NBA Rumor: Timberwolves Front Office

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Scott Layden done with Wolves

The Timberwolves and general manager Scott Layden have parted ways, sources told The Athletic, a move that brings an end to the last vestiges of the Tom Thibodeau era in Minnesota. The two sides reached an agreement earlier this week, just two weeks before Layden would have started his fifth season as a member of the Wolves front office. Layden had one season left on the contract he signed in 2016 and remained an involved member of the front office even after Thibodeau was replaced by Gersson Rosas as president of basketball operations. But several factors and an upcoming season complicated by COVID-19 combined to make this the right time to part, sources said.

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But Layden is based in New York, and given the NBA’s strict tiered worker protocol, which is designed to try to limit the exposure of players, coaches and staff to COVID-19 this season, it would have been difficult for him to be able to travel to the Twin Cities and be around the team without going through cumbersome isolation procedures each time. There was also a contractual matter that had to be resolved, sources said. His existing deal was set to expire in April, but the new season has been extended into May before the playoffs begin. All of that would have made this season all the more difficult to navigate, and so Layden is moving on, as was expected to eventually happen when Rosas first took over.

What most are aware of is that throughout his 2 1/2 seasons in charge, Thibodeau was in charge. There was a level of communication with Layden and his staff. But ultimately Thibodeau made most decisions, from the return for Butler to the color of the benches in the weight room. Taylor hoped that Layden would be another strong voice in the room, but his loyalty and support for Thibodeau never wavered. That is what made it so surprising when Layden was one of the people, along with CEO Ethan Casson, who had to deliver the news to Thibodeau that he was fired.

On any given day, 14 to 16 people — scouts, analysts, coaches, even medical personnel — gather in that room. They all undergo daily testing for the coronavirus, then study game film before engaging in spirited but congenial debate. “Let’s say we study a group of players over several days,” Gupta said. “At the end of that, everyone will do their rankings and we’ll have a voting exercise, and we’ll compile that and discuss that some more. Generally, it’s a democracy.”

Branch has had to lean on every bit of his experience, personal and professional, to emerge as a pivotal part of the Timberwolves’ march forward through such harrowing circumstances. The adjunct professor in him has helped put together team meetings featuring guest speakers on the subject of law enforcement interaction with people of color. The youth mentor in him has tried to shift the focus from the anger generated from watching Floyd die at the hands of Minneapolis police to resourcefulness in finding solutions to the problems with which they are confronted. The agent and executive in him has helped do all of that while continuing to evaluate talent for the draft and give input on the team’s path forward after a 19-45 first season that ended prematurely due to a global pandemic. “The guy has been a godsend for us,” Rosas said.

When Branch first decided to take the job last summer, he knew he would be helping Rosas to rebuild a basketball team. Now he finds himself trying to rebuild a community as well. They are doing it all while preparing for the draft, free agency and a crucial second season in charge. If they can get things on track on the court, the opportunities for Branch will keep coming. “I believe in him a ton and believe he’s going to be a star in this league,” Rosas said. “We have to continue to hire high-caliber people in our organization because I believe guys like Sachin, Gianluca and Joe are going to be running their own programs at some point.”

Rosas wasn’t hiding much in those statements, because as Rosas marks his one-year anniversary on the job, the Wolves roster looks nothing like the one he inherited — and even nothing like the one he assembled after his first free-agent cycle. Just Josh Okogie and Karl-Anthony Towns remain from the roster Rosas inherited. Several came in the days preceding the trade deadline: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, James Johnson and the apple of Rosas’ eye from the moment he took the job, D’Angelo Russell. “Building an organization, building a foundation, the DNA and the values of who we’re going to be, I feel like we’ve done that in a very tangible way after Year 1,” Rosas said in a phone interview. “Roster-wise, our front office staff deserves a ton of credit because as we sit here, we’ve changed over 13 out of 15 roster spots. … That typically takes organizations two to three years. That we were able to do it by the trade deadline was quite an achievement for our staff.”

