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Timberwolves start to make smaller moves in front office, while a big question remains

It was two weeks ago that Timberwolves executive vice president of basketball operations Sachin Gupta sat down at a press conference to reflect on his first season in charge of a front office. He answered questions about the progress the Wolves made in making the playoffs and the work left to be done, his partnership with coach Chris Finch and many more topics looking both forward and back.

The one question he could not answer was the one about his own future, about what lay in store for him as the Wolves prepared to embark on a crucial summer to try to build upon the gains made this season.

“I’m in this role now, and it’s a big summer for us, and I’m focused entirely on that,” Gupta said. “Coach and I and our staffs are excited to put this team together for a bigger year next year.”

Owner Glen Taylor, along with new limited partners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, told Gupta when he took over for the fired Gersson Rosas before training camp that they would evaluate him over the course of the season before making a decision on what they would do at the top of the basketball operations department. In the meantime, Gupta has been empowered to run the front office how he sees fit, league sources told The Athletic, and he has started to reshape the staff as the Wolves prepare to convene with the rest of the league in Chicago next week for the NBA Draft Combine.

The Timberwolves declined to pick up the option on assistant general manager Gianluca Pascucci’s contract for next season, league sources told The Athletic. Pascucci was one of Rosas’ top lieutenants and oversaw scouting for the draft and the team’s G League affiliate in Iowa.

Gupta also hired Steve Senior away from the Memphis Grizzlies for a newly formed position in the front office, sources said. Senior will join the franchise as an assistant general manager in charge of player development. Senior comes from a well-regarded staff in Memphis and has ties to Gupta and Finch when they were all together in Houston. He was also on the New York Knicks staff when Wolves assistant coach Pablo Prigioni played there and has connections to several other Wolves staff members.

Senior’s hiring follows several additions Gupta made to the analytics department during the season, including John Sears as vice president of basketball analytics.

Gupta being given the authority to make these kinds of decisions speaks to the confidence that Taylor, Lore and Rodriguez have in him. They want him in their long-term plans, and it’s now a matter of whether they will ask him to remain as the lead executive or stay on staff with a different primary decision maker.

Gupta took over the front office amid turmoil after Rosas’s headline-grabbing firing. His quiet approach to the job helped to calm the waters in a front office rippled with tension in Rosas’ final days.

“I think he’s outstanding, and he’s been a huge reason that we have stability in this organization right now,” Finch said at the end-of-the-season press conference on April 30. “He’s very smart. We have complete alignment. The players love him. He’s appropriate in his presence around the team. He’s not heavy-handed with the coaching