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Zulgad’s Roundup: Wolves’ new basketball boss will have to make key decisions on KAT and D-Lo

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Tim Connelly was introduced as the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations on Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Square, but while he might be new to the organization, the former Denver Nuggets lead hoops executive will have to hit the ground running.

Connelly’s summer to-do list will include at least two major decisions: Whether to sign Karl-Anthony Towns to a “supermax” extension that would begin when his current contract expires in two years; and whether D’Angelo Russell should receive an extension or be traded before he enters the final season of his current contract. Oh, and the NBA draft is only three weeks away.

Connelly, who was named Denver’s general manager in June 2013 and promoted to the president of basketball operations position in June 2017, reportedly will get $40 million over five seasons from the Wolves. He knows he wasn’t hired to start another rebuilding process. “I’m not joining a team that’s broken,” Connelly said. “This is a team that’s trending in the right direction, it’s made a ton of really, really smart decisions.”

Nonetheless, this job was open for a reason and now it’s up to Connelly to make ownership (namely Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez) look good. That’s what Connelly did in Denver.

The 45-year-old played a major role in selecting back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic in the second-round of the 2014 draft and will be counted on to continue that type of success in Minnesota.

As for Towns, Connelly said he has only briefly touched base with the Wolves star.  “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 don’t know him well. I look forward to getting to know him better. We talked briefly. But talking to everyone in this building they speak so highly of his work ethic, how he treats people. His productivity speaks for itself. I think the best thing we can give KAT is stability. 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’ll see a better version of himself.”

The question is whether Russell will be part of the stability that Connelly and coach Chris Finch want to bring to a franchise that far too often hasn’t had that with outgoing owner Glen Taylor. While Taylor talked about his role at Tuesday’s press conference, it’s clear this decision was driven by Lore and Rodriguez, who are scheduled to take over majority ownership in 2023.

“D-Lo had a wonderful year,” Connelly said. “His big-shot making ability allowed this team to win 46 games and he’s a guy that can streak score with the best of them. I don’t know what or how 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 contribution of both and it will be fun to get to know both guys.”

Towns became eligible for the “supermax” extension when he was named a third-team All-NBA selection. ESPN’s Bobby Marks projected the contract to be for $211 million over four years. The guess here is the Wolves will sign Towns to an extension that will begin in 2024-25, when he’s 29 years old. The biggest concern might be that Towns reportedly underwent stem cell treatment and platelet-rich plasma injections in both knees, his left ankle, left wrist and right finger in May.

As for Russell, it wouldn’t be surprising if Connelly and Finch elect to move on from the 26-year-old. The Wolves are Russell’s fourth team in seven seasons, and the fact Finch benched him in the fourth quarter of the Wolves’ loss to Memphis in their final playoff game spoke volumes about the coach’s frustration with the point guard.

  • Although Finch put his support behind Sachin Gupta being promoted to run the Wolves basketball operation on a full-time basis during his end-of-the-season press conference, Finch also said he was consulted on the decision to go with Connelly and it’s clear the two are close. Finch was the Nuggets’ associate head coach in 2016-17 before departing for the same job with the New Orleans Pelicans. Connelly said Finch left the Nuggets because he was coveted by other teams. Translation: The Pelicans were willing to pay more for an associate coach than Denver.
  • The first sign that Lore and Rodriguez weren’t going to promote the 40-year-old Gupta from executive vice president of basketball operations to POBO came when his title wasn’t changed after Gersson Rosas was fired in September. Rosas almost certainly will end up running an NBA team at some point, but Lore and Rodriguez want to make splash hires now. Connelly qualifies as that.
  • Finch on the potential synergy between Connelly and Gupta in the Wolves’ front office: “I see great synergy. I see both the scouting lens that Tim is outstanding in and Sacha with the analytics and the strategy. I see their personalities as a great complement. I think it’s Tim’s goal to build a first-class team in the front office and that’s a good starting point. The chemistry will have to develop as (it does) in any new relationship. But they are both humble guys who want to win and like to give others credit. When you have that, that’s the start of a good team.”
  • Gupta was in attendance at Tuesday’s press conference and was seen afterward talking to Taylor. The Wolves have given every indication that he will be retained, but ultimately it will be up to Gupta if he wants to stay after being passed over.
  • Finch made it clear he wants to see forward Jaden McDaniels take a significant step in 2022-23. The 6-foot-9,  185-pound forward averaged 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 70 games in his second NBA season. “We need Jaden McDaniels to have the best summer of his life, take a big step forward and have a breakout year,” said Finch, who wants to see his team get stronger and tougher. Those elements were far too often lacking in the playoffs against Memphis.
  • Blue Jays righthander Jose Berrios, who is expected to face his former Twins teammates this weekend in Toronto, is having a disappointing season. Berrios is 3-2 with a 5.62 ERA in 10 starts. He surrendered six runs in 2.1 innings on Sunday in a no-decision against the Angels. Berrios had a 7.01 ERA in five starts in May.
  • The Twins received prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson from the Blue Jays in the Berrios trade. Both are playing for Double-A Wichita. Martin, a shortstop, third baseman and outfielder, is hitting .258/.377/.333 with a home run and 14 RBIs in 40 games, and Woods Richardson is 2-2 with a 3.02 ERA in eight starts.