Gersson Rosas has been part of an NBA front office for a long time. He knows that everything comes down to winning. You can miss on draft picks and contradict what you say with your actions. As long as the team you manage wins, all will be forgiven.
Rosas preached family when he took the Minnesota Timberwolves on a team bonding trip to the Bahamas two years ago and then discarded most of the roster later that season. He knows that nobody will talk about how he sent Ryan Saunders on the road while he was finalizing a multi-year deal with Chris Finch so long as the team continues playing the way it is under their new coach. Nobody will talk about how he traded up to No. 6 to take Darius Garland, only have to see the Cleveland Cavaliers take him if Minnesota can become a playoff team with the core that he has assembled.
I’m not suggesting that Rosas is underhanded or crass. He probably believes in the value of solid team chemistry, but it’s within his right to pitch the remnants of Tom Thibodeau’s roster after Jimmy Butler forced his way out. By firing Thibodeau halfway through his contract and promoting Saunders, the Wolves put the next general manager in a tough place — either they would have to retain Saunders or fire the son of the only coach who brought success to the franchise. And any GM should make sure the player they want will be there when they trade up in the draft, but nobody expected Cleveland to take Garland after drafting Collin Sexton the year before.
Everyone knows that winners ultimately write the history books, but a good process provides a GM with the benefit of the doubt. And while GMs have a substantial amount of power within an organization, most of it rests with ownership. Imagine how differently Thibodeau’s tenure would be viewed if he had included Andrew Wiggins in the Butler trade, retaining the No. 7 pick and Zach LaVine. But it’s believed that Glen Taylor did not want him to move Wiggins. Finch was one of Rosas’ finalists in his coaching search, but it’s not far fetched to think that Taylor wanted him to stick with Saunders given how long he had been part of the organization and what his family means to the Timberwolves.
To be fair, many GMs will retain the incumbent coach, knowing that they have a fall guy if things don’t initially go to plan. But Rosas assembled a roster that plays to Finch’s talents. He likely gave the former Toronto Raptors associate coach a heads up that he was looking to move on from Saunders when Minnesota played the Toronto on Feb. 14 and 19 before relieving Saunders of his duties on Feb. 21. It’s not like Finch’s multi-year contract materialized out of thin air hours after the Knicks loss.
But after a 7-24 start, Rosas was on the hot seat, and Minnesota has looked competitive under Finch. While he is 5-14 entering Monday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, the Wolves have noticeably improved under him. Beating teams like the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns is no small feat considering that D’Angelo Russell has been hurt and Malik Beasley has been suspended most of that time (and is now dealing with an injury of his own). They’d probably be a playoff team if Finch had started the year as their head coach, and they had been able to keep their best players on the floor, especially now that the 9- and 10-seeds are awarded a play-in game.
Finch is an obvious example, but let’s look at last year’s draft. Most people are pretty happy with it right now. Anthony Edwards is immensely talented and is extremely likable, and Jaden McDaniels is showing star potential. Plus, as a bonus, he brought Rubio back. But when Edwards was scuffling early this year, and there was no 4 on the roster, it was reasonable to ask why Rosas didn’t trade down and take a less risky player like Tyrese Haliburton, or why he moved James Johnson for a point guard who doesn’t play well with DLo.
Was it risky to take an undisciplined player at No. 1, a guy who racked up technical fouls like parking tickets at 28, and trade your only power forward for another point guard? Yes. But even great GMs don’t always hit on all their moves. And his strategy had a chance of working out. Ant has immense raw athleticism. McDaniels is incredibly skilled for where the Wolves took him. And honestly, if the Wolves didn’t have Russell, Rubio has shown he would be a perfectly fine point guard on this roster.
Rosas has to know a lot hinges on the DLo trade. He may have done well in last year’s draft and hired the right coach, but he’s paying max money for a player who looks superfluous right now. Granted, as you know by now, Towns and Russell have had limited playing time together this season. But everyone would probably rather have Wiggins and the certainty that Minnesota retains their pick than DLo and a 40% to pick in what should be a loaded draft.
Hindsight is 20/20 here, and Rosas didn’t sign off on Wiggins’s contract; Thibodeau and Taylor did. But this might be Rosas’s fatal flaw. He was doing everything he could to keep KAT content, and he had a rare opportunity to trade one bad contract for another and bring his best friend to the Twin Cities. He couldn’t have anticipated both Towns and Russell getting hurt, just like he couldn’t anticipate Beasley — whom he acquired in a savvy trade — being suspended for 12 games. He probably thought he had a playoff team, and didn’t anticipate the pick being so valuable.
A lot of this is out of his control. And maybe it’s unfair to judge him for being too optimistic when anyone who takes a GM job believes he can turn a team around. Even one as moribund as the Wolves. Like everything else, how the DLo trade is judged will be based on if this team can win, even if he doesn’t contribute as a max player should. Sometimes dumb luck can make or break a front office, and I’ve got to believe Rosas has known that all along.