Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.
Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.
Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.
Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.
The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.
The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.
Gersson Rosas when asked about Karl-Anthony Towns’ defensive impact:
“As he goes we’re going to go… You’ll see Ryan use him creatively on the defensive end.”
Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.
Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.
First five picks of 2018 NBA draft make All-Rookie first team
This is only the second time the top five picks all made the ensuing All-Rookie first team. The other: 1984-85, when the top five picks were:
1. Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon
2. Trail Blazers: Sam Bowie
3. Bulls: Michael Jordan
4. Mavericks: Sam Perkins
5. 76ers: Charles Barkley
I don’t think voters erred by favoring bigger-name players this year. I had the same first-team picks.
My only quibble: I would’ve put Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson on the second team over Kevin Huerter and Collin Sexton. Sexton made incredible strides during the season, but focusing on that obscures his awful start in what I think should be a full-season assessment. His box plus-minus (-5.2) is the worst ever for an All-Rookie teamer since Adam Morrison in 2007 (-5.5).
But if Sexton continues on the track he showed within the season, nobody will view him as another bust.
This is an impressive rookie class, led by Doncic. This will be the first of many honors for several of these players.
Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Portland wins ‘weird game’ to tie series with Denver
The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) In weird game Denver can’t buy a bucket, Portland escapes with a win to tie series 1-1.Nikola Jokic summed it up well:
“It was a weird game for us. They didn’t even play that good, to be honest. They can play better than that. Weird game, weird day.”
Weird in that Denver just could not buy a bucket. Not just weird in the Nuggets shooting 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from three and going 0-of-10 in the second quarter. Rather, weird as in Denver grabbing 23 offensive rebounds (38.6 percent of their missed shots) but shooting just 6-of-17 on chip-shot putback attempts. Weird in that Nuggets guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris were 2-of-13 from three and combined to shoot 33.3 percent overall on the night. Weird in that the Nuggets shot 14-of-45 (31.1 percent) on uncontested shots (via NBA.com). Weird in that Portland had an offensive rating of just 102.1 for the game, but that was enough to have them comfortably ahead most of the night as Denver scored less than a point per possession.
Weird, physical, whatever you want to call it, the Trail Blazers will take it. Portland was the more aggressive team, earned the 97-90 win and evened the series at 1-1 heading back to Portland for Game 3.
The game certainly was physical. Nobody got that worse than Denver’s Torry Craig, who suffered a “nasal contusion” when diving for a loose rebound and his face hit the back of teammate Monte Morris’ leg. Craig returned to play with a mask (something he had fitted back in the preseason), and he ended up on the ground late in the game, which sparked a confrontation (see item two).
It was a weird game in that Portland’s Enes Kanter may have had a better game than Nikola Jokic. At least he did in terms of what their respective teams need out of them. Jokic had 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting, he had seven assists (he assisted on 38.9 percent of his teammate’s buckets when on the court, still an impressive percentage), but would have had a lot more if guys had just made shots. Jokic was still making passes like this.
Kanter had 15 points on 10-of-15 shooting and played solid, physical defense down low with Jokic. Kanter came into these playoffs with the Billy Donovan “can’t play Kanter” reputation because of his pick-and-roll defense and what happened to him in previous playoffs, but give the man credit, he has stepped up and performed well in the absence of Jusuf Nurkic this postseason.
CJ McCollum had 20 points for Portland, even if it took 20 shots to get there.
This game felt like a one-off for the series. There were adjustments, but both teams struggled just to make shots they usually hit that it’s tough to tell what worked and what didn’t. Denver needs to attack earlier when the threes aren’t falling, but aside that this was more about missed opportunities than anything else.
Portland does not care. It’s a win. The series is tied and the Trail Blazers are heading home.
2) Late game scuffle could lead to suspensions for Nuggets, Trail Blazers. With 43.5 seconds remaining in Game 2, Damian Lillard sank a free throw that put Portland up seven. That’s when a weird game had it’s “fight.”
Denver called a time out after the free throw, but before that was really heard players started to move back down to the end of the court. Nikola Jokic shoves Enes Kanter, who is off-balance and collides with the already-injured Torrey Craig and knocks the masked man down. Then Jamal Murray and Gary Harris confront Kanter for knocking down Craig and there is a typical NBA “fight” at mid-court with a lot of pushing and posing but no actual punches.
The NBA rule is clear: Leave a bench during a fight and the player gets a one-game suspension.
However, there had been a timeout called, and when that happens players often leave the bench to greet teammates coming off the court. Plus, there was no game action.
Will the league suspend players, or just fine them saying there was a time out in the action? My guess is the latter, nobody misses time, but the league is unpredictable on these matters.
There is more riding on this for Portland because the only player who came off the bench for either team that is in the playoff rotation is Turner. His loss would be felt if he misses a game, especially if Maurice Harkless remains out with the ankle sprain he suffered back in the first quarter.
3) Minnesota finds its man in Gersson Rosas to head up their basketball operations. The Timberwolves did things backwards: owner Glen Taylor wanted to keep coach Ryan Saunders and general manager Scott Layden, but wanted to hire their new boss. Whoever was going to head basketball operations in Minnesota was not going to get to hire his own team under him, he was inheriting one.
