By: Brian Simonson
Leading up to the start of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in a completely different position today than they were a year ago. In the 2018 offseason, the Wolves’ pop up season of 47 wins was quickly exposed and dysfunction again ensued. Jimmy Butler destroyed the atmosphere and morale of the team, as he worked to push his way out of Minnesota. There was a clear disconnect and everything seemed on edge within the organization. Old school Tom Thibodeau dragged his players to the ground through aggressive minutes per night. Then, with Thibodeau’s firing, Ryan Saunders was tasked to pick up the pieces for the last 42 games of the season with a roster stacked with injuries. Finishing with 36 wins, the franchise was once again, reverted to a state of uncertainty and mediocrity for their future.
Enter the 2019 offseason, and there’s a new regime in town under President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, with a proven track record with the successful Houston Rockets franchise. Rosas brings with him competency, which is something the Timberwolves have rarely had in their 30-year existence. Rosas tears down the walls immediately and begins working. He executed the hires of proven coaches and management within his staff, removes the interim tag off Ryan Saunders and with the limited amount of cap space he had to work with, fills in the empty roster with talented but unproven role players with upside while on affordable contracts. You could feel a breath of fresh air and a significant shift in how the Wolves were operating internally. The Wolves have never had a mind like Gersson Rosas in their front office.
Next thing you know, Rosas is constantly preaching “challenging the status quo” and “culture”. The Timberwolves were never a forward-thinking organization that tried to keep up with the times. Now, they have begun to rely heavily on tactics such as analytics and are trying to devise strategies to improve the players and elevate their game individually and as a team. The organization’s vibe is now an open and welcoming one. There was a trip to the Bahamas to bring the players closer together. Now you see the players showing up to practice early, participating in voluntary workouts and just simply wanting to be there working. There’s transparency, accountability and unity. The vision from Gersson Rosas is being projected through Ryan Saunders and the players and you can see it with all the smiles going around. There’s a lot of momentum going into the new season.
While we all hope the new culture will translate to more wins, what will happen to the hype if it doesn’t?
It’ll be interesting to see the fan base’s reactions should they go down the losing path. If the Wolves lose more than they win and do not show real strides or improvements during those losses, will the fans continue to buy into the organization’s marketing tactics of their culture? Will the narrative get old? We will get the answers to these questions as the season progresses.
While we are all optimistic for the new-look Wolves and seeing Karl Anthony Towns take the next step in his game and leadership, we must be honest with ourselves with our expectations. In a stacked Western Conference, there is one true star on the roster in KAT. Andrew Wiggins does not seem interested in improving his work ethic and the team is still strapped in cap space. We are looking forward to seeing the development of the players and the team throughout the season, but we must be open-minded and understand that while this team will do its best to put a good product on the court, there are still limitations that cannot be entirely addressed within this individual season. It’s our turn now to “trust the process” through seeing the young players develop, remove bad contracts when able, and execute savvy trades and free agent signings.
The 2019-2020 journey of answering our questions begins on Wednesday, Oct.23 against the Brooklyn Nets. For now, let’s enjoy the culture and the feel-good environment.
By: Seth Toupal
WELCOME TO THE START OF NBA FREE AGENCY!!!!!
It's finally here and Gersson Rosas isn't wasting any time trying to improve the Wolves roster. By the time you read this, the Wolves will have been linked HEAVILY to D'Angelo Russell, and are meeting with him on Monday. Seems difficult considering the Wolves current salary cap commitments right? Well before we get into Russell let's take a look at what is currently on the books according to Spotrac:
And here are the Wolves impending restricted and unrestricted free agents:
And most importantly here is the salary cap figure for the upcoming season:
Depending on what happens with Russell, the Wolves will have to attack the offseason in a couple of different ways. Each option gives this team a pretty drastically different look.
Plan A is clearly acquiring Russell. This can be done in a couple of different ways. According to Woj, it is all but certain that Kyrie Irving will sign with Brooklyn, who had extended Russell a qualifying offer. The Nets will then renounce Russell's rights making him an unrestricted free agent which helps the Wolves in their pitch. They no longer have to worry about putting a package together that Brooklyn would be comfortable with taking on in return, and simply have to clear cap space to bring him in. Russell and Towns are very good friends, which helps the Wolves in their pitch.
