The Minnesota Timberwolves are ramping up their pursuit of Denver Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly as part of the team’s ambitious search for a new head of basketball operations, according to multiple reports and first reported by The Athletic.
Minority partners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez have taken an ultra-aggressive approach in their search for a permanent installment atop the team’s front office who can work in lockstep with them on their journey to elevate the Timberwolves to relevance as a perennial playoff fixture.
The duo upon their arrival in Minnesota created a list of five front office leaders they wanted to run the team’s basketball operations, according to our friend Dane Moore of Blue Wire Podcasts.
Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez put together a list of five POBOs to target shortly after purchasing the Timberwolves, sources say.
Originally Pat Riley was on that list. These are the most recent five names, sources say:
— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) May 19, 2022
Connelly was on that list and deemed the most “‘gettable’ from a financial standpoint’” according to Nuggets beat reporter Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Singer noted that the Nuggets president of basketball operations is in an option year of his contract, so the opportunity is there, contractually, for Connelly to leave the post he has held since 2013.
Have talked with a lot of people around the #Nuggets, and there’s a lot of angst over the Tim Connelly situation. You won’t find a person in the organization that wants to see him go. My read: do to the Kroenkes want to reward Connelly’s success or are they cool letting him walk?
— Mike Singer (@msinger) May 19, 2022
Many are asking the question, why would Connelly make a lateral move to a team that hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success as the team (that includes the reigning back-to-back MVP!) Connelly and his front office has built from the ground up?
Well, as Moore reported yesterday, the potential for an equity stake in the Timberwolves will be a central, driving factor in the decision.
A key negotiation factor in the Timberwolves trying to attract Tim Connelly to be the new president of basketball operations is a stake in ownership, sources say.
Connelly has been on the Wolves list of “top 5” POBO candidates dating back to last summer, sources say. https://t.co/sw2bNWLMXj
— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) May 18, 2022
KSTP’s Darren Wolfson reported that he spoke with someone very close to Connelly that relayed on: “I don’t see it unless they give him $10M per and equity.”
I’m not sure how many presidents of basketball operations have ownership stakes, but if I were Tim Connelly, it’d be incredibly hard for me to turn down the opportunity to add a home run investment to my income stream, and get a raise up to $10 million per year. That investment will undoubtedly see immediate returns in a matter of years, especially if the Wolves become a playoff mainstay and are able to secure funding for a new arena in the coming years.
I completely understand — and echo — the heistation to get behind wielding an ownership stake to externally hire a prominent president of basketball operations and the potential for a lack of checks and balances that it welcomes. The Nuggets — even at full strength — may not be set up for future success better than the Timberwolves, either, which is something to consider in all of this.
Much of that is due to Connelly and his staff giving Michael Porter Jr. — an incredible talent who has notoriously bad back issues that have resulted in three back surgeries to this point in his career — a maximum extension one year before they needed to.
Additionally, Connelly is no stranger to some pieces in place in Minnesota, including head coach Chris Finch.
FWIW, Chris Finch was the Associate Head Coach with the Nuggets back in 2016-2017 when Tim Connelly was Denver’s General Manager.
— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) May 18, 2022
He and his staff also drafted current Wolves Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley, and worked with the Timberwolves’ front office to finalize the completely bonkers four-team, 12-player trade at the 2020 trade deadline, which of course landed both Vanderbilt and Beasley in Minnesota, along with Evan Turner and Juancho Hernangomez.
Building Blocks in Place
As Duncan points out here, we can’t pretend as though the Wolves aren’t an enticing, up-and-coming franchise with a bright future built upon the foundation of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.
Whether Connelly remains in Denver or makes the jump to Minnesota, he’s going to be in a great spot in terms of job security, team success and compensation, which makes him the winner in all of this regardless of how it plays out.
Minnesota currently holds four picks in the 2022 NBA Draft — a first-rounder at No. 19 and three second-round picks at No. 40, No. 48 and No. 50. While the Wolves will not select players at all four spots, the capital is there for the organization to be aggressive on the trade market either to move up in the first round or second round, or to package No. 19 in pursuit of a veteran player who fits their multi-positional defense or interior defense and rebounding needs.
The prospect of bringing in someone with Connelly’s drafting history understandably drew excitement out of many Wolves fans on Wednesday afternoon. The draft resume Connelly has built during his tenure in Denver is rather impressive, especially when you consider the draft positions the organization has held over the last decade.
Tim Connelly Draft History:
B. Hyland (#26)
Z. Nnaji (#22)
R. Hampton (#24)
M. Porter Jr. (#14)
J. Vanderbilt (#41)
M. Morris (#51)
J. Murray (#7)
J. Hernangomez (#15)
M. Beasley (#19)
J. Nurkic (#16)
G. Harris (#19)
N. Jokic (#41)
— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) May 18, 2022
The notable hits are obviously getting a back-to-back MVP in Nikola Jokić at 41, but also creating major value by way of drafting terrific role player fits in Monte Morris at 51, Vanderbilt and Beasley at 41 and 19, respectively, and at 26 Bones Hyland, who was named yesterday to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
Nailing late first-round and second-round selections is an art that can enable more creative avenues to team-building that include aggressiveness in dealing first-round picks. Connelly’s hits on players like Morris, Michael Porter Jr., and R.J. Hampton created the financial and structural pathway to landing Aaron Gordon in a 2021 deadline deal with the Orlando Magic.
