MINNEAPOLIS -- While being officially introduced as the man now in charge of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, May 6, Gersson Rosas calmly expressed a vision for the team’s future that somehow felt believable.
The Wolves’ new president of basketball operations talked about his nearly two decades with the Houston Rockets and how he helped build that franchise into an NBA title contender. He spoke of leaning into the league’s shift toward analytics and being part of something the perpetually struggling Timberwolves have never been able to achieve.
“There’s going to be tangible change,” Rosas said, “and this market is going to feel it.”
The most interesting thing Rosas addressed during the entire hourlong event was the most pressing interest of a team that took a step backward in 2018-19 after making the playoffs the previous season: Andrew Wiggins and his $148 million contract.
Wiggins and center Karl-Anthony Towns were the only two players Rosas referred to by name.
“I know Andrew is a very talented individual,” Rosas said. “I was fortunate to have seen him as a young player at the Hoop Summit, and I know what his potential is. I know what his impact could be. I’m going to invest every resource I can to help Andrew be successful.”
That sounds less like a man hoping to preserve what little trade value Wiggins has left and more like a man who truly believes he can fix the enigmatic swing man — and it feels as if maybe that was a prerequisite for this particular position.
Since former president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau prematurely inked Wiggins to a max contract a year and a half ago, owner Glen Taylor has seemed hellbent on defending it as the right move. It was the case before Thibodeau was run out of town midway through last season, and became even more apparent after interim coach Ryan Saunders took over.
No matter how much Wiggins was struggling, Saunders always made a point to stand up for him, going as far as making him the primary ball handler at times down the stretch. It’s pretty clear that whoever got this job had to be fan of Wiggins, or at least have a plan to get more out of him.
Whether that’s simply because Taylor likes him or because his contract is just about untradeable is, at this point, neither here nor there.
“To be fair to Andrew, it’s a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight.” Rosas said. “There have been different coaches. There have been different systems. There have been different platforms.
“The only thing that I can go off is the experiences that I have with Andrew. I’ve spoken with Andrew, he’s very motivated about this. He’s very excited about it. We are going to work him day in and day out, investing with him in every way possible to make him the best player.”
There is reason to believe Rosas might be able to help Wiggins improve, starting with his shot selection. Maddeningly inefficient last season, averaging 18.1 points on 41.2 percent shooting from the floor, Wiggins didn’t do himself any favors with his shot selection.
In the modern NBA, a mid-range jumper is almost universally viewed as a stupid shot, yet Wiggins made it the backbone of his offensive game. He attempted 180 shots from 15 to19 feet last season. The Rockets, by comparison, attempted 164 shots from that range. As a team.
Rosas was part of the front office that helped the Rockets shift into what became the modern NBA on steroids, a team whose offense was almost exclusively predicated on two shots: three-pointers and layups.
If Rosas brings a similar philosophy to the Timberwolves, and it sounds as if he will, could that be enough to help Wiggins became a useful player?
Wiggins, 24, might never be a player that deserves a max contract, but he almost certainly has more value as part of Minnesota’s roster than as a salary dump. This isn’t NBA 2K, where unloading an albatross contract is sometimes as simple as offering a lottery-protected pick to a team with a lot of salary cap space.
“I’m not going to find a player (on the market) that’s got a bigger upside than Andrew,” Rosas said. “He’s a very talented individual. He’s got a ton of physical tools. He’s a great kid. We have to mature him into a great player. That’s our responsibility. We have to do everything possible from a front-office side, from a coaching side, from player development, to help him.”
It almost sounds as if Rosas knows that his tenure in the Twin Cities depends on how he handles Wiggins.