Their biggest competition appears to be the Lakers, but the Lakers view him as a fallback option in the event that Kawhi Leonard goes elsewhere. Will Russell be willing to wait if Kawhi doesn't sign right away? The Timberwolves biggest contracts are Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, and Gorgui Dieng. The growing sense around the league is that the Wolves will have no problem moving Wiggins in a trade and wouldn't even have to classify it as a salary dump. If the Wolves are able to unload Wiggins, that would clear the room they need to sign Russell.
The question then becomes what next? With Russell in the fold, Teague becomes expendable and the Wolves can look at their options. Phoenix is looking for a veteran point guard (and has been for basically the entire post-Steve Nash era) so that may be a logical trade partner. If Teague is unloaded, then suddenly the Wolves have money to work with and can look at veteran bigs to put around Karl-Anthony Towns. Taj Gibson may be receptive to coming back on a reduced salary with a guarantee for more playing time. If not other names the Wolves could consider if they offload big salaries names they could target to help bolster their big rotation look like this:
And the Wolves could look for some wings too, but with Culver, Covington and Okogie all under contract right now the need there is substantially less than some bigs.
These names would be those that the Wolves would target either way, but a roster with KAT and Russell looks dramatically different than one with KAT and Wiggins, it just does. The main objective here is obviously Russell, and if that falls through then they'll resort to Plan B -- a plan we aren't quite aware of yet but from what Rosas had said, would still be an aggressive pursuit of a potential star sidekick next to Towns.
This offseason has started out with a surprising amount of buzz and that means the Wolves are working on a few things. This roster could look dramatically different by the end of the week.
Seth is the host of The Scoop on KLGR Radio out of Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Listen to episodes of The Scoop here.
By: Brian Simonson
The NBA offseason is officially underway, and new Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas continues to fill in those checkboxes on a long list of to-do items before the 2019-2020 season kicks off.
After retaining Ryan Saunders as head coach and filling out the front office staff, the latest checkbox was the NBA draft June 20.
In summary, the moves the Wolves made on draft night:
-Traded the No. 11 overall pick and Dario Saric to the Phoenix Suns for the No. 6 overall pick
-Drafted (by the Suns) Jarrett Culver with the No. 6 overall pick. Due to the moratorium period, this will not be finalized until July 6th.
-Drafted Jaylen Nowell with the 43rd pick in the second round
-Signed C Naz Reid from LSU and G Tyus Battle from Syracuse
-Signed former University of Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy to the Summer League roster
Reviewing the moves
Much to their benefit, the Wolves didn’t have to give up much trading up to No. 6. There were other reported trade discussions involving Robert Covington, which would have been a devastating loss on the defensive end. Instead, they were able to move Saric, who was more than likely going to end up commanding a salary higher than the Wolves would be willing to offer once his current deal expires after next season. Consequently, parting ways with Saric was wise given the risk of him jolting next offseason and receiving nothing in return.
With the No. 6 pick, it was presumed Minnesota was building their backcourt of the future by selecting Darius Garland or Coby White. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Garland with the No. 5 pick, leaving Rosas scrambling to find trade partners for No. 6 as the clock on the pick was winding down.
Finding no suitors, the Wolves ended up using Phoenix’s pick to draft Big 12 Player of the Year Jarrett Culver, a sophomore shooting guard from Texas Tech. One of his strengths that will be heavily leveraged with the Wolves is his strong defensive abilities. One of his primary weaknesses is his shooting range, which is expected to improve over time in the NBA.
We’ll have more on “Butterburger” Culver (we have given him this new nickname) throughout the Summer League.
With pick No. 43, Minnesota selected Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell. Nowell was remembered for his success in clutch situations while playing for Washington. Let’s hope that the third time 's a charm when it comes to drafting Syracuse products (see Johnny Flynn and Wesley Johnson).