If Connelly were to bolt for Minnesota, he’d have an immediate opportunity to repeat that success with the Wolves. He also could offer Towns a five-year supermax extension this offseason and Edwards a five-year rookie max extension after next season, which would keep those two in Minnesota for seven seasons beyond this one and give him a nice guaranteed foundation to build upon.
We have seen similar hits late in the draft in Minnesota with McDaniels (No. 28), Jaylen Nowell (No. 43) and even after the draft in undrafted free agency with Naz Reid in 2019. All three players have had roles for the Wolves on their rookie contracts, all of which summed to take up 5.01% of the team’s cap space in 2021-22.
A key figure in bringing in Nowell and Reid on those creatively structured deals, as well as in completing every trade the Wolves have made since July of 2019, is Wolves Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Sachin Gupta, who is currently running the front office and empowered to make decisions, even among the front office staff. He recently brought in new Assistant General Manager Steve Senior from the Memphis Grizzlies.
Senior has experience working with Sachin Gupta and Chris Finch in Houston, Pablo Prigioni with the Knicks, and several other Wolves coaches and staffers. Well thought of for his work with a Grizzlies staff that was just recognized with Zach Kleiman being named Exec of the Yr
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) May 12, 2022
He and front office members this week are in Chicago at the NBA Draft Combine leading preparations for next month’s NBA Draft.
Gupta is in a difficult position that we have seldom seen in the NBA: behind the wheel of the front office while new ownership is actively — and very publicly, almost to an uncomfortable degree — recruiting a big-name executive to fill the spot Gupta is auditioning for.
Sachin Gupta absolutely deserves the opportunity to run the Timberwolves front office.
I highly value Gupta’s background as a data-forward and incredibly smart executive who has combined a first-rate analytical skillset with invaluable hoops experience gained from working alongside prominent executives and coaches from around the league.
Gupta has also steered this ship through incredibly rough, uncharted waters in the wake of Gersson Rosas’s firing last year. He has along the way earned the respect of just about everyone he has worked with inside Mayo Clinic Square, because he treats people the right way and has fostered a very collaborative environment that has been a factor in the Wolves’ stability and resulting success this season.
“It’s everything. It’s so important for me, for us. Both of us truly view this as a partnership. I’ve said that many times. He’ll have incredible input into what we do this summer and we’ll sit down and talk through the roster and debrief on the whole season,” Gupta told Canis Hoopus about his relationship with Finch during his exit interview with local media. “And likewise during the year whenever I have input he’s wide open. I’ve sat in on coaches meetings. He and his staff are more than welcome to sit in on draft meetings. So, it’s wide open. In some ways there’s no wall. In some ways there’s almost no distinction between coaching staff and front office staff. We’re all in this together.”
This type of truly open and collaborative partnership between a head coach and a lead executive is rare and hasn’t been present inside the Wolves’ organization in recent years.
Finch understands that and openly campaigned for his trusted partner to be made the permanent leader of the team’s front office after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Yeah, they know my feelings about Sach. They know that I think he’s outstanding and he’s been a huge reason that we have stability in this organization right now. He’s very smart. We have complete alignment. The players love him,” Finch said during his exit interview. “He’s appropriate in his presence around the team. He’s not heavy-handed with the coaching staff. He does his job. I’m a huge fan, and I’ve advocated for him to have his opportunity to be the guy to run this team. Nothing would make me happier than that. No better time, after this season, to be able to continue to build.”
Ownership rewarded Finch and his staff with long-term contract extensions during the season. You would think that Lore and Rodriguez would take to heart Finch’s campaigning, given their evident trust in him to lead the team moving forward, but it is clear they have not done that.
Hiring one of the most well-respected executives in the NBA in Connelly would be a big swing for a new ownership group transitioning into full control of one of the league’s most success-starved franchises. This move, if it takes place, would fit the pair’s staunch avoidance of risk-averse decision-making.
Not every ownership group has the ambition to put themselves out there by attempting to poach a divisional rival’s president of basketball operations through use of a historically rare negotiating trump card — an ownership stake.
Lore and Rodriguez wanting to do everything in their power to put the team in a position to succeed is encouraging. But, I can’t get over the rumblings of doubt (circulated by Wolfson) from a current president of basketball operations that the pair may not have the money to complete their purchase of the Wolves and Lynx next year. That is another massively impactful variable in this situation that cannot be understated.
As Moore noted above, Lore and Rodriguez want Connelly to run the front office and for Gupta to remain in his current position, which would be the No. 2 spot behind Connelly. That is a mighty big ask of a No. 2 who has acted as the No. 1 for the entire 2021-22 season, shortly after he was ready to leave the organization in a lateral move to the Houston Rockets, a move that was blocked by Rosas.
Remember that Glen Taylor is still the majority governor here and any move needs his final sign-off in all of this. From reading the reports I’ve listed above, it sure feels to me as though Taylor would prefer to retain and promote Gupta.
Gupta’s contract is unclear, but losing Gupta as a result of the Connelly hire may very well rock the boat and draw the ire of Finch and his staff, who have greatly enjoyed the collaboration with Gupta and his team.
The outcome that would make this a home run is rather unlikely, but still possible. In that scenario, Gupta would prefer to remain in a No. 2 spot and elects to stay in Minnesota to learn from Connelly while continuing to build upon his work with the Wolves. What Gupta brings to the table from an analytical, CBA and relationships standpoint is just too much for this franchise to lose by taking this big of a swing.
Time will tell how things proceed, but a pursuit like this doesn’t get reported the way it did unless there are real legs for the story to stand on. With the draft a little more than a month away, the clock is ticking.
Would you like to see Tim Connelly in Minnesota?