The Timberwolves are nearing the midpoint of their season, the first in President Gersson Rosas’ tenure with the team. After Rosas took the job last spring, he promised to bring a revamped style of play, and the Wolves have done that this season by dramatically increasing their pace and the number of three-point shots they take. The results have been mixed. The team got off to a 10-8 start before an 11-game losing streak, but a 5-5 stretch since then has restored equilibrium.
Rosas has an eye for the future, as he said over the summer and reiterated recently when he sat down with the Star Tribune to talk about the direction of the Wolves. He touched on roster construction, Karl-Anthony Towns’ much discussed unhappiness with the franchise and player development in a conversation that has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Where does your record this season (15-24) fit in the puzzle when it comes to evaluating where you’re at?
A: I think it’s fair and I think you have to take record into consideration. Part of it is the execution of the vision, but it’s the reality of where you’re at. To be fair to our coaches and our players, we’re not ready-made or plug-and-play to just win. That’s going to come over time. For me and our leadership staff it’s not just when you lose, it’s how you win. ... Wins and losses are important. We look at it very closely, but what’s even more important is who we are and what our philosophy is. I’m more concerned about, and Coach [Ryan Saunders] has a good way of phrasing this, but winning the day. Before we can have playoff seasons and championships seasons and all that fun stuff, we have to be able to do all the little things right. ... For us, we’re living and breathing it every day, not just when we have a win or a loss. Our progress is not dictated by, ‘Hey, did we win today or lose today?’ Even when you win, what can we learn from it?
Q: You came in here and the salary cap situation was tight. How much of that, and freeing up the flexibility in the future, can help with bringing in personnel you deem a fit for what you want to do?
A: For us, it’s understanding what’s wrong and how can we improve it. It’s not putting a Band-Aid on it. The changes that have to be made have to be fundamental changes that are going to help us not only tonight and tomorrow but next year and the following year. ... Because of that, when you’re dealing with limited flexibility and limited resources you’ve got to get those things right. So the ability to address needs, to address upgrades, to help the system to be more effective and more optimal, those take long-term decisions and they can’t be a short-term view of it. For example, we have this debate internally that’s held externally: “Why do you guys keep shooting the threes, because you guys are a below-average shooting team?” It’s a constant battle of system vs. personnel. I tell our guys internally as well, as well as anybody externally, when you’re really good, you have both things. You have the right system, the right players. As you’re building an organization like we’re building now, a big reality is you have to have the system in place. We’re trying to get everything we can out of our personnel. But we’re building the system so as we improve, as we develop our talent, the system is in place.
Q: This is a fan base that has seen different leadership come in here and they haven’t had much success. What do you say to fans who haven’t tasted the playoffs but once since 2004, who might be skeptical that this is all going to eventually work out?
A: I love the passion, good or bad, that comes with the territory. And I invite it. I want the fans to know that we feel their pain, and it’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re not going to do the short-term fix. We’re not going to cut corners to get a win here, a win there. Or to just make it to the playoffs one year to say we’ve arrived. That’s already been tried here. What we want to build is a sustainable model that’s going to allow us to consistently be successful to build a contending team and have success at the highest level. The reality is that’s hard. It’s hard to develop players. It’s hard to develop a philosophy. It’s hard to develop a system. I know fans are going to be skeptical. We hear the plans, the ideas, the thoughts, and some of those fans until the results come are not going to be satisfied. But I’m confident in the fans who are here with us from the beginning, who are passionate and know what it takes to bring a winner into this town, because this is a great sports town.
Q: Another thing that fans get concerned about is they see these couple of reports pop up about Karl’s perceived unhappiness here in Minnesota. You’ve made no bones about him being the main building block here. How do you view those reports?
A: You know, the reality of it is I know in terms of what we control and that’s in this organization and this building. Everything that we’ve done is to help Karl be the best player he can be, the best person he can be. I know he really appreciates that. You look at the facts: He’s had his best season. We’re fully optimizing who he is, what he’s about. We’re challenging him as a player and as a leader to be the best that he can, and we have the potential to do something here that’s built around him to allow him to be the best player he can be. That will allow us to be the best organization and the best team we can be on the floor. We have an ownership group and a leadership group here that’s given us every resource to be successful. We’ve been aggressive at every step of the way during my short tenure here, whether it’s the draft or free agency, to bring in high-level talent. There’s going to be challenges along that path, but I’m extremely confident we’re on the same page and there’s full commitment from every level here to make this successful. There’s always noise in whatever pursuit you have. Unfortunately even though that noise is unwarranted or unconfirmed, we don’t allow that to distract us from our goal of building a championship organization here.
Q: One of the first moves you made was drafting Jarrett Culver. How would evaluate his progress?
A: No. 1, I think these are the ebb and flows, peak and valleys of being a rookie in the league. Greatness is ahead of him. Again, everybody wants to win now, wants to see finished products now. It doesn’t happen like that. I study our league, study development and study how things work out and you have to be very careful. A guy like Jarrett and his development, his growth is going to come over time. He’s a young player with a lot of potential and a lot of talent. … I get confident every day because there’s nobody that works harder than him, nobody that’s more committed and there are growing pains. You can’t ignore that. Do we wish he was a better shooter? Absolutely. Do we wish he was more consistent? Absolutely. But you can’t just focus on the negatives. For a rookie, his ability to guard and defend is special. His ability to playmake and create offense and get to the rim is very unique. What he’s doing in a semi-point guard role this year, for a guy at his age, with his skill set, is very exciting. History shows you that guys will improve their shooting. … We’re very excited about what he means for this organization now and in the future.