new one.

All of this requires taking action now, not later, and that’s why although Taylor officially remains the Wolves’ majority owner, his new partners clearly have begun calling the shots.