It's Been Quite The 1st Year For Gersson Rosas With The Timberwolves
It was a year ago when the Minnesota Timberwolves hired Gersson Rosas as their President of Basketball Operations, and my oh my what a year it’s been.
When Rosas was hired, he promised he was going to change things in Minnesota. That started with the culture. Rosas shifted from the all-business approach to more of a family approach.
“There’s going to be a tangible change, and this market is going to feel it,” Rosas said in his introductory press conference.
Twelve months later, we’ve certainly felt it.
Let’s examine the moves that Rosas has made (and there've been a lot) in his first year since taking over for the Timberwolves. We’re going to limit this to players, although it’s worth recognizing Rosas on hiring one of the most-diverse basketball operations departments in all of sports.
The First Draft
A little more than a month after Rosas was hired, there was the 2019 NBA Draft.
I wrote an article on Timberwolves.com titled: “Gersson Rosas and the Timberwolves could do anything on draft night.”
Sometimes you get a feel for what a team might do on draft night. During this draft with Rosas, there was no such feeling.
Minnesota was slotted to pick 11th. It felt like moving down in the draft felt more likely considering the assets the Timberwolves had on their roster, but instead, Rosas flipped Dario Saric (who was entering the final year of his contract) and the 11th pick to the Suns for the sixth pick for Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver.
It’s too early to tell what Culver will be in the pros, but the pick indicated what the Timberwolves were trying to build. Culver is a player who can play (and especially guard) multiple positions from 1-3.
With wings, let’s not be too quick to judge rookie seasons. It’s not like Zach LaVine and Victor Oladipo lit the league on fire in their first year, either. Culver is certainly a different player than those two, but over the last 14 games this season (which happened to be after the trade deadline), Culver found his groove, shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from the 3-point line.
Rosas went on to draft guard Jaylen Nowell in the second round.
But perhaps the biggest get from the 2020 draft class wasn’t even a draft pick. It was signing LSU center Naz Reid to a Summer League deal, which would eventually turn into a two-way contract and later a fully-guaranteed NBA contract.
“We identified a player who went undrafted, who we considered a valuable drafted player as far as our board and to be able to bring him into the program, evaluate him, see him play in our style, see how productive and talented he is, we were very fortunate,” Rosas said.
Not only did Rosas identify a player who looks like a future rotational player in the league for years to come, but he also signed a player who likely would have gone in the first round of the 2019 draft if we were to do it all over again. Per 36 minutes, Reid averaged 19.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest.
Another move that was under-the-radar was adding point guard Jordan McClaughlin in July.
McLaughlin, who was familiar with Pablo Prigioni when he spent time with Brooklyn's G League team, signed a Summer League deal with the Timberwolves and it was clear pretty early that he would be capable of contributing in the NBA — perhaps as a third point guard. After signing a two-way deal with the team, McLaughlin became a significant part of the team late in the season. From Feb. 5 – Mar. 10, McLaughlin averaged 10 points and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 41.5 percent from deep. It would be a huge surprise if McLaughlin isn’t a backup point guard in the NBA next season, which is wild considering that didn’t seem like a possibility last July.
Big moves and stars get the attention in the NBA. But landing two rookie contributors outside of the draft is something few teams can do. The moves between the margins are often overlooked, but should never be undervalued.
Piecing The Roster Together
The next step for Rosas was to fill out the rest of the roster. Obviously, there are a lot of options for how to do that. One could sign longer-term deals to entice free agents to sign. Instead, wisely, Rosas took a more patient approach. The goal was to add players with shorter (or better yet, expiring) deals so he could remain flexible throughout the season. If those players performed well, great. If not, the team wasn't handcuffed for years to come.
To start, in what was somewhat of an ironic move given how everything played out, the Timberwolves traded the rights of Lior Eliyahu to the Warriors in exchange for Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier. It was part of the bigger deal that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Warriors (we’ll have more on him later).
While Napier and Graham aren’t on the team, getting two assets for the rights to a 34-year-old Eliyahu who is unlikely to ever come to the NBA seems like a pretty good deal.
The team also acquired forward Jake Layman in a sign-and-trade from the Blazers in exchange for Bojan Dubljevic.
While Layman’s first year with the Timberwolves hit a road bump after a toe injury, it’s hard to think of this move as anything other than a win. Layman is a player who can defend multiple positions, cut to the basket, and shoot.
Layman played in just 23 games, but the team was 11-12 with him in the lineup and 8-33 without him.
Rosas rounded out the roster by signing Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell to one-year deals. Those deals would come in handy later on in the season.
The Deadline Of All Deadlines
Heading into the week of the trade deadline, the Timberwolves made just one move. Minnesota shipped Graham and Jeff Teague to the Hawks for Allen Crabbe. Both Graham and Teague were on expiring deals, as was Crabbe. While Crabbe ended up getting bought out, it was a deal that was worth taking to see if Crabbe, a career 38.7 percent 3-point shooter, would fit with the Wolves.
