Tim Connelly Has Given the Wolves A Sense Of Direction

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore compiled a list of five general managers they wanted to target shortly after buying an ownership stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves.

  • Bob Myers – the former Golden State Warriors general manager who brought four titles to the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Masai Ujiri – the Toronto Raptors GM who traded for Kawhi Leonard and won a championship in 2019.
  • Daryl Morey – the analytics-focused Philadelphia 76ers GM whose “Moreyball” tactics limited players to threes and layups and defined his time with the Houston Rockets.
  • Sam Presti – the Oklahoma City Thunder GM who came up with the San Antonio Spurs and has mastered mining the draft for talent.

Tim Connelly was the fifth member of that list and likely the least well-known among Wolves fans. Golden State hired Myers in 2011, and he turned a once-moribund franchise into a dynasty. Ujiri traded DeMar DeRozan, a core player in Toronto, for Leonard. The gamble paid off, even though Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers the following season. Many teams adapted Morey’s analytics-driven style of play, and Presti has maximized resources in Oklahoma City.

But Connelly quietly turned the Denver Nuggets around after they hired him in 2013. The Nuggets haven’t had much success historically but became one of the NBA’s most stable franchises under Connelly. It took Connelly four years to build a winning roster, but his teams won 46 or more games in his final five years in Denver. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray became established stars. Michael Malone has coached there for the past nine seasons, and they won their first championship last year.

Connelly inherited a 46-win team that had won over long-suffering fans. The Wolves had fired former POBO Gersson Rosas days before training camp because he had an extramarital affair and created a toxic culture. Still, Chris Finch led Minnesota to the playoffs for the second time since 2004, and Anthony Edwards established himself as a rising star. However, Karl-Anthony Towns sought stability after playing for five coaches and seven GMs since the Timberwolves took him first overall in 2015. A sense of certainty would help everyone in Minnesota after years of turbulence.

Myers might have been the gold standard for GMs. Ujiri was the gambler, Morey the numbers guy, and Presti the value shopper. But Connelly is a stabilizing force, and A-Rod and Lore pursued him relentlessly. They offered Connelly a five-year, $40 million contract with a bonus based on franchise value. A Nuggets owner called it “desperate.”

Connelly values the people who work for him and often describes himself as one person in a room of decision-makers. He also felt there was the foundation of a winning team in Minnesota. “As those conversations developed and took on more substance, you realize this place has an unbelievably special core,” Connelly said at his introductory press conference. “I’m here not to mess it up. This team is (headed in) the right direction.”

That’s why it was surprising when Connelly blew up Minnesota’s core to trade for Rudy Gobert in July 2022. The stability guy had suddenly become the gambler. Connelly had replaced Ujiri in Denver. Suddenly, it felt like they had swapped places in Minnesota. Gobert didn’t play to his standard in the first year. Edwards and his teammates had difficulty playing with him. Kyle Anderson punched him. The Wolves went 42-40 and lost to Connelly’s former team in the playoffs. They lost most of the goodwill they had built the year before.

It looked like Connelly had made a series of savvy moves but missed on his signature trade.

Most importantly, Connelly signed Edwards to a max deal and extended Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid. The Gobert deal initially looked like “new owner syndrome,” where people buy a team, overspend, and make reckless trades to win immediately. Ultimately, it ends up ruining a team that had a good thing going. Mikhail Prokhorov did it in Brooklyn. Mat Ishbia may have a case of it in Phoenix. But the Gobert trade looks better now that he’s anchoring the league’s No. 1 defense.

Connelly’s aw-shucks attitude is borderline Midwestern, but he’s been masterful in building the Timberwolves roster. He may act like Gomer Pyle publicly, but he negotiates like Gordon Gekko. He has a clear direction for the team and is focused on building a roster in his vision at all costs. Ownership has given him the freedom to spend into the luxury tax, and they signed off on his blockbuster Gobert deal. The result is a roster he’s constructed well and built to last.

Edwards is the superstar he’s building around. Towns is the secondary scorer who spreads the floor. McDaniels hounds defenders at the point of attack. Conley orchestrates the offense; Gobert sets the tone defensively. Connelly has reserves who perform similar roles. Reid is another big who spreads the floor. Alexander-Walker guards at the point of attack. Morris is a Conley facimilie. Anderson has Conley’s veteran savvy.

We’ll have to see if Minnesota’s roster works in the playoffs. Will opponents play Gobert off the court? Can Edwards and McDaniels play disciplined enough to beat veteran teams? How will Towns play when it matters? But Connelly has created stability and given the Wolves a sense of direction. That alone seemed far-fetched before he arrived in Minnesota. Connelly may not have been the biggest name on Rodriguez and Lore’s list, but he might have been the best choice.

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