Sunday, October 17 2021
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The Minnesota Timberwolves only played 136 games in the Gersson Rosas era. Minnesota fired Rosas, its team president, on Wednesday, and promoted Sachin Gupta on an interim basis, prompting franchise player Karl-Anthony Towns to tweet, “wtf…” 

WTF, indeed. Rosas lost his job after reportedly overseeing a dysfunctional front office and having an affair with a Timberwolves employee

What’s next for the Wolves? In the most literal sense, Monday is media day, which means Towns will elaborate on his tweet and coach Chris Finch will answer uncomfortable questions about the person who hired him off another team’s staff seven months ago. More broadly, Minnesota will continue to build around Towns and 20-year-old guard Anthony Edwards, whom Rosas’ drafted with the No. 1 pick in 2020. 

But there are many questions here, some of which involve disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons. Let’s try to answer four of them.

1. Can Gupta pull off a Simmons trade? 

In theory, Minnesota and Simmons are perfect for each other — the Wolves have the stretchiest 5 in NBA history, a creative coach and all sorts of defensive issues. Simmons would immediately make the roster much more balanced, and his availability represents a rare opportunity to bring a 25-year-old All-NBA type to Minnesota.

The tricky part is finding a trade that is worth the Philadelphia 76ers’ while. How does Philly value D’Angelo Russell? Will the Wolves be more likely to trade Russell now that the executive who paid a steep price to trade for him is gone? Putting a deal together would probably be easier if they hadn’t squandered two first-round picks under Rosas’ watch. (They traded up to draft Jarrett Culver sixth overall in 2019 and, thanks to the light protections on the first-rounder they included in the Russell trade, they had to send this year’s No. 7 pick to the Golden State Warriors.)

Minnesota can dangle promising forward Jaden McDaniels. It can offer the Sixers Malik Beasley, who would give them some scoring punch. It can sacrifice future first-round picks, and it might have to do that in order to get a third team involved. Philadelphia is trying to compete for a title right now, so picks and potential won’t cut it. 

2. Will Gupta get a fair shot at keeping the top job?

One thing that makes this situation extra weird: The Wolves are essentially in between owners. Glen Taylor, who has run the show since 1994, is still technically in control, but Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez own 20 percent of the franchise and have reached an agreement that would make them the majority owners by the end of 2023. At Monday’s media day, Lore and Rodriguez will hold an introductory press conference. Should be an easy one. 

Lore and Rodriguez had planned to fire Rosas eventually based on performance evaluations, but Taylor made the final decision to do it on Wednesday, according to ESPN. Minnesota will reportedly conduct a search process to find its next lead executive, and Bleacher Report has already linked them to Sixers general manager Elton Brand, citing summer league chatter. 

Gupta could be the right person to head up this front office. He was a finalist for the Sacramento Kings job that went to Monte McNair, and he’s built a reputation for orchestrating favorable trades dating back to his days working under Daryl Morey in Houston and Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia. He is not a big name, though, and new owners often like to clean house. It’s fair to wonder exactly how empowered Gupta will be to build the team as he sees fit in the short term, especially in terms of Simmons trade talks. 

3. What does this mean for Towns’ future?

If Gupta earns the job permanently, it would help the organization project some semblance of stability. Towns is entering his seventh season, and there has been a revolving door of coaches and executives all along. Rosas was initially brought in to steady the ship and build something sustainable, following Tom Thibodeau’s tumultuous, three-year turn as both president and coach.

The good news for Minnesota is that Towns is under contract until 2023-24. The bad news is that this doesn’t mean what it used to — the Wolves are already on the clock. If they don’t make real progress this season, all of a sudden Towns’ close friend Russell will be heading into a contract year and, whether Gupta is in charge or not, the front office will be under an enormous amount of pressure. 

4. What about this season?

Despite the turmoil, and despite the Wolves’ defensive deficiencies, it’s not all that difficult to be optimistic about the product they’re about to put on the court. No one should be surprised if Towns plays like an MVP candidate, since we saw him do that at the beginning of the 2019-20 season. Between McDaniels, the newly re-signed Jarred Vanderbilt and veteran Taurean Prince, this roster has some versatility in the frontcourt. Patrick Beverley fills an obvious need in the backcourt, and even if the front office had done absolutely nothing in the summer, merely having a healthy Russell and an improved Edwards would have made them a much better team than they were for most of last year. 

But while Finch has a fair bit of talent at his disposal, it’s going to be challenging to make Minnesota more than the sum of its parts. Its best players have almost always been poor defenders and some of its best defenders offer nearly nothing offensively. Gupta could help him out in between now and the trade deadline, whether that means a Simmons blockbuster or a smaller move or two. Everybody is always trying to acquire two-way role players, though.  

If the Wolves can find the right mix, this terribly timed transition will be forgotten or — in the event that Gupta is seen as a savior — even framed as a blessing in disguise. If they can’t, then the revolving door will keep spinning. For a team that isn’t expected to make the playoffs, this season sure seems pivotal. 



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