Timberwolves fans spent the first 100 games of Gersson Rosas' tenure as team president being frustrated over the team's lack of wins. In the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season, the Wolves went 19-45; in the first half of this 72-game season they were 7-29. That's a 26-74 mark, an all-too-familiar plummet for a franchise that is perpetually rebuilding.
But since the break — coinciding in large part with the return to health of D'Angelo Russell in addition to Karl-Anthony Towns and ascending rookie Anthony Edwards — the Wolves have been much better.
And some fans — different ones largely, and not as many of them — are now frustrated by the winning because of what it means to this year's draft odds.
Rosas, appearing on Thursday's Daily Delivery podcast, chuckled at that contrast.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
"I learned early on in life that you can't please everybody," he said. "Do the right things for the right reasons and let the results fall where they may."
Still, the dichotomy leads to an interesting question — largely because it all comes back to Russell in one way or another.
It was Russell in whom Rosas placed tremendous faith last February, acquiring him in a trade with Golden State after a dogged pursuit that began in free agency during the summer of 2019.
That Rosas managed to get Russell and shed Andrew Wiggins — overpaid and underachieving, albeit pleasantly — in the same deal was such a boon that we hardly had time to worry about the draft pick the Wolves had to include to complete the trade: a first round pick in 2021 that was protected only if it landed in the top 3, and unprotected in 2022 if it did not convey in 2021.
But no matter: The Wolves would be much better in 2020-21, leaving no doubt that the pick owed the Warriors would maybe be in the 10-15 range — valuable but not a ransom.
And then ... COVID hit. Russell and Towns barely played together. The Wolves drafted Edwards No. 1 overall after winning last year's lottery and gave a 19-year-old with little ramp-up time heavy minutes. Moves to add veterans like Ricky Rubio and Ed Davis were early flops.
And there was that 7-29 record weighing down the organization like an anchor, with this fret to add on to the on-court misery: If the Wolves finished with the league's worst record this season, which they were trending toward, there was only a 40% chance they would keep their draft pick. And there was a 60% chance they would owe it to the Warriors, where it would be either the No. 4 or No. 5 selection in a talent-rich top of the draft.
The Wolves' improvement lately, fueled in part by Russell's return, has made it conceivable they will rise as "high" as the sixth-worst record in the league. That would diminish their chances of keeping the pick to 29.5% but also make it less likely to convey quite as high to the Warriors.
As Minnesota seems intent on trying to win — let the results fall where they may, as Rosas said, with any finish outside the bottom three reducing their odds of keeping the pick — but faces a better chance than not that they will lose a high lottery pick no matter what, I had to ask Rosas this question:
With the benefit of knowing how the 2020-21 season would play out, would he still have made the exact same trade of Wiggins and a No. 1 pick — with the same protections — for Russell.
Now: Any decisionmaker worth his mettle is not going to admit his signature move was a mistake. But I did find Rosas to be honest — and more steadfast than expected — in his continued belief that it was worth it and he would do it all over again.
"The reality is it's the cost of doing business. Anytime you want to acquire a player you have to give something of value," Rosas said. "And the reality is we worked through it last year. Our focus on changing a player we that had here for a player with higher-end talent at an incredible position of need is something we were incredibly focused on.
"As of now, I think our resurgence has happened with D'Angelo's return, so that's paying dividends now. We put the protection in the pick that we felt like was critical to keeping the pick. At some point you're going to give the pick up whether it's this year or next year. We're firm believers. We did it for a purpose. We're seeing the return on that deal now."
It's still hard for me to imagine the Wolves thought they would be this bad this season and at risk of giving up a top-five pick. But maybe the perception of what that would mean doesn't concern Rosas in the big picture as much as I think it would.
The cost of offloading Wiggins — who has been a slightly better version of his average self in Golden State, and who doesn't figure to be anything more than a high-priced fourth option on any good team — was a draft pick.
It might be better for the Wolves to have the best chance at keeping a top three pick this season and giving up the pick in 2022 when they might have a better record — though next season carries the risk of that pick being unprotected — but regardless Rosas is comfortable with any outcome.
"The reality is moving forward draft-wise … none of us control it. You don't try to manipulate the game," Rosas said. "I think that hurts the organization's character. It hurts players' motivation. Players are very sensitive and intelligent. If you're not trying to win in the NBA, players know that. And they lose credibility and trust in the organization, in leadership and in the mission of what you're trying to do.
"We're going to give that pick up at some point, whether it's now or next year, whatever the case may be. It will happen and it will process and it will transition. We're a better team with D'Angelo Russell, and we're excited about the future because of what that means."
Again, this comes back to Russell and what's at stake. The success of Rosas' tenure very much hinges on all the ramifications of the Russell trade.
"D'Angelo is a bona fide closer in this league," Rosas said. "His ability to make (and) create shots for himself and teammates late in games is something we were desperately missing in the past. It's something you just can't replicate and you just can't reproduce in this league. Either you have that or you don't."
And that last sentence can also be said in regards to the Wolves' 2021 first-round pick.