The Wolves Can Learn Something From the Miami Heat

Photo: Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn (USA TODAY Sports)

If you were looking for a franchise the Minnesota Timberwolves should model themselves after, wouldn’t it be one that entered the league around the same time and plays in a smaller market? One that has won three championships. A coaching staff that has turned four undrafted guys into impact players. An organization known for its culture.

We don’t often think of the Miami Heat as a small-market team because Miami is a destination city. Free agents love sunshine and no income tax. But Miami-Fort Lauderdale is the 18th largest TV market in America; Minneapolis-St. Paul is the 15th. The Heat entered the league in 1988; the Wolves in 1989. Nobody drafted Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, and Duncan Robinson. However, they are having a meaningful impact on Miami’s playoff run. Heat Culture is a thing, regardless of if we want it to be.

In 2010, the Heat leveraged their location to build a super team. LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in South Beach to form the Heatles. Together they promised eight titles and won two, then disbanded. However, Miami built this year’s team from the ground up. Jimmy Butler was the disgruntled superstar who forced his way out of *checks notes* Minnesota and Philadelphia. They used mid-first-round picks on Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro and picked up Kevin Love on the buyout market. They know how to find talent without tanking.

The Timberwolves can’t recreate the Heatles. But they can emulate Miami’s best elements.

Miami is a free-agent destination, but they also built an organization players want to play for. Micky Arison bought the Heat in 1995, the same year Glen Taylor saved the Timberwolves from leaving Minnesota. But Arison has created stability under his stewardship while the Wolves have experienced turmoil after the Kevin Garnett years. Pat Riley coached Miami from 1995 until 2008, with a brief two-and-a-half-year intermission. Eric Spoelstra took over in the 2008-09 season and has coached them ever since. Flip Saunders coached the Wolves from 1995 until 2005, but the Wolves have had nine coaches since then.

Minnesota is going to fail to win the free-agent game. Their best bet is to have a stable organization that keeps the players they have in town. Ownership and management need to be transparent with their star players, especially Anthony Edwards. The coaching staff needs time to develop a reliable methodology for drafting and developing players. They can’t constantly be concerned about their job security if the organization wants them to make decisions that will benefit the franchise long-term. The Timberwolves can’t use their location as leverage to fill out their roster, but they can use infrastructure to build a winner.

The Wolves have had some success stories after Taylor brought in Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez to take over ownership of the team. They fired Gersson Rosas after they learned that he had created a toxic culture and was having an affair with a staffer. The coaching staff has developed Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid into impact players. And Minnesota made the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era. But the Rudy Gobert trade reeked of new-owner syndrome, an all-in move at a time when the roster wasn’t ready to contend. Instead of retaining a popular core, they traded a haul for Gobert, 30, and his massive contract. Not only has his fit with Edwards and Towns been clumsy at times, but Walker Kessler had a great rookie season.

Ironically, the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, Miami’s Finals opponent, are also model franchises for the Wolves. Quin Snyder coached in Utah for eight years and had Gobert for his entire tenure there. The Gobert-Donovan Mitchell core never got past the second round, but they were constantly a 50-ish win team with a dedicated fanbase. Now, Danny Ainge is using the Gobert trade to reload and build a contender.

Denver took things a step further than Utah this year. Michael Malone is in his eighth season coaching the Nuggets, and he’s coached Nikola Jokić since his rookie season. They took Jamal Murray six years after the Wolves passed on him in the draft, and they’ve combined to earn the No. 1 seed in the West and reach the Finals this year. Continuity is a big part of their success.

Utah and Denver aren’t destination cities like Miami. But the Jazz and Nuggets have emulated the Heat in that they’ve committed to their coaching staff. As a result, Snyder and Malone weren’t coaching for their jobs on every play, and their staffs could develop players who other teams overlooked in the draft. Minnesota can do the same, as long as they commit to building an organization the way Miami has.

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