On Wednesday night, probably right when Timberwolves’ fans were heading to bed, Adrian Wojnarowski was just waking up (probably).
The Timberwolves were part of a four-team trade that involved five Timberwolves players and 12 total players. Out for Minnesota were Robert Covington, Keita Bates-Diop, Napier, Bell and Vonleh.
In were Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez and Jarred Vanderbilt. The Timberwolves also acquired Brooklyn’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick (which figures to be somewhere between 15-20).
While the Timberwolves dealt one of their best players in Covington, he’s a player who fits Houston’s win-now timeline better. The Timberwolves were able to flip that, along with expiring contracts, in exchange for Beasley and Hernangomez, two players who noticeably deserved more minutes than they got in Denver.
They got that in Minnesota and didn't waste the opportunity. Beasley’s minutes upped to 33.1 minutes per game with the Timberwolves, and he averaged 20.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from the 3-point line. Rosas and his staff identified a player who was playing less than 20 minutes per game as one who would have success in the Timberwolves' system. It was a low-risk gamble that Beasley could be one of the better shooting guards in the West. That's no guarantee, but 20 points per game while shooting 40+ percent from deep is a good start.
As for Hernangomez, the stretch-four shot 42 percent from the 3-point line with the Timberwolves. His PER jumped from 6.9 with the Nuggets to a career-high 14.1 with the Timberwolves.
It turned out, this was just the start of a very busy 18 hours for Rosas and his staff.
SO MANY NOTIFICATIONS
The Timberwolves were easily the busiest team at the deadline. Rosas made sure no other team was even close. After Wednesday night’s trade, more experts were saying, “watch what the Timberwolves do . . ." Those experts should have added "don’t blink" as well. A warning for the content team to "load up on energy drinks" would have been appreciated as well.
The first trade of the day for the team was trading Gorgui Dieng to the Grizzlies as part of a three-team trade that netted the Timberwolves James Johnson from the Heat. While Dieng and Johnson are both big men, Johnson’s athleticism and ability to handle the ball made him a better fit for the Timberwolves than Dieng.
And then there was the main event. For Timberwolves fans, they probably had to do a triple-take when the trade popped up on their phone.
Was this a fake Woj account? Are we sure this is from Shams and not Shaun?
It was no secret the Timberwolves wanted Russell last summer. It was the worst-kept secret in the league, which was also probably by design. The Timberwolves wanted Russell to know how much they valued a player like him. He’s a point guard who can do everything offensively. His 3-point shooting and passing ability fit the build of a modern-day point guard and he’d be an incredible building piece alongside Karl-Anthony Towns on the roster.
While the Timberwolves weren't able to land Russell in the summer, that didn’t stop Rosas from trying again as the trade deadline approached.
In the final two hours before the deadline, the Timberwolves and Warriors would agree to terms. The Timberwolves would send Andrew Wiggins, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick to the Warriors. The Warriors would send the Timberwolves Russell, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman.
"We've been on the D’Angelo pursuit for a long period of time," Rosas said. "These trades the last couple days were hard because of the individuals that had to leave were great individuals. Our model, our approach is while you’re a Timberwolf, we’re gonna treat you the best you can be treated as best we can . . But unfortunately, this is a business as well and a lot of times we all know it. . . We have a vision we want to execute and that puts us in a situation where we have to make decisions."
It’s a deal that made sense for both teams, but given Wiggins’ inconsistency in Minnesota and Russell’s potential, it’s hard not to pick the Timberwolves as the winners of the deal. Of course, Russell has only played in 12 games with the Timberwolves so we can’t plan the parade quite yet, but in landing Russell, the Timberwolves are already adding a one-time All-Star to their team.
Rosas transformed having Saric/Teague/Wiggins/Covington/Dieng (among others) to Russell/Beasley/Hernangomez/Culver/Johnson.
Considering the style-of-play of Saunders alone, that’s a much better fit for the Timberwolves.
From the time Rosas took over as the decision-maker, only Towns and Josh Okogie remain.
So, What’s Next?
We don’t know when or if the 2019-20 season will resume due to COVID-19.
For the Timberwolves, not much will change if the season is played out or whatever else happens.
As of now, the Timberwolves, Warriors and Cavaliers all have a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Here are the Timberwolves’ odds per pick (the team can’t have worse than the seventh pick):
The Timberwolves also own Brooklyn’s pick, which would be the 16th pick if the season ended today. Minnesota’s second-round pick is 33rd overall.
With those three picks, the Timberwolves have the most value in the draft, and it’s not particularly close.
Rosas also has decisions to make with free agency, including restricted free agency. Due to NBA policy, we aren’t able to talk about those here quite yet.
What will Rosas do in the draft? Could he use the top pick and the Nets’ pick to trade for another star to pair with Towns and Russell? Could he trade back? Could he keep all the picks?
Rosas has options, and even when it seems like he doesn’t have options, he creates them. That’s not a technique everyone running a basketball team has, but it is the most important skill.
Cheers to a busy Season No. 1, Gersson. Something tells us you’ll stay busy in Season No. 2.