Free agency has been quiet for the Wolves with the exception of reaching out and talking to numerous players, not signing said players — not the worst outcome in my opinion — and nabbing fellow Minnesotan Cole Aldrich on a cap friendly 3-year deal worth $22 million; the deal was an absolute bargain. The team did however make a splash yesterday on the operations side of the organization by hiring Brian Pauga as their new director of player personnel.
Sources: Minnesota hiring Spurs' Brian Pauga as Player Personnel Director. Pauga worked w/ GM Scott Layden w/ Spurs. Well-regarded riser.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 5, 2016
Pauga previously worked alongside new Wolves general manager Scott Layden in San Antonio and becomes yet another member of the Spurs basketball operations team to be poached by another organization this offseason.
Sean Marks is the new GM in Brooklyn—him and Layden were the Spurs' assistant GMs—while Chad Forcier, San Antonio's assistant/player development coach, was recently hired by the Magic as lead assistant to new head coach Frank Vogel. I wonder how R.C. Buford is sleeping these days as his up-and-coming talent is leaving town?
Probably just fine.
The first few questions we must ask are pretty straightforward and simple: Who is Brian Pauga, should we be excited about him joining the front office in Minnesota, and what has he been doing for the Spurs that have people touting him as a high-riser?
From the official site of the San Antonio Spurs:
Entering his seventh season in the Spurs basketball operations department ... was promoted to director of scouting in September 2012 after serving two years as the coordinator of scouting ... assists in all areas of Spurs basketball operations ... took on the role of general manager of the Austin Toros (the Spurs NBA Development League team) in September 2013 ... started with the Silver and Black in July 2007 as a basketball operations intern ... was brought on full-time in the summer of 2008 as the basketball operations assistant ... prior to joining the Spurs worked as a student manager with the Michigan State men's basketball team from 2003-07, including the Spartan's 2005 Final Four team ... earned his degree in business management ... a native of Willowbrook, Illinois ... resides in San Antonio with his fiancé, Amanda.
Pauga has been operating the Spurs D-League Affiliate in Austin as the General Manager since 2013, an important position for any organization looking for the competitive advantage the D-League lends to NBA franchises, and has been working his way up the organization since 2007 after beginning his career as a basketball operations intern.
In 2014, SB Nation's Tom Ziller listed Pauga in his column The NBA's next 12 general managers.
9. Brian Pauga, Spurs
You would think "The Next Spurs Front Office Prospect" would rate higher by rule, but the list is deep. Pauga is San Antonio's director of scouting and runs the D-League's Austin Toros. That's obviously a key position in the Spurs organization. He's worked his way up R.C. Buford's ladder since 2007, which means other teams will soon be clamoring to poach him. Thanks to the Spurs' mystique, he could easily be the next guy hired off of this list. That said, there's a certain timing issue with major hires and teams that constantly play deep into the postseason. It's more an issue for coaches, but it could cost Pauga an interview at some point.
Pauga's older brother, Kevin, 32, is Michigan State's director of men's basketball operations. He's also the brains behind KPI, an advanced analytics formula the NCAA selection committee considers when picking the 68-team field, according to an article written on him in the Lansing State Journal last year.
A quick YouTube search yields this video of Pauga talking about JaMychal Green, an undrafted free agent who played with the Austin Toros in 2012, who is currently with the Memphis Grizzlies as a decent role player. Pauga is quick to point out the advantages of having a nearby D-League team, which is something the Wolves desperately need in the coming years if they truly want to rise up into the class of elite franchises.
Along with Green, Pauga had a hand in the success of Jonathon Simmons, who earned the trust of Gregg Popovich during his rookie year this past season in San Antonio. In this Grantland piece by Adam Wilk, Doing Development the Right Way: A Look at Four Model D-League Teams, Pauga's name shows up again. If the Wolves do manage to get their own D-League team in the future, his experience in that setting will almost certainly be beneficial to the franchise.
Spurs front-office employees often serve as the Toros' general manager (Dell Demps in 2009-10, Sean Marks in 2012-13, and current GM Brian Pauga, also the Spurs' director of scouting), allowing San Antonio to hand-pick a head coach and send down specific instructions for assignment players on a game-to-game basis.
Jabari Young covers the Spurs for the San Antonio Express-News and tweeted this little nugget back in February:
If Sean Marks does bolt for #Nets ...wouldn't be surprised if #Spurs turn to Brian Pauga as an asst. GM. He's Austin's GM, young & talented— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) February 17, 2016
From everything I can gather around the internet, Brian Pauga sounds like an excellent hire by Thibodeau and Layden. Although the new leaders in Minneapolis have been slow to make additions to the roster — Kris Dunn and Cole Aldrich are the only new members to join last season's 29 win team — their last two personnel hires, Andy Greer was lured from Toronto to be Thibs' top assistant, and now Pauga to assist in the front office, appear to be first-rate talent acquisitions that should bring further optimism and a bit more trust in the two guys calling the shots.