What it means moving forward
Drafting Culver resulted in a glaring logjam at the wing position for Wolves players currently under contract, which scratched a few heads. This also did not solve anything at the point guard position. With this in mind, we feel that Rosas is not done making moves. There is much speculation that Andrew Wiggins is on the trade market and moving his contract would help eliminate the wing overload and potentially clear enough cap space to facilitate a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn RFA D’Angelo Russell.
Moving Saric means there are currently no power forwards under contract. Robert Covington’s primary position is small forward, but he is expected to move to play some power forward next season in what projects to be a position-less roster. Wiggins, if on the team, may also be asked to play there some. With that said, it's fair to suggest this team could have some rebounding issues next season.
If there’s one thing we know for sure about Gersson Rosas, he is certainly putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to the organization and its fans feeling change is on the horizon. The front office acted in what seemed to be a more proactive manner than displayed in many previous drafts. They seemed well prepared, assertive, confident, and had backup plans in place on draft night.
Personally, I love how Rosas is not settling, doing his research and challenging the status quo on everything within the organization. He is someone who sets out an action plan and executes rather than running his position in a reactive manner. We trust that this is just the beginning of his moves this offseason. His next set of checkboxes to fill are addressing the point guard situation (c’ mon, D’Angelo Russell!), trades and free agency to round out the roster. Like Dan said on draft day, their number one priority needs to be doing everything possible to land Karl-Anthony Towns a star sidekick.
Until then, we’ll see you at the Summer League, which the Wolves should have a fun roster to watch.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Happy draft day, everyone! Thanks for clicking. I will get into draft talk quickly, but first, want to begin with a prelude.
I'd like to apologize for our non-existent NBA draft coverage. We have essentially been ghosts, and are the first to admit it. In a time of transition for a lot of us, we’ve all been simply busy. I’m fresh off college graduation working full-time while trying to find full-time work in sports journalism, which, if you’ve ever attempted, know is an exhausting and periodically dejecting journey. Zach recently had a wonderful, precious baby girl, so he’s basically working two jobs. Lastly, Seth is working about 55 hours per week so he hasn’t had much time to contribute.
As a result, the blog has inadvertently taken a bit of a backseat in our lives. We’ll do our best to get back into things and churn out fresh content on the state of the franchise throughout free agency and the 2019-20 season, and I’m sorry I’ve let you down over the past few months.
Now, what you came for!
The Wolves currently enter tonight’s NBA Draft with the No. 11 overall pick in the first round and No. 43 pick in the second round. Many are quite intrigued at the potential outcomes President of Basketball Gersson Rosas could swing for tonight’s NBA draft.
The most recent update regarding Minnesota comes from The New York Times’ Marc Stein, reporting Minnesota is aggressively trying to acquire the No. 4 overall pick from New Orleans. This suggests they have their sights set on Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, who is projected on most boards to go top seven.
It makes sense why the Wolves would be highly attracted to him. Their biggest hole is a star level perimeter player that can create out of isolation and the pick-and-roll. Garland projects to be that and checks off a lot of boxes NBA executives are looking for. Restricted free agent Tyus Jones may be an otherworldly ball protector and solid team defender, but he doesn’t move the needle. The Timberwolves need a backcourt presence with a playmaking ability to complement Karl-Anthony Towns. If Rosas and co. believe Garland get there, they should go get him and pay the necessary price.
The problem, however, is the Wolves just don't have much to offer. Would Saric/Okogie and No. 11 be enough? Or Covington and No. 11 if they believe Garland is the real deal? Whatever it would be, it’s fair to suggest the Celtics or Hawks - both of whom have been reported interested in the No. 4 pick -- could create a better offer. Atlanta could package No. 8 and No. 10, while the Celtics could offer multiple future first round draft picks.
If not Garland, who should Rosas be eyeing?
In exploring avenues the Wolves could take in the draft and free agency, acquiring restricted free agent guard D’Angelo Russell remains the best and most exciting outcome. No other player on the free agent market possesses both the upside and KAT-concentrated timeline. There is no easy path to acquiring him, as it would likely require a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn -- a team likely not wanting to take money back given their ambition to sign two max players. The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski examines in further detail how the Wolves could make a play for the all-star.
