Are M-Lo and A-Rod building the best organization in the sordid history of the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Is it possible that the futurist who thinks that “Dune” is a documentary and the former player who alienated his entire previous sport are turning the Woebegone Wolfies into a model organization?
Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, the Wolves’ incoming owners, hired Tim Connelly away from the Denver Nuggets at a price point of $40 million. 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, the Wolves fired their top basketball executive, Gersson Rosas. In timing and impact, it was of a piece with most of Wolves history—embarrassing, ill-timed and damaging.
Since then, the Wolves have:
- Doubled their regular-season victory total, from 23 in 2020-21 to 46 in 2021-22.
- Watched Anthony Edwards develop into one of the most intriguing young stars in the NBA.
- Won a play-in game and pushed the Memphis Grizzlies, the team with the second-best record in the NBA, to six games in the first round of the playoffs.
- Reinvigorated a dormant fan base.
- Developed a roster so deep that former first-round pick Josh Okogie, who had been a starter, had trouble finding playing time.
- Extended the contract of Chris Finch, one of the most important people in the organization.
- Demonstrated an intent to build the deepest front office in franchise history, led by Connelly, Sachin Gupta and Lloyd, three respected NBA figures.
The Wolves have had stars before. They have employed good coaches before. They have never before built an organization that could claim depth of experience and expertise as a strength.
Roster depth is important. It’s also fluid in a league with a salary cap.
What Lore and Rodriguez are demonstrating is an understanding of how wealth can be used as an advantage in the portion of the organization not restricted by a salary cap.
What we are seeing is a transition from Glen Taylor’s franchise, which was built on handshakes and familiarity, to the Lo-Rod Wolves, who are demonstrating an eagerness to maximize experience and expertise, no matter the cost.
We’ve seen this in other local franchises.
The Vikings have 29 coaches, if you include their strength and conditioning staff. Given that only 46 players can dress for a game, a coaching staff this size seems ridiculous. But if you are a billionaire running a billion-dollar franchise and you are intent on winning, why would you not employ any coach who might make a difference?
The Twins had success under General Manager Terry Ryan and his tight-knit staff in the 2000s. Under President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey, the Twins have spent literally untold millions building out their front office and analytics department.
Ryan could fit all of his trusted advisers 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 larger, better-funded, more experienced front offices would not have drafted Ndudi Ebi, Jonny Flynn, Jarrett Culver or Kris Dunn.
A larger front office doesn’t guarantee brilliance, but it should insulate an organization against unforced errors.
And this isn’t the Wolves blindly throwing money at a problem. Connelly and Lloyd are both highly respected and known for working well with others. If anyone in the NBA can blend new hires and existing employees, it would seem to be Connelly.
Lore and Rodriguez are hard to trust on several fronts. They have no ties to Minnesota. They could threaten to move the team if they don’t get a new arena, even though the NBA would be foolish to allow them to leave, both because the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is a quality basketball market and because allowing a team to relocate erases a lucrative expansion site.
Lore acts like a wide-eyed fan around Wolves players. Rodriguez was one of the least-liked players in modern baseball history.
But if this is the way they are going to operate, hiring the best possible people regardless of expense, they might quickly become a force in the NBA.