Timberwolves

Reexamining Rosas's Moves After His Firing

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

With the school year back in full swing, the first unit my middle schoolers are focusing on is character development and alternating perspectives. Specifically, we are digging into some of these moments we encounter in books, film, and real-life where our thinking shifts when it becomes apparent that things may not be as they seem.

To demonstrate this as clearly as I could, my students were shown this video:

There’s something to be said about how modern students laser in on videos of any kind. While it is admittedly a bit campy, the short film has a clear twist and moment of clarity when the viewers realize, along with the old lady, that she was actually stealing someone else’s cookies. This is a dramatic shift from the initial optic that the young dude with the headphones is just helping himself to the snack that the old lady worked so hard for. Leading the students to this “aha” moment allows them to go back and think about the first half of the short film in an entirely different light.

Applying this concept to the real world around us allows us to come to one of the most tried and true adages of the living experience: hindsight is always 20/20. Things happen in life that will enable us to holistically contextualize past events; we then can firmly grasp these events alongside the reasonings for their happenings. In a media cycle wrought with misinformation and hot-take marketability, the desire for a complete picture surrounding events is more critical than ever.

In the wake of the bombshell that was dropped on the Minnesota Timberwolves organization and fanbase last Wednesday, Wolves fans may be able to see some of the organization’s moves during the now-former president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas’s employment in a different light. As per the reporting done by Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski, Rosas was not only dismissed because of his lack of performance (42-94 team record). It was also due to the hostile workplace culture he helped create and the inappropriate extramarital affair he had with another Timberwolves front office member. The move seemed to apparate out of nowhere to a majority of the fanbase. But those connected with the organization appeared to have known this writing was on the wall for some time.

As the details about the swift dismissal emerged, it became pertinent to re-examine many of the transactions that Rosas presided over in the last two seasons at the helm. Some of these moves were praised, some elicited split reactions from NBA fans, and some moves were eviscerated. While this roller coaster is typical of an NBA GM tenure, the news of the reality regarding Rosas’s leadership elucidates clarity and perspective on some of his most (in)famous transactions.

The question to start with is this: Were any of Rosas’ major deals indicative of the internal dysfunction? To date, there are arguably six significant developments over the last two years that epitomize Rosas’ time at the helm:

While there may be more subtle transactions and staff replacements that tell a fuller story of the behind-the-scenes dysfunction, these six moments in time encapsulate the attention and frustration of both the franchise’s internal personnel and the fanbase at large. Each of these moves tells a story of an organization in disarray. The family-oriented optic that the Wolves PR team worked so hard to curate wound up being shattered as the team returned to the only state it knows how to operate within: chaos.

The Jarrett Culver Pick

I maintain that the idea of this selection was not nearly as bad as some made it out to be, though the execution and subsequent results could not have gone much worse. The value the Wolves sent out to trade up five spots only cost them Dario Saric, a good player who was vocal about his desire to leave. His unhappiness could have been tied to reasons other than Rosas (perhaps the appointment of Saunders as head coach), but it was still not a good look to have a player of that caliber express disinterest in sticking around.

It is also a bad look to trade up for a specific player and have him no longer be there when it is your turn to pick. When Darius Garland was unexpectedly snatched up by the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 5 overall, Culver was the panic selection. Culver’s struggles need no more documentation than reiterating that this was one of the worst lottery picks in Timberwolves history. For a franchise historically wrought with whiffs and mistakes, the gravity of this selection cannot be understated.

The Wiggins/DLo Trade

Rosas deserved adulation for getting the Timberwolves off the Wiggins contract. His max deal was seen as an “untradeable” contract across the league, right up until he joined the Golden State Warriors, and the narrative shifted in favor of the major-market team. The Wolves were finally free of another lottery pick that, in addition to not living up to the lofty expectations of a No. 1 overall pick, was proving himself to be incapable of carrying a franchise the way that many (especially Taylor) were expecting him to. Getting a player like Russell in return for a financial anchor like Wiggins is a certified win.

Where the problems surface with this deal is the lightly protected (top-three) first-round pick that Rosas included in the swap. The fear amongst Wolves fans was twofold: the Warriors would get the No. 4 pick, and they would then get to select Jonathan Kuminga. The latter fear was realized on draft night as Kuminga slid to the Warriors at No. 7 overall. Many people did not like the deal for this reason. It was great to move off the Wiggins contract, but the cost was high and appeared not to be worth it.

According to Krawczynski’s article, there was allegedly dissent within the Timberwolves organization regarding including that draft pick in the trade. Rosas was betting on the Wolves being in contention for a playoff spot in the season that would ultimately determine the pick’s value. This gamble, much like the Culver selection, did not pay off. Despite Russell being a significantly better fit on the Wolves, Rosas was left with egg on his face for his second ill-advised risk.

