MINNEAPOLIS -- In their search for a new president of basketball operations, the Minnesota Timberwolves made clear the future was strictly for the new boss to determine, CEO Ethan Casson said.
Now that he’s been hired, a series of weighty decisions fall into Gersson Rosas’ lap, none larger than whether Ryan Saunders will become the Wolves’ permanent head coach, or whether Scott Layden will stay on as general manager.
Below them: the rest of basketball operations department, many of whom have expiring contracts.
“I’m very sympathetic to the group here, and it’s very important to me,” Rosas said. “From the day that Glen gave me the responsibility to evaluate the organization from top to bottom, my focus has been to find partners throughout the organization that can work together so I can put them in a position to be successful, so they can put us in a position to be successful.”
Rosas said both Saunders and Layden did “a very commendable job” after Thibodeau was fired as president of basketball ops in January, particularly given the fact that team also had lost one of its best players when Jimmy Butler was traded to Philadelphia in November.
“I look forward now to sitting down and visiting with them and talking about the organization,” said Rosas, who spoke to Saunders and Layden during his interview process. “That’s a major objective we want to address here sooner rather than later.”
In a head coach, Rosas said, leadership is critical, noting the NBA game is now played by “a different generation of player.”
“You’ve got to be able to bring a group together. You’ve got to be able to communicate,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to connect while at the same time being able to hold them accountable.”
To Saunders’ credit, Timberwolves players to a man said the interim coach did all of those things down the stretch last season, even after the injury-ravaged squad fell out of playoff contention.
That’s one of the reasons Casson feels Saunders did “an incredible job, not just with the time in which he took over the team.” The CEO also noted that Taylor’s feelings about Saunders, all positive, have been well publicized.
Still, Saunders’ fate is in Rosas’ hands.
“We want to make those decisions as quickly as possible,” Casson said. “We have key dates coming up: [The] Chicago [draft combine next week], the (May 14) lottery. Everything that has to happen fast is going to happen fast, and we want to move as quickly as possible.”
Whoever Rosas tabs as his head coach will be a part of team. No longer, he said, is coaching a one-man operation.
“The way I look at coaching is the whole staff,” he said. “We have to do a great job of putting the best basketball coaching staff here, top to bottom. And a little like a football model — the head coach who runs the program, an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, a player development coordinator, a game plans coordinator. That’s going to be our vision.”
In Houston, while Mike D’Antoni is an offensive guru, associate coach Jeff Bzdelik is largely credited with the Rockets’ defensive success.
“We feel like there’s a lot of value in that, but we want to put people at high-end value in terms of talent, to allow them to have success here and so we can have success in the future,” Rosas said.
As for the front office, Rosas knows what it’s like to be left in limbo during front-office turnover. His future in Houston was uncertain when Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey was hired in 2007 but he was given a chance. Rosas could do the same for members of the Wolves’ front office.
“I want to know what’s here — strengths and weaknesses — and then we’ll address it,” he said. “I’ve been through it, I’ve lived it, I’ve benefited from it. Daryl gave me an opportunity when he came in and it changed my career. I’m confident there’s individuals like that here in this organization, on the coaching side, on the front office side, that needs to be activated and need to be given an opportunity to have success.
“But at the same time, the plans mandate to build a world-class organization … and we’re going to bring in high-level people here, and over time I would love this organization to be a hotbed for future coaches and future GMs because of the success we’re having.”