Along those lines, Towns offered his support of the front office and said he didn’t want to interfere on personnel matters, leaving it to Rosas. But when the subject came around to the Wolves potentially trading Robert Covington, one of Towns’ best friends on the team, Towns expressed his desire for Covington to remain a Timberwolf. First, after the Wolves’ 113-109 loss to the Kings, Towns was asked if he was going to have a voice in what Rosas may decide to do this week. He said he wasn’t going to have one, nor did he want one. “My stand on that is they get paid to do that,” Towns said. “I get paid to be on the court and make the things happen. So I’m going to do the best I can for my job. My job title is to be a basketball player, be a leader and take whatever guys I’m blessed to play with, share this locker room with and try to get the best out of them while getting the best out of me. That’s my job. My job is not to make decisions roster-wise or anything like that.”

Rosas was invited to Capitol Hill by a friend of his, political consultant Larry Gonzalez, who works closely with lawmakers on the all-Democrat caucus. The two met through a Google Next Generation leadership group that focuses on minorities. When Gonzalez read that Rosas was the first Latino general manager in NBA history, he wanted to make sure the members of the caucus heard his story and what he’s trying to do to advance their community. “They want to hear and see that there is opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “There are, unfortunately, some situations where some folks make it and don’t necessarily put the ladder back down for others to get up. I think that’s a big part of his story.”

Gupta may not have the same kind of name recognition that Morey or Hinkie have earned during their envelope-pushing tenures leading front offices, but chances are he has had a more direct impact on NBA fans than either one of his more well-known bosses. Before he joined Morey in Houston, he was an engineer at ESPN.com and was assigned to work on parsing data for the NBA and college basketball that came in through third-party providers. While there he wrote the code for the Trade Machine, the incredibly addictive online tool that synthesized a byzantine set of rules and regulations and helped make amateur GMs out of anyone with an internet connection.

In some ways, the Timberwolves present Gupta’s biggest challenge yet. They have a franchise player in Karl-Anthony Towns, but a capsheet that is stuffed with bloated salaries that make finding a path back to relevance in the loaded Western Conference anything but easy. Constructing a winner in Minnesota has proven to be a daunting, complicated endeavor. On the scale of difficulty, it probably lies somewhere between pulling a calf into a ring in the middle of a football stadium and constructing an online trading tool from scratch.

Like he always does, Gupta will look at the problem and try to simplify it as much as possible. In Rosas, he has a leader he trusts and admires. In Ryan Saunders, he has found a coach open to collaboration, so much so that Saunders has a member of the analytics staff behind the bench this season. In Towns, he has a perennial All-Star who hasn’t yet reached his prime. It doesn’t guarantee success. But it’s a start. “Every place I’ve worked, I’ve loved it and it’s been great people,” Gupta said. “But the alignment here is pretty special in a way that I haven’t seen before. I’m really excited about the integration we’re going to have with the coaching staff. It’s been special.”

Your name remains associated with front-office openings. This past offseason you were a finalist for the top Timberwolves post. What are your aspirations currently? Chauncey Billups: “I liked the Minnesota situation. They have some good people. I love (owner Glen Taylor) so I was attracted to the situation. Interviewed well, but obviously they went with Gersson Rosas, who was a very good candidate and I’m sure will do a terrific job. But even with that situation, they reached out to me.”

Zach Lowe: Gersson Rosas has taken another big step re-shaping Wolves. Sources say MIN has hired Robby Sikka to revamp its sports science infrastructure. Sikka is CEO of the Sports Medicine Analytics Research Team + has consulted for teams in NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL. Very well-regarded. Sikka will serve as Minnesota’s Vice President of Basketball Performance and Technology, sources say. He will give up consulting gigs to focus entirely on the Wolves and have authority to hire staff. Signal that MIN will go all-in on an increasingly important area.

Dane Moore: Gersson Rosas said he has spoken with Andrew Wiggins. The Timberwolves new POBO seems very committed to Wiggins and developing a 24-year-old who has played for numerous coaches in numerous systems over his five-year career. Rosas on Wiggins: pic.twitter.com/gkKqDZltOI

The Wolves are looking for a new President of Basketball Operations, the team confirmed Wednesday morning in a news release. That hire will help make decisions regarding the future of the franchise, including who will be the general manager and who will be the coach. “The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves continues to be very bright,” said Wolves owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, in the release. “It’s more important than ever that we find a leader who can build a successful team in today’s fast-paced NBA. We have the cornerstones of a very talented team and need to assemble the final pieces that will elevate us into a playoff team and one that can compete for championships.”

