MINNEAPOLIS — Riding the momentum of a return to the NBA playoffs, the leaders of the Minnesota Timberwolves are determined to further elevate a franchise long mired among the dregs of the league.
Tim Connelly is the first big catch. They’re counting on others to follow.
“There’s a reason these coastal cities have a leg up, but what you can help develop and help add credence and definition to is your culture and the organization and the wins and losses,” said Connelly, who was formally introduced Tuesday as president of basketball operations after nine seasons in that role with the Denver Nuggets. “Hopefully word spreads that this is where you’re going to come if you want to be treated right.”
Connelly agreed last week to a five-year, $40 million contract, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski; Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor confirmed it includes bonuses for team performance. Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, who are in the process of incrementally purchasing the club for $1.5 billion from Taylor, made it a priority to aggressively pursue one of the NBA’s most accomplished and respected leaders.
“We have full confidence and trust in Tim, and he’s going to be empowered to build a first-class, world-class organization. Full stop,” Lore said.
Taylor, 81, initiated the sale in 2021 with the intention of staying on as sort of a mentor to the incoming owners, who plan to finish the purchase in 2023.
“We feel like we’ve made good decisions together as a group,” Lore said. “We just feel really good about the partnership and where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
Connelly left behind a Nuggets team that has the back-to-back NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, and a still-promising roster that went 48-34 in the regular season — two games ahead of the Timberwolves — without injured standouts Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Connelly also had to uproot his young family.
“I wasn’t looking for this. It was such a unique opportunity that was presented to me. The last nine years for me have been the best nine years professionally I could have ever imagined,” Connelly said. “As you had those sleepless nights, it makes you dig even deeper internally, even more introspective, and ask yourself if it’s something you want to do. It’s a leap of faith, certainly.”
With Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards emerging as elite players and Chris Finch drawing rave reviews for his guidance in his first full season as coach, the Timberwolves pushed the No. 2-seeded Memphis Grizzlies hard over six games in the first round.
Minnesota also became the first team in NBA history to lose multiple games in a series with double-digit fourth-quarter leads, doing so a staggering three times.
“I hope that as we continue to build a winning foundation and develop, this is a place that you want to come to win,” Connelly said. “It’s not about the weather. It’s not about having some of these flashier markets. You’re going to come here to win, to be treated fairly and have a lot of fun.”
Connelly has become the seventh person in nine years to oversee the basketball side since Flip Saunders returned for his second run. When Saunders died of cancer in 2015, Milt Newton filled in for one season. Then Tom Thibodeau was handed the top job in the now-outdated dual role of head coach and lead executive.
After Thibodeau was fired midway through the 2018-19 season, his deputy, Scott Layden, was the interim replacement. Three years ago, Gersson Rosas was hired, but after a sudden dismissal, Sachin Gupta was put in charge. He is expected to remain in the front office under Connelly.
Finch was an assistant with the Nuggets in 2016-17 before being hired away by the New Orleans Pelicans. Connelly called him “Finchy” throughout his news conference Tuesday — a sign of the relationship they’ve already built and the relative security Finch will have under the new boss.
“He has great faith in us and what we’re doing here, me in particular, and he has a lot of existing relationships with people on our staff and in this building. That always helps,” Finch said. “He is first and foremost about people. Doesn’t take himself too seriously. Fits right in with our culture.”