Souhan: Bigger, better Timberwolves want to make historic run

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

The Timberwolves went big this summer.

They also added Rudy Gobert.

Before trading for one of the league's best centers and defenders, the Wolves did something even more unusual. They built out their organization, turning a wartime rambler into a McMansion.

At the end of the 2021-2022 season, the Wolves looked promising. They won 46 games. They developed young players like Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, and could have argued that maturity itself would have led them down a productive path, with Sachin Gupta serving as a talented young general manager.

Then incoming owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez changed the Timberwolves, structurally and reputationally.

They hired renowned team-builder Tim Connelly from the Denver Nuggets. Connelly kept Gupta and added respected executives Dell Demps and Matt Lloyd.

The Timberwolves have never been this deep. Organizationally, or on the court.

Their chief executive officer, Ethan Casson, was chosen Most Admired CEO by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

The general manager and coach of their WNBA franchise, the Lynx's Cheryl Reeve, is running Team USA and will coach in the Olympics.

Their seemingly awkward ownership structure — with Glen Taylor on his way out and Lore and Rodriguez coming in — has been able to attract top talent, while displaying a willingness to pay top dollar for it.

The coach, Chris Finch, is the rare sports management figure everyone seems to like and respect, and he has built a strong coaching staff.

The roster improved overnight with the acquisition of the 7-foot-1 Gobert, and then Connelly and his team replaced the depth traded away — including Patrick Beverly, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro and a slew of draft picks — with Kyle Anderson, Austin Rivers and a slew of intriguing role players.

For most of their history, the Wolves craved saviors. Gobert and Connelly are the rare premier acquisitions who will be asked to elevate the team, rather than rescue it.

"I looked at it as a natural evolution of the vision of ownership, and our new ownership,'' Finch said of the front-office changes. "All credit to Sachin and his group and the job they did last year. I thought bringing in Tim was a home run. Obviously, I've had previous experiences working with him, and with so many of the other people he brought in.

"Everybody comes in here with a sterling reputation. The synergy that they've been able to establish between the existing front office people and the new people is quite impressive.

"I think we had one of the smallest front offices in the league, traditionally.''

Finch noted that modern organizations need layers of analysts and evaluators. "What's been impressive about the new front office is that all these different people have different and interlocking skill sets. You don't always see that. You do sometimes see a territorial mind-set, a lot of turf battles. So far, this group has been really refreshing.''

Finch, Connelly and most of the Wolves' players spoke on Monday at the team's season-opening news conference, at Target Center. This group will practice for the first time together on Tuesday.

This could and should be the beginning of the best four-year run of success in franchise history.

The Wolves' best four-year stretch to date was 2000-2004, when they won 206 games and reached the Western Conference finals once.

If Gobert stays through the length of his four-year contract and the Wolves experience reasonable health and luck, they should win more than 206.

The front office is bigger and presumably better.

"I joined a really good organization,'' Connelly said. "It was more about augmenting. There was not much lacking, but when you're lucky enough to have relationships leaguewide and can hire much smarter people than myself, you aggressively do so.''

The front court is bigger and bound to be better.

"I don't think there's a ceiling,'' Gobert said. "When I look at the roster and the talent that we have in this group, it's, I mean, it's pretty, pretty incredible. I'm lucky to be surrounded by a group of guys that can really, I think, accomplish anything.''