But there is a strong push internally to change the perception of the Wolves franchise, both locally and across the league. They are trying to shed the image of the penny-pinching, bumbling team of yesteryear and go looking for a dynamic leader to help them address the myriad issues they have this summer. Familiar faces like ESPN commentator Chauncey Billups, a former Timberwolves player, and Denver Nuggets assistant GM Calvin Booth, a former Wolves scout, will certainly be mentioned as possible candidates. But the Wolves will also look outside of Taylor’s sphere, sources said, as they search for their next leader.

Alston hasn’t played in the NBA since 2010, never made an All-Star Game or won a championship. But he still stands out in a crowd because as much as people remember Rafer Alston, they never forget “Skip To My Lou.” Alston has spent his entire basketball life reinventing himself at every turn. The trail-blazing streetballer. The college vagabond who eventually became a disciple of Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State. The seldom-used rookie in Milwaukee. The invaluable floor general in Miami, Houston and Orlando. … Now that his playing days are over, Alston has found a new calling that he didn’t expect. After wanting to get into coaching, he took a scouting job with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. Just as he has his entire career, Alston is changing and adapting to make sure that he is not so easily dismissed.

Rumbles persist that Glen Taylor, the Wolves’ owner, remains interested in bringing his former point guard Chauncey Billups back to town to run the front office. Yet skepticism also persists about Taylor’s ability to make an offer attractive enough to lure Billups from his analyst job at ESPN. Calvin Booth, a Denver executive who the Nuggets hired away from the Timberwolves before the 2017-18 season, is increasingly mentioned as a strong candidate to replace Layden if Taylor does make a change.

It​ was​ nearly​ midnight​ inside the Citizen Hotel in downtown​ Sacramento on​ Friday,​ and Minnesota Timberwolves​ general​ manager​​ Scott Layden was the only one in the crowded room still working. … It was time to put the Jimmy Butler saga out to pasture. I had no clue at the time that the Timberwolves had reached their breaking point. Layden was clearly focused on his conversation, and so I waved from a distance and offered a thumbs up as a way of saying hello in the most placid way possible. To my surprise, Layden — who had spent these past two months giving thumbs downs to every trade offer that came their way — offered a thumbs up in return. Little did I know: The T-Wolves were finally going to say yes.

Shortly after that meeting, Butler had a conversation with Taylor to get the ball rolling on an exit strategy. Taylor was more open to the idea than Thibodeau was initially and promised to pursue all avenues to grant his request, sources said. The owner told Thibodeau and Layden on Sept. 22 to be proactive in seeking out possibilities to bring to his desk, but what followed was a mind-numbing process filled with mixed messages. Thibodeau and Layden took hard-line stances in negotiations, according to team sources who entered into the talks. Several owners reached out to Taylor directly, and while those conversations felt more productive, Taylor resisted calls to make a unilateral move.

There are people close to this situation who strongly believe that Thibs’ time in Minnesota is already unofficially over. That being said, two key factors will be taken into consideration: Money, and timing. While the $24 million he’s still owed obviously pales in comparison to what the T-Wolves’ young cornerstones are hauling in, it’s still … $24 million. Thibodeau’s arrival in April of 2016 was a big moment for this franchise that had been in the dark for quite some time, and let’s not forget that — dysfunction be darned — it was his team that broke the 14-year playoff drought.

Butler showed up to practice late and just subbed himself into the scrimmage on the third team to go against the starting group, league sources said. Throughout the practice, Butler verbally bashed Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, president of basketball operations/coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden, league sources said. Screaming from the top of his lungs, Butler uttered taunts at his teammates such as “They ain’t [expletive]!” and “They soft!”, league sources said. Most of the players knew the invectives were directed at Towns and Wiggins, league sources said.

