Are M-Lo and A-Rod the best organization in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ sordid history?
Is it possible that the futurist who thinks ‘Dune’ is a documentary and the former player who alienated his entire previous sport could turn the Woebegone Wolfies into a model organization?
New Wolves owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez signed Tim Connelly away from the Denver Nuggets for a $40 million fee. Connelly quickly hired executive Matt Lloyd away from the Orlando Magic, making him the Timberwolves’ senior vice president of basketball operations.
Less than nine months ago, Wolves fired their top basketball executive, Gersson Rosas. In terms of timing and impact, it matched most of Wolves’ history – embarrassing, untimely and damaging.
Since then Wolves have:
- Doubled his regular season win total from 23 in 2020-21 to 46 in 2021-22.
- Has seen Anthony Edwards become one of the NBA’s most intriguing young stars.
- Won a qualifying game and pushed the Memphis Grizzlies, the team with the second-best NBA record, to six games in the first round of the playoffs.
- Reinvigorated a dormant fanbase.
- Developed such a deep roster that former first-round pick Josh Okogie, who had been a starter, struggled to find playing time.
- Extension of the contract of Chris Finch, one of the most important people in the organization.
- Demonstrated intent to build the deepest front office in franchise history, led by respected NBA personalities Connelly, Sachin Gupta and Lloyd.
Wolves have had stars before. They have already employed good coaches. They have never before built an organization that could claim deep experience and expertise as a strength.
The depth of the list is important. It’s also fluid in a league with a salary cap.
What Lore and Rodriguez demonstrate is an understanding of how wealth can be used as an advantage in the part of the organization not limited by a salary cap.
What we’re seeing is a transition from the Glen Taylor franchise, which was built on handshakes and familiarity, to the Lo-Rod Wolves, who show an eagerness to maximize the experience and expertise, whatever the cost.
We’ve seen that in other local franchises.
The Vikings have 29 coaches, if you include their strength and conditioning staff. Given that only 46 players can suit up for a game, a coaching staff that size seems ridiculous. But if you’re a billionaire who runs a billion-dollar franchise and you’re intent on winning, why not hire a coach who can make a difference?
The Twins enjoyed success under general manager Terry Ryan and his tight-knit team in the 2000s. Under president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, the Twins spent millions of dollars developing their front office and their analysis department.
Ryan could fit all of his trusted advisors into a small office. Falvey would need a banquet hall.
Old-school thinkers would point to Bud Grant’s tiny coaching staffs and argue that extra coaches and executives are overkill.
Wolves historians should argue that bigger, better funded and more experienced front offices would not have drafted Ndudi Ebi, Jonny Flynn, Jarrett Culver or Kris Dunn.
A bigger front office doesn’t guarantee brilliance, but it should protect an organization from unforced errors.
And it’s not the wolves who blindly throw money at a problem. Connelly and Lloyd are both highly respected and known to work well with others. If anyone in the NBA can mix up new recruits and existing employees, it would seem to be Connelly.
Lore and Rodriguez are hard to trust on several fronts. They have no connection with Minnesota. They could threaten to move the team if they don’t get a new arena, even if the NBA would be foolish to allow them to leave, both because the Minneapolis-St. The Paul area is a quality basketball market and because allowing a team to relocate clears a lucrative expansion site.
Lore acts like a wide-eyed fan around the Wolves players. Rodriguez was one of the most underrated players in modern baseball history.
But if that’s how they’re going to operate, hiring the best people they can, no matter the expense, they could quickly become a force in the NBA.