That person is Gersson Rosas, the right-hand man to Daryl Morey in Houston, according to multiple reports out of Minnesota.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are hiring Houston’s Gersson Rosas as the franchise’s next President of Basketball Operations, league sources tell ESPN.
This is a milestone. Rosas will be the first Latino to lead a basketball operations department in the NBA (Rosas was born in Bogata, Columbia). Rosas has earned his shot.
Rosas technically has been a GM before. He was hired by Dallas back in 2013 for that role, but walked away from it three months later. Rosas thought he would have decision-making power in Dallas, but the hammer still belonged to Mavs president Donnie Nelson (not to mention owner Mark Cuban).
This time Rosas has the hammer… and a lot of work to do.
On the bright side, the Timberwolves have an elite center and franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns. That level of player is the hardest to get, and Towns seemed to connect with Saunders as coach (now Saunders just needs to get Towns to play consistent defense.
Building an elite team around Towns will be the challenge. Mostly because of a couple anchor contracts — Andrew Wiggins (four years, $122 million remaining), Gorgui Dieng (two years, $33.5 million remaining). Minnesota also has to pay Jeff Teague $19 million next season after he opted in, although at least he contributes a lot on the court. Those guys, however, make it very difficult to maneuver under the cap and bring in more talent.
There are other assets. Robert Covington was mostly hurt after coming over from Philly in a trade but he can be the kind of wing defender the Timberwolves need. Josh Okogie showed promise as a rookie, and they have Dario Saric, who is a solid rotation player and developing. If Teague plays well and everyone stays healthy this could be a playoff team next season. That would be a start.
But Rosas has a lot of work ahead of him to take advantage of Towns’ prime.
Report: Timberwolves hiring Rockets’ Gersson Rosas as president
He said it wasn’t the right fit, reportedly because he didn’t have enough power beneath Mavericks president Donnie Nelson and owner Mark Cuban. Rosas returned to Houston to again work under Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Rosas has been a perennial job candidate around the league ever since.
He and another team have finally found what each deems the right match.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
The Minnesota Timberwolves are hiring Houston’s Gersson Rosas as the franchise’s next President of Basketball Operations, league sources tell ESPN.
Considering his issues in Dallas, it’s surprising Rosas took this job. Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor seemed to prefer keeping general manager Scott Layden and coach Ryan Saunders, reportedly going as far as negotiating a new contract for Saunders before hiring a team president. That’s not exactly an encouraging development for potential presidents.
Hopefully for him, Rosas knows what he’s walking into this time. It’s hard to believe he’d repeat the mistake of taking a job that offers less-than-expected authority.
Maybe Rosas just happens to like Layden and Saunders as much as Taylor does. Maybe Taylor relented and granted Rosas authority to choose his own general manager and coach.
At the very minimum, talking Taylor out of keeping Layden and/or Saunders – especially Saunders – would require Rosas using some of his capital already. Juxtapose that with Magic president Jeff Weltman, who has yet to put a strong stamp on Orlando’s roster and has therefore delayed judgment on his job.
Beyond potentially tricky internal politics, Rosas inherits a middling roster. The Timberwolves have a young star in Karl-Anthony Towns and little cap flexibility. Wiggins (four years, $122,242,800 remaining), Gorgui Dieng (two years, $33,516,853 remaining) and arguably Jeff Teague (one year, $19 million remaining) have burdensome contracts. Barring major lottery luck, Minnesota is already too good to secure a very high draft pick.
If Towns improves his ability to affect games, especially defensively… if Robert Covington stays healthy… if Teague plays well in a contract year… if Dario Saric and Josh Okogie continue on their developmental tracks… if the Timberwolves have the right coach… they could compete for a playoff spot next year. It’s not much of a leap at all.
But assuming the goal is greater than competing for a low playoff seed, Rosas has his work cut out for him – even with a massive head start in Towns.
This is the deepest rookie class in years, which made this more challenging to pick than other seasons. A lot of years Mikal Bridges, Josh Okogie, Jalen Brunson, Rodions Kurucs and others might well have made the cut. Also, I was close to putting Jaren Jackson Jr. on the second team because he played only 58 games, but his impact was too great in those games to leave him off. In five years I believe we may call Jackson the best player in this class.
Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Trae Young, Hawks
Deandre Ayton, Suns
Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies
Marvin Bagley III, Kings
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
Mikal Bridges, Suns
Landry Shamet, Clippers
Jalen Brunson, Mavericks
Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Deandre Ayton were first-team locks. Despite his season ending in February, Jaren Jackson Jr. still ranks 14th among rookies in minutes. Considering his stellar two-way play, that’s enough to get him on the first team. Not much separated Marvin Bagley III and the first four players on the second team, but I gave the nod to the Kings big for his ability to handle a large load without much veteran support. I pick All-Rookie teams based only on what players contribute their first season, not long-term potential. So, the polished Jalen Brunson took the last spot over several more-promising alternatives.
These teams are not defined by the top guys, who were well known before the season started, but by the guys who came on strong during the year. Bagley, Sexton, and Shamet stand out in that regard. There’s a couple of great stories squirreled away here, including the Sacramento Kings basically needing Bagley to perform. Sexton recovered from the beginning of the season, when veterans were openly groaning about his play. Jaren Jackson has been overshadowed but looks like a pivotal franchise cornerstone. There’s a lot to look from out of this group, and this ranking isn’t anywhere set in stone.