The Ricky Rubio Thing

Bringing Rubio back home appeared to signify Rosas was doubling down on his family-oriented approach to team building. It was a trade that was righting the wrongs of the Tom Thibodeau-led Timberwolves, erasing the memories of many fans being hesitant to embrace Jeff Teague. Minnesota’s own was back home, and that was always where he should have been.

However, Rubio’s fit on the team was suspect at best. Rubio played his worst season as a pro and was never quite as happy as he should have been. He had apparent issues with how the team was being run under Saunders and lamented the apparent lack of direction with the franchise. At the time, this was interpreted as more of a shot at the coaching staff. Looking back, it may have been pointed towards the front office.

The Timberwolves upsetting a franchise icon should be nothing new. Decades of mismanagement from the top down have helped keep the Wolves in the NBA’s cellar. The last sonata of Rubio’s career in Minnesota saw him get sent to Cleveland, of all places. Given how far the Cavaliers are from contention, it would appear that Rosas did not keep Rubio’s desired destinations in mind when making the deal. Rubio leaves with a sour taste in his mouth once again as he heads to a more morose city in the twilight of his NBA career. While this trade helped the Wolves tremendously (Taurean Prince will be a great fit on the squad), Rosas made a callus move.

The Timing of the Ryan Saunders Firing

This is a move that caught a great deal of flak from the NBA media at large. There were two ways to look at this: the team was going to fire Saunders eventually, but the timing of his dismissal was suspect. That, coupled with the fact that there was no apparent coaching search before Finch was handed a multi-year deal, was worthy of speculation and scrutiny.

If any singular move was responsible for the rumors of how poorly Rosas treated some of his staff, this was it. The coaching transition was necessary, though the way that the firing was doled out mid-season immediately after a road game in New York showed little to no respect for all that Saunders had done for the franchise throughout his life. Given his family’s deep ties to Minnesota, it is not hard to imagine that much of the discontent stemmed from this dismissal.

What Happened to the Summer League Coach?

I remember going to the Summer League Jam Session a few months ago. This was a rare opportunity to watch a young team’s practice and scrimmage regiments. Joseph Blair, the coach of the Summer League team, had recently been promoted to defensive coordinator following David Vanterpool’s departure. Things were looking up.

Then, on the day the Summer League started, it was announced that Blair would be leaving the organization. He had accepted a lead assistant role with the Washington Wizards — another team in disarray — and promptly left the young Summer Wolves standing at the altar.

This was a stunning development for those deep enough into the Timberwolves fan experience to care about the Summer League. How can a lead coach just leave his team on the starting date that you are supposed to coach? While it was a move to better his career, the guy could easily have coached through the Summer League and then moved to Washington. The whole thing was bizarre.

Generally speaking, it was an odd move to make. Coaches don’t just leave. To have the gall to abandon your team that you had been working so closely with certainly speaks volumes about someone’s character. However, with the recent news about Rosas, it is not unlikely that external factors at play behind the scenes led to Blair’s departure. If the extramarital affair was indeed making other Timberwolves employees uncomfortable, it could be speculated that Blair was one of the persons affected by this activity.

Juancho’s Frustration

Hernangómez may be gone, but the manner of his exit comes to the conscious forefront as we sit with the Rosas news. To recap: Juancho got injured in the Olympics, and he was not expected to play. But then the Spanish doctors cleared him, and then the Timberwolves doctors (and Rosas) said he couldn’t play, so he didn’t play. Hernangómez and the Spanish basketball federation got upset with Minnesota, so they had a brief, tense exchange, and Rosas just wound up sending Hernangómez (and Culver) out of town. It was a whole thing.

I had initially speculated that there could have been an interpersonal grudge afoot from the leader of Spanish basketball, Jorge Garbajosa. However, suppose Rosas was participating in less-than-ideal moves behind the scenes to further his agenda. In that case, Hernangómez’s frustration may have been more valid beyond simply wanting to play in the Olympics.

The toxicity of Rosas’s reign of terror had started leaking into the player pool. It had already shown with Rubio, and the Hernangómez news — coupled with an unhappy and ostracized Culver — was enough to get him shipped out of town. Hernangómez was going to struggle to crack the rotation anyway. Still, Rosas did everything he could to get rid of players that were not happy with the team’s operations instead of trying to repair the harm.

Looking back at these moves, we see the signs of discontentment in so many facets of the Timberwolves’ operations. The lack of moves on draft night this past summer was telling of a front office manager who was starting to lose his grasp on the team. The PRosas was beginning to unravel, and everybody on the inside knew it.

Rosas’ reputation had built him up to be a big swinger who preached the values of family and commitment. But in the end, it turned out that all of these values were smokescreens for the opposite. While it initially seemed like the Timberwolves made another bone-headed move in letting Rosas go prematurely, it appears that ownership made a rare good call in weeding a seed of malcontent. With Sachin Gupta at the helm, Minnesota fans hope he can be a start of some of the fabled consistency that the team so desperately desires.

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