MINNEAPOLIS - There’s a consensus within the Minnesota Timberwolves and around the NBA that the franchise, mired in mediocrity and instability for the better part of the last two decades, is now on the verge of big things.
The Timberwolves won 46 games in the 2021-22 season for just the second time since Kevin Garnett led the franchise to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Their second playoff appearance in 18 years ended in a first round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Instead of lamenting playoff disappointment, the sense is it’s the start of sustained success. Late last week, the Timberwolves announced they hired Tim Connelly as the new president of basketball operations. Tuesday he was introduced during a news conference at Mayo Clinic Square by owner Glen Taylor, future owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore and several staff members. Timberwolves coach Chris Finch, and guard Patrick Beverley also attended.
Connelly replaces Gersson Rosas, who was fired just before the start of last season. He is coming to Minnesota on a reported five-year, $40 million deal that includes ownership equity in the team. The deal makes him one of the highest-paid league executives in the NBA.
"We were looking for someone that aligned with the core values of this team. Also one of the most respected NBA executives, and we feel like there’s only one that matches and checks both those boxes," Lore said. "We have full confidence and trust in Tim, he’s going to be empowered to build a first-class, world-class organization, full stop."
Connelly had been with the Denver Nuggets the last nine seasons. He shaped a roster that has been to the playoffs four times, and developed a two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets made a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2020.
"The goal all along is to build a world-class organization, one of the most respected organizations in all of sports," Rodriguez said. "I sensed a guy that just fit our mission and our core values as well as anyone. We have one alignment, one mission, one goal and I thought Tim fit that puzzle beautifully and perfectly."
The process to bring Connelly to Minnesota started with Glen Taylor making a phone call to the Nuggets’ ownership group. Connelly met with Taylor, as did Rodriguez and Lore, and it became clear their goals and vision were in alignment.
Minnesota hasn’t won a professional championship, other than the Minnesota Lynx, since the Twins in 1991. The Timberwolves haven’t been consistently competitive for the better part of two decades. It’s now Connelly’s job to change that. But the decision to leave Denver involved a lot of sleepless nights.
"I wasn’t looking for this, it was such a unique opportunity that was presented to me. The last nine years have been the best nine years professionally you could ever imagine," Connelly said. "As you have those sleepless nights, it makes you ask yourself is this something you want to do? It’s a leap of faith. It wasn’t easy, but we’re excited and it’s going to be special."
The Timberwolves have stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. D’Angelo Russell played a big part in 46 regular season wins. Connelly now has several roster decisions to make as the team gets ready for free agency and the NBA Draft.
"I don’t have some well-oiled plan yet. If I had the answer right now, it would just be a sound bite because I don’t have it," Connelly said.
What was the biggest draw to his leaving Denver? Coming to a franchise that feels like it’s on the verge of turning a corner and competing for championships, with full buy-in at all levels of the organization.
Finch got a contract extension, and Sachin Gupta stabilized the front office before Connelly got hired.
"What was consistent with these guys up here, they were so direct and so honest about their aspirations and the aggression of which they talked about how they can achieve these goals is exciting. I think it’s a team and organization that its best days are in front of us," Connelly said. "There’s a real sense here that this team can do something special, and I hope I can play some small role with all the people up on this stage."
Finch worked with Connelly for one season in Denver before taking a job in New Orleans.
"He has great faith in us and what we’re doing here, and myself in particular. He is first and foremost about people. This fits right in with our culture," Finch said. "When you can get that, it’s just additive to what we’re able to do here."
Connelly told Lore in their first meeting sustained success involves working together at all levels. That starts with the owners, and trickles down to the front office, the coaches, staff and players. If they work together as one, that’s when something special happens.
"I told Marc I don’t have all the answers. If you talk to anyone about this role and they tell you they have all the answers, they’re the wrong people," Connelly said. "We’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but hopefully they’re informed, well-intentioned and they’re collaborative. I’m not here to impede progress, I’m here to promote it."