MINNEAPOLISN -- Throughout a long career spent in various roles in an NBA front office, Gersson Rosas often thought about how he would run his own organization when finally given the opportunity.
How would his organization attack things? What would be its values? How would it be represented?
Sunday, may 2, marks the one-year anniversary of Rosas being hired as Timberwolves president of basketball operations. And 365 days into his tenure, he’s been able to show how he wants to tackle just about anything. Because already, Rosas has just about seen and dealt with everything.
Since Rosas took over, the Timberwolves have rebuilt their front office and coaching staff, watched a good start become a 13-game losing streak this year, and rebuilt the roster with a massed deadline trade.
Currently, the Wolves are in competitive limbo, waiting to see of the season paused March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and coping with personal losses among team members, most notably Karl-Anthony Towns losing his mother, Jackie, to COVID-19 last month.
“There’s a lot that has happened this year,” Rosas said, “and as crazy as it seems, especially with the pandemic and everything that’s going on, in knowing what I know now, I’m grateful for everything that’s happened.”
Not so that it happened, but that Rosas and the Timberwolves have been able to be a positive presence for members of their organization and beyond.
“It’s been challenging and trying,” Rosas said, “but whether through success, failure and even tragedy, it’s really given us an opportunity to stand up and show and personalize our beliefs and our philosophies and our values as best as we can. … I’m proud of that.
“It’s been a tough year in that a lot has happened, but it’s also been a very fulfilling year in a lot of ways, both on the court and off the court.”
Off the court, Rosas always notes, his life is centered on “family,” both in his personal life and professionally. He has preached that “family” mentality to those involved with the organization, and players have spoken highly about the way they’ve been treated by management this season.
In that way, Rosas has practiced what he’s preached.
“A lot of times it sounds good, it looks good in a presentation or an interview, but to live it and to respond to it and to know that hey, ‘We’re not perfect, we don’t have everything figured out, but we’re a family and we’re going to get through this together,’ ” he said. “Whether it’s losing streaks, trades or injuries, or whatever the case may be, we’ve been fortunate to have built an identity in the organization.”
And of himself as an executive, Rosas said the situations he’s encountered this year have forced him to stick to his values and beliefs, noting, “You can’t stray away from that when it becomes more than basketball.”
Rosas believes the way everyone in the organization has responded to adversity has been “a confirmation that we have the right people in place to do something special here in Minnesota.
“We’ve had some trying times here recently, and some things we’ve had to go through, and as a result, that’s revealed a lot of our character and a lot of who we are.”
For Rosas, Year 1 was about establishing the organization’s identity, establishing a culture and changing the environment. That included the philosophy, approach and character, and encompassing all of that to determine a “way of life.” He wants the Timberwolves to attack challenges and capitalize on opportunities. He’s proud of the alignment between all levels of the organization.
But it also was about changing the roster and molding it into one that fits his staff’s beliefs and vision. That process took leaps forward over the past 365 days. In that time, Rosas and Co. managed to flip 13 of the 15 roster spots. The only players remaining from when he took over are Towns and guard Josh Okogie.
That type of transformation typically takes place over the course of years, not months. There were a number of players who have come and gone since Rosas took over. He called that process “painful,” but necessary.
With building blocks in Towns and D’Angelo Russell, acquisitions like Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, young players such as Okogie, Naz Reid and Jarrett Culver and a veteran presence in James Johnson, Rosas thinks the Wolves have “taken a major step forward in terms of our player identity.”
That’s what Rosas wanted to do when he got here, but not something he assumed would be accomplished in his first season. He said the front office is “pleasantly surprised” the team is this far along in the building process. Rosas said the transactions made this season required diligence and effort by all involved. He credits owners Glen and Becky Taylor for supplying resources and support, and coach Ryan Saunders for keeping the team and players on the same page throughout.
“Realistically, we’ve been aggressive,” Rosas said. “That’s our M.O. We’re going to be aggressive. We’ve got great a staff in place that is going to research every and any opportunity to improve this ball club … and when we were in a place that we could execute what we executed at the trade deadline, it really pushed our program forward.
“I wanted to be diligent, be thorough with our evaluation of our organization and make sure that we made changes and moves with purpose in mind, not just for the sake of making trades and making changes, and we were able to do that.”
Rosas said his staff is using the same diligence during the pandemic to determine the organization’s approach and to gather information. The Wolves touch base with as many other pro sports teams — domestic and international — and corporate experts daily to educate themselves about what others are doing and thinking about ways to better prepare themselves for what is to come. That includes evelopment, technology, the draft and returning to play.
“We need to know what’s going on outside of our four walls,” Rosas said. “We don’t know when the bell is going to ring, but we’re going to be prepared. … We know who we are, what we believe in and what we need to do and we’re on a path and a process that we’re very excited about.”
Rosas is confident there are brighter days ahead. Minnesota could possess three of the top 33 picks in this year’s draft to add to what’s already the NBA’s youngest roster.
“Which means a lot of work and a lot of challenges, but it also means a lot of upside and a lot of opportunity around a couple of special players that are very early in their careers, and that has me very excited,” Rosas said.
“Where I started (last year) and where we’re at now as an organization, to see our vision and our philosophy coming to life is very fulfilling, but it also comes with a realization that we have much work to do, we have a long way to go.”
Hope is something this franchise has tried to sell to the local fanbase many, many times, but Rosas believes this truly is different, citing the passion and drive he and those around him have to deliver success. Every day, he said the organization is driven to see how it can improve.
“That just fuels my fire day in and day out,” he said.
It’s the organization’s past failures, of which he played no part, that seem to motivate Rosas. He said his staff embraces the challenge of taking this team to where it hasn’t been before, and has designs on hanging this franchise’s first championship banner.
“Our goal and our vision is to do something here in Minneapolis and Minnesota that’s never been done,” Rosas said. “That’s not easy. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take effort, but I’m excited because we’ve taken the initial big steps forward that will allow us to have that type of success.”