If the Russell interest never materializes, the Wolves would be wise to attempt to acquire Washington’s Bradley Beal or New Orlean’s Jrue Holiday. Neither player projects to fit the timeline of their respective team’s window, making it probable each team will test the market on their all-stars. Acquiring a player of this caliber would take quite a lot from Minnesota, likely Jeff Teague (to make money work), Robert Covington, Dario Saric/Josh Okogie, and two to three future first round picks. Giving up the few assets the Wolves currently own would be incredibly risky. However, as we step into KAT’s max extension years, pairing him with an all-star caliber player is essential to raising Minnesota's ceiling and convincing him things are progressing around these parts. Could Garland or the potential No. 11 pick become that? Perhaps. But the Wolves don’t have forever to watch them develop and if they don’t (worst-case), the Towns clock in Minnesota will speed up faster than Byron Buxton on the basepaths.
The Wolves need to acquire a needle mover this offseason, or, at minimum, shake things up. Consequently, they should select the player with the highest upside if they stay put at No. 11. Flip did it right by swinging for the fences and selecting Zach LaVine in 2014. The current cap-strapped Wolves will need to do the same and pray he quickly develops into the star sidekick they are looking to pair with Towns. I’m not going to pretend I know who that could be, but it suggests to be the best route if they stick at No. 11. If Rosas is unable to move up and isn't enamored with anyone at 11, there is the option to trade down and attempt to attach Jeff Teague or Gorge Dieng's contract to a deal -- which could open up space for a potential Russell sign-and-trade.
Given Minnesota’s lack of upside on the current roster, their ceiling looks to be a second-round exit. If the new regime can unleash Andrew Wiggins’ potential, that changes. However, from what we’ve seen from the former No. 1 overall pick in five years here, It's fair to be skeptical of him materializing into a premier player.
KAT needs a star sidekick for the Wolves to compete in an ever-improving Western Conference. Let’s hope Rosas has the kahunas (and brains!) to acquire one in the near future.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the draft. Go Wolves.
By: Brian Simonson
The first round of the NBA playoffs is underway. 16 teams get to continue with the 2018-2019 season, but this also means the rest of the league is getting a head start on their 2019-2020 plans.
One of these teams getting a head start is the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There are several items to address and vacancies to fill within the organization over the next few months. From the top, the President of Basketball Operations is open. Then, you have two positions currently filled at general manager and head coach which are Scott Layden and Ryan Saunders respectively. The uncertainty here is, we are not sure if they will retain their respective positions into the following season.
With that said, the first of the offseason moves we thought occurred was on April 9th, where news broke out that General Manager Scott Layden and Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders were going to be retained for the foreseeable future. This was quickly retracted and instead, it was made public that the Wolves were searching for a new President of Basketball Operations first.
On the business side, it certainly is imperative that Glen Taylor gets the POBO hiring correct this time, and hopefully, they will be the person deciding the GM and head coach positions. But while that is in flight, let’s point our attention to the front lines of battle in this column, which is the head coaching vacancy.
While there are several candidates available for the vacancy, we’re going to specifically focus on several angles for the current front runner and favorite of the position: Ryan Saunders.
While a fan favorite and had many positives, we have learned Saunders also has some negatives in his early head coaching career. This article will summarize a case for both angles of why Saunders is and is not the right head coach for the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Human Element
One thing you noticed during the Tom Thibodeau era is that there was a lack of transparency and communication between coach and players. Thibs implemented a “my way, or the highway” culture with his game plans, practice routines, and rotations, without any room for deviation. It left players to feel stuck, unsure of what their true role was, what they brought to the roster, how many minutes they would get, and ultimately some players were unhappy. Ryan Saunders is a complete 180, where he has an open-door policy with each and every single player. He has one-on-ones with the roster, he’ll have post-game conversations with players to discuss positives, negatives, or simply be there to listen. Saunders has given each player a specific role and clear-cut expectations within their game strategy. Saunders makes you feel like you play an important part of the process, rather than treat you like a pawn.
