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Timberwolves Roster, Vision Coming into Focus

It is becoming clear what kind of roster Gersson Rosas is trying to build.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike Rome, it appears that contending basketball teams can be built in a day, if you look West to the Los Angeles Clippers or East to the Brooklyn Nets.

Which can make the marginal moves by Gersson Rosas and the new Wolves front office seem fairly meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and also frustrating for long-time fans of a downtrodden franchise.

But of course those teams were not built in a day; Rather it took them years to get in position to take advantage of the opportunities that were available this summer. And no doubt it will take the Wolves some time to build the team they want to build. The hope is they get there sooner rather than later and take advantage of as much of Karl-Anthony Towns’ greatness as possible.

Of course this being the Wolves, some skepticism is understandable, but at least there is a plan for what they are trying to achieve, which Rosas is both articulating in interviews and acting on with his acquisitions.

Rosas has spoken frequently about an intention to play mostly lineups with a point guard, three wings, and one big. That plan has been reflected in his acquisitions so far: Jarrett Culver and Jaylen Nowell in the draft, Jake Layman in free agency, and Treveon Graham in trade. Those players, or those who make the final roster, will join Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins, Josh Okogie, and Keita Bates-Diop on a wing-heavy roster. He’s also grabbed a couple of young bigs with athleticism and defensive potential in Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell.

More specifically, it appears that Rosas’ goal is to add a high-usage offensive initiator to Towns, and surround those two with rangy wings and bigs who can run and defend. Clearly that was the vision when he tried to get D’Angelo Russell, and remains so to whatever extent they are really interested in Russell Westbrook.

That is a fine plan, but it all comes down to execution. Finding that on-the-ball star to initiate is obviously the big step, and while I’m not convinced Russell was the right guy, their failure to get him reminds us that it will take planning, aggressiveness, and luck to land such a player.

One idea Rosas obviously brought with him from the Rockets is proactivity when it comes to acquiring stars. The Wolves cap situation might be hamstringing him this summer, and more forebodingly, Russell’s choice of the Warriors reminds us that attracting high-level players to the Wolves could be tough to overcome, but Rosas has made it clear he will be active around any available star player.

This plan also requires shooters surrounding the stars, and here’s where the deviation between stated plan and action arises. Everyone involved with the Wolves, from fans to coaches to front office has acknowledged the need for more three point shooting, and yet none of their acquisitions this summer have really addressed that need.

In fact they traded one of their best three point shooters—Dario Saric—in order to draft Jarrett Culver, whose biggest weakness as a wing is his dubious shooting ability.

On the other hand, this roster is likely to feature a lot of turnover in the coming months and years. One thing Rosas has avoided, either out of necessity or planning or both, is the medium-to-long term commitment at significant dollars. As of this writing, that could change if they decide to match Tyus Jones’ offer sheet from the Memphis Grizzlies, which would commit roughly $9 million a year for the next three years, but unless that happens, their biggest commitment so far is Jake Layman’s three year deal worth less than $4 million per season.

And that’s a good thing. Those $8-$20 million a year deals are often the ones you wind up regretting, and are in many ways an artifact not of the market but of the CBA, which encourages deals like this by providing exceptions like the MLE and the limitations of max contracts.

At any rate, Rosas has preserved, and in some ways increased, the limited flexibility he inherited, something that will clearly be a focus of the front office until they can strike on a big deal, as they have tried to do all summer.

But the outlines of how they want to build the team, and what they want it to look like, have become clear. They have a plan, and we will judge them on how well they execute it.

So far not bad, but a lot of work left to do.