Associated Press

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas vows aggression, collaboration

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gersson Rosas has firsthand experience with success from unconventional strategy from his 17-year run with the Houston Rockets.

An outside-the-box approach might be necessary if the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to catch up in the cutthroat Western Conference.

“We’re going to question the norm with everything that we do,” Rosas said.

The first Latino to lead an NBA front office has landed with a 30-year-old franchise defined by bad-luck setbacks and self-induced dysfunction as much as any accomplishments on the court. The hiring of Rosas as president of basketball operations was greenlighted by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor as the remedy to one of the latest backfires, the hiring of Tom Thibodeau three years ago for the dual role of president and coach.

As Taylor and chief executive officer Ethan Casson narrowed their search, they couldn’t help but notice Rosas appeared as confident and eager about joining them as they were about offering the job to him. The Timberwolves used an outside search firm to hire Thibodeau. This time, Casson directed an interview process that included several members of the organization from various levels and departments.

“I wanted someone that could work with the entire staff,” Taylor said. “Not only the players, but the whole organization. Somebody that felt like they were part of the team and knew what teamwork meant.”

The Timberwolves averaged the third-smallest crowd in the league last season, an announced figure of 15,305 fans per game, while missing the playoffs after a spirited postseason return in 2018 that ended a 13-year absence. The midsized market of the Twin Cities is as crowded as ever for attention and revenue. There’s just as steep of a climb facing the business side, then, as the basketball operations.

One of the reasons Rosas stood out among the four finalists – Chauncey Billups, Trajan Langdon and Calvin Booth were the others – was his holistic vision of a collaborative and innovative culture. During the Thibodeau era, the environment was more fractured than not.

“The organizations that have figured that out, and we hope to be one of them, I think will in fact not just win but win at a high level,” Casson said.

Rosas briefly left the Rockets in 2013 to become the general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, only to return because he decided the fit was not ideal. This time, with his wife, Susana, and 3-year-old fraternal twins, Giana and Grayson, in tow, the opportunity felt right.

“When the resources are in place, this is a great market not only for the organization and the players, but for my family,” said Rosas, who was introduced at a news conference in the Target Center lobby on Monday. He added: “Not only were they interviewing me, but I was interviewing them. And as I’ve talked to different organizations in this league, they stood out.”

Rosas moved with his family from Bogota, Colombia, to Houston, where learned to love basketball in high school and began coaching after college. He started with the Rockets as an intern, immersed himself in the scouting world, and worked his way up to executive vice president of basketball operations, the title he largely held for the last seven seasons.

“He’s been way overqualified for his job for a while here,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. “He’s more than earned his shot, although I wish he would’ve gone East. We’re going to have an extremely tough competitor in the West.”

The first order of business for Rosas will be to determine whether Ryan Saunders, whom Taylor has wholeheartedly endorsed, will remain as coach. General manager Scott Layden, who also added responsibility when Thibodeau was fired on Jan. 6, has been in limbo, too. Rosas said there were no preconditions established by Taylor about their status.

Rosas credited Thibodeau for leaving behind a competitive roster, a team led by center Karl-Anthony Towns with plenty of young talent and unrealized potential. The greatest immediate challenge to improvement, beyond the competition in the West, will be the salary cap. Maximum contracts for Towns and enigmatic sidekick Andrew Wiggins have helped push the Timberwolves close to the luxury tax threshold.

The most practical changes, then, could first come in the playbook. The MIT-educated Morey led a data-driven overhaul of the Rockets more than a decade ago, with current coach Mike D’Antoni more recently steering the innovation on the court in the pace-and-space era of the NBA. The Rockets have led the league in 3-point attempts for three straight seasons, with the Wolves ranking 26th this season after finishing last in each of the previous two years.

“We want to be strategic, and we want to play to our strengths,” Rosas said. “A lot of it has to do with the players we have on our roster and how we can operate out of that, but I think you’re going to see a lot of similarities with how the modern game is being played.”

LeBron James’ voting rights group converting arenas into polling places

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ATLANTA (AP) — If basketball icon LeBron James gets his way, NBA arenas and other sports venues around the country will be mega polling sites for the November general election.

James and his voting rights group, formed this spring with other black athletes and entertainers, are joining with other professional basketball leaders and Michigan’s top elections official to push for mega voting sites to accommodate in-person balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Than A Vote, the James organization dedicated to maximizing Black turnout in November, shared its plans with The Associated Press on Wednesday after the Detroit Pistons became the second NBA franchise to announce plans to use its arena for voting later this year. In Georgia, Fulton County elections officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a polling site. Plans call for the arena to serve as a countywide early voting site ahead of Election Day.

The idea, which comes after Kentucky used large facilities in its June 23 primary, is to use large spaces that allow for in-person voting while still enforcing social distancing guidelines. It also underscores the attention on the mechanics of voting amid the pandemic, with the intensity already reflected in both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden warning that state and local officials have the power to “corrupt” the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called her “partnership” with the Pistons an “blueprint for other teams and leagues seeking to advance our common goal of protecting access to the vote for all.”

Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, said the arrangement in his city ensures “high turnout” in a safe environment. Benson, Pierce and David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach, will advise NBA franchises and arena management entities around the country on how to replicate the existing deals.