Team owner Glen Taylor has engaged in discussions with teams about a possible trade, but those teams have been rebuffed by Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden when contacted directly, a bizarre dynamic that has several executives around the league scratching their heads. Given the chaotic nature of the situation, Butler sought and has been granted permission not to appear at the team’s media day on Monday, when every player on the roster answers questions from the media and poses for photos with teammates.

Players on the team have been searching for answers, but Thibodeau has held firm to this point, sources said. Teams continue to reach out to the Wolves to gauge their interest and begin trade talks, only to be told that Butler is not available. If this is some kind of renegade negotiating strategy aimed at causing confusion and muddying the waters, it’s working. Members of other front offices don’t know whom to contact or what to believe. But nearly all of them expect Taylor to eventually shepherd a deal to the finish line.
2 years ago via ESPN

A meeting set between Minnesota Timberwolves four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and president of basketball operations/coach Tom Thibodeau is expected to set the tone for Butler’s final season under contract — and his impending free agency in July, league sources told ESPN on Saturday. Just days before the start of training camp in Minneapolis, Butler and his agent, Bernie Lee, are planning to meet with Thibodeau on Monday in Minneapolis for what’s expected to be a serious conversation on the franchise’s fragile state, sources said.
2 years ago via ESPN

There were even doubts internally, so much so that Rose needed assurances that the organization was on board with the move before he made the final agreement to come to Minnesota, league sources told The Athletic. Through it all, questions about Rose’s character, his health and his state of mind, Thibodeau has never flinched. “He’s got great instincts,” Thibodeau said as the regular season drew to a close. “You’re just seeing the tip of it. This year has been basically a lost year, but he’s super-talented. That’s why we picked him up. He’s played very well for us.”

At some point, Wolves coach/pres­i­dent of basket­ball op­er­ations Tom Thib­o­deau, General Man­ag­er Scott Lay­den and, of course, own­er Glen Tay­lor must de­cide how much they can af­ford and with whom they can sur­round three play­ers earn­ing max con­tracts. “We’ve been plan­ning,” Thib­o­deau said. “We’re wor­ried a­bout not only now, but we have to be sure we put the best team on the floor we can. That’s a big part of this. The big­gest thing is ev­er­y­one con­cen­trat­ing on us win­ning. We don’t want to get lost in any­thing but chas­ing ex­cel­lence.”

The latter has since been a consultant for some NBA teams and now has emerged as a serious candidate for the Milwaukee Bucks’ vacant assistant general manager’s position. Newton, who had been Washington’s vice president of player personnel before working in Minnesota, met with Bucks officials earlier this week in Las Vegas. Among the Bucks’ contingent was recently-hired general manager Jon Horst and head coach Jason Kidd. Newton is one of several individuals under consideration for the assistant GM job, which became vacant when the Bucks fired Justin Zanik.

WHEN YOU WENT BACK TO THE TIMBERWOLVES, YOU TALKED ABOUT HAVING A BIGGER ROLE IN THE ORGANIZATION. GETTING A STAKE IN THE TEAM, HAVING A ROLE IN THE FRONT OFFICE, MAYBE EVEN ONE DAY BEING THE MAJORITY OWNER. IS THAT STILL A GOAL OF YOURS? Kevin Garnett: It seemed like it was perfect for how Flip organized and put it together and designed it. Obviously when he left us, Glen saw differently and wanted to go a different way. I’ve always said I wanted to be a part of an organization that is about winning more progressively, in that direction. Minnesota seemed like a perfect fit for that. That has changed. I don’t see myself doing that any time soon, but that still is a goal of mine. I would like to be part of an organization that is part of winning, that I can help the young guys progress. So that’s still a dream but not a priority at this point.
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Russell has always justified his reasons for the Wolves’ struggles to newness. They have the youngest roster in the NBA and have been missing Towns for most of the season. Rubio said he is fine with playing off the ball if it adds winning to the mix. “Whatever the team needs, and if it’s playing off the ball, it’s going to take some time, because I have to learn and I have to know my teammates better and know my game and how to play off the ball,” Rubio said. “It’s a challenge, and it takes you to uncomfortable zones, but it’s a learning process. You don’t learn something from one day to another. It’s step by step.”