Buy-In from the Players
The human element that Saunders projects has certainly resulted in high praise and buy-in from the Wolves players. Many of the Wolves—Dario Saric, Tyus Jones, and Karl Anthony Towns to name a few—have gone on the record to express their extreme support for Saunders and hope to have him back for years to come. The players believe in him and will fight for him, which is a breath of fresh air and something we have not seen since Flip Saunders was at the helm. This can ultimately and hopefully lead to great team unison, chemistry, and on-court effort.
He’s an Inexpensive Hire
Saunders is just starting out in his head coaching career and has a lot to prove. This means he necessarily and hopefully won’t be able to demand too high of an annual salary.
He Utilizes the Bench
For two and a half seasons, Wolves fans begged Tom Thibodeau to use his bench, leverage different rotations, and balance the minutes distribution. It left players who accumulated heavy minutes exhausted, and our bench’s potential was kept a mystery. Enter Ryan Saunders, who was forced to use his entire bench to simply keep five bodies on the field as the Wolves were decimated with injuries all season. While injuries are certainly an unfortunate part of the game, it also enabled Saunders to be creative with his rotations and tap into the bench to find their hidden talents. We would have never known that Luol Deng could have been such an integral player for the team. Another example of the bench’s success due to Saunders using the bench is Cameron Reynolds. “Cam” was called up from the G-League and has become a vital role player off the Wolves’ bench with his respectable 3 point shooting. His efforts resulted in landing him an NBA contract with the Wolves (but we’ll see how long it lasts).
The Saunders Legacy and Wolves Culture
One word that many Timberwolves fans, writers, and analysts continuously talk about is “stability”. This team has never had an identity outside of the KG era. The Wolves now have a taste of consistency in their core with Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, and Karl Anthony Towns. It may be time to cement the stability by inking Ryan Saunders, where his father’s legacy will forever be praised. Signing Saunders would solidify a sense of real organizational culture and is a coach that fans and the players will get behind.
Ryan Saunders has nine and a half years of Assistant Coaching experience, followed by a 17-25 record as head coach. Although it’s unfair to bash his head coaching record because he had to put up with player injuries, it is still a concern that there is more unknown than known facts about his ability to run a team.
The Wolves’ defensive took a serious dip when Saunders took over in January. In his 42 games, the team’s defensive rating went from 109.1 (17th) under Tom Thibodeau to 115.0 (27th) this season. The Wolves have a high-octane offense that is ranked 11th in the league, but their inability to defend the ball has proved costly. 13 of their 25 losses under Saunders were decided by 10 or more points.
Late-Game Strategy Needs Work
As a derivative of Ryan Saunders’ lack of head coaching experience, comes the lack of experience in handling late-game situations. There have been several instances where a bad play has been drawn up, or the ball was put in the wrong player’s hands. Handling clutch situations is quite the concern, but hopefully with future experience will bring scenarios where, if given the keys, Saunders will eventually learn to execute effectively.
Other Head Coaching Candidates are Available
Numerous names are floating around for potential head coach hires. One name particular that has created buzz over the past few days is Minnesota native Dave Joerger. During his last season in Sacramento, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield had their best seasons. This helped result in the Kings’ best record since the 2005-2006 season at 39-43, nearly missing out on the playoffs. This might be the only competition. Many Wolves fans and analysts have pointed to the Minnesota native to have a possible stake in the Wolves’ head coaching vacancy, but only time will tell.
If you’re looking for my opinion, I’m leaning towards Ryan Saunders getting that Interim tag removed and becoming the next head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not only do the fans and players have his back, but the social media posts that broke out saying that Saunders would be hired (before being quickly withdrawn) signal towards the move. This alone makes it almost feel like a shoe-in. It’s difficult to gauge what he’s truly capable of, as he dealt with the player injuries for 42 games. I’d like to see him get a fair shot with a healthy roster. The shorthanded Wolves certainly didn’t produce many wins under his tenure, but they fought hard regardless and showed serious heart. They even surprised many fans with impressive wins over the likes of the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. It leads me to believe things could be different when the team is at full health. We hope that the Wolves will do their due diligence and not settle on the first option. Either way, our group still hopes for the best for the franchise, regardless of who is appointed as head coach moving forward.