The Milwaukee Bucks also confirmed they are willing to use their home arena as a voting site in the most populous city in the key battleground of Wisconsin.

The coordinated push is a turnabout, of sorts, in the often-partisan jousting over voting procedures.

Some Democrats panned Kentucky elections officials for limiting in-person June primary voting in the state’s two most populous counties to Louisville’s Exposition Center and the University of Kentucky football stadium in Lexington. Voting rights advocates argued in federal court that the plan, part of culling voting sites statewide amid coronavirus concerns, would harm minority voters.

A federal judge rejected their claims, and voting proceeded without the melee that some advocates had forecast.

Now, Benson, a Democrat, is pushing the arena model not as an example of potential voter suppression, but a way to fight it. “One of our greatest challenges in protecting voters’ access to democracy this November is identifying accessible locations where citizens can safely vote in person,” she said.

Amid COVID, that could outweigh potential logistical difficulties of large sites. Lines for such venues can still be long — just as with normal polling locations — as was seen in Lexington at some points on primary day. Voters also could face traffic jams or public transit hiccups given the number of people involved. General elections also have considerably larger turnout than primaries.

Nonetheless, there’s a growing bipartisan push for large-venue voting. NFL executive Scott Pioli last week presented the National Association of Secretaries of State a plan for widespread use of professional and college sports facilities.

James’ group is officially nonpartisan. But the NBA star has been open about its emphasis on the Black community, where Trump faces intense opposition for his white identity politics. James has not endorsed Biden, but he endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the Bucks owners, the Lasry family, are major Democratic Party donors. Bucks executive Alex Lasry helped lead the effort that landed the Democratic National Convention in the city.

Missouri man freed from prison with help from WNBA’s Moore

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A Missouri man was freed from prison Wednesday after a county prosecutor declined to retry his case, punctuating years of work by WNBA star Maya Moore and other supporters who argued he was falsely convicted of burglary and assault charges.

Moore was on hand when Jonathan Irons, 40, walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center. She clapped as Irons approached a group of people waiting for his release. She then dropped to her knees at one point before joining a group hug around Irons.

He had been serving a 50-year prison sentence stemming from the non-fatal shooting of a homeowner in the St. Louis area when Irons was 16. But a judge threw out his convictions in March, citing a series of problems with the case, including a fingerprint report that had not been turned over to Irons’ defense team, according to The New York Times.

The Missouri attorney general’s office unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision, and the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County decided against a retrial.

Moore and Irons became friends after meeting through prison ministry, according to the Times. The 31-year-old Moore, a Jefferson City, Missouri, native who starred at UConn before helping lead Minnesota to four WNBA titles, put her career on hold last season to help Irons.

Moore said in January she planned to sit out a second season and miss the Tokyo Olympics. After Irons’ convictions were thrown out in March, she told the AP her plans hadn’t changed.

“’My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,” she said at the time. “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”

Adam Silver: Restart broadcasts may need delay to keep cussing off air

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NBA players trash talk and swear more during a game than a Samuel L. Jackson character.

That’s not exactly insider knowledge. However, most of what is said is covered up by the ambient crowd noise and in-arena music at a traditional game. Nobody at home can hear Patrick Beverley‘s stream of consciousness.

But what is going to happen at the NBA’s restart in Orlando? With no crowds and less noise, and courtside microphones can pick up everything. Including language some fans may not want to be brought into their homes.

This is why the league many need a broadcast delay — similar to the seven-second delay used on some live broadcasts — so it can drop any offensive language, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the Time 100 interview.

“I think often players, they understand when they’re on the floor, they’re saying certain things to each other because it’s so loud in the arena, they know a lot of it is not being picked up. They may have to adapt their language a little bit knowing what they say will likely be picked up by microphones and in all seriousness, we may need to put a little bit of a delay.”

One solution would be to have a live stream available to fans where nothing is dropped. There are those of us — hard-core NBA fans — who want to hear the trash talk, want to listen to the coaches call out the play as the defenders call out what is coming and talk about set picks, etc. We all what to hear what LeBron James is going to say to J.R. Smith on the court. That should be available to fans, along with the video game look and other customizable streams.

The league may have fan’s faces on video boards around the court and music pumped in, but this is just not going to look and feel the same. There may need to be a delay to keep some of the language off the air (that happens at sporting events anyway), but it would be fun to give the viewers the option, as ESPN did with The Last Dance.

Report: Rockets signing Luc Mbah a Moute

Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute
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Rockets forward Thabo Sefolosha is sitting out the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

Enter Luc Mbah a Moute.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like Sefolosha, Mbah a Moute is a versatile defensive forward who can make open 3-pointers and fits well into Houston’s system.

In theory.

Mbah a Moute, who played well for the Rockets in 2017-18, looked like a major loss when he left for the Clippers in 2018. But he has struggled to stay healthy. He hasn’t played in the NBA since October 2018. Houston worked out the 33-year-old in March – and didn’t sign him. That’s telling.

Expect Mbah a Moute to fall behind Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll and Danuel House on the Rockets’ depth chart. It’d be a good outcome for Houston if Mbah a Moute helps in spot minutes.

But if Mbah a Moute proves to be effective in a Rockets uniform, that’d at least look quite natural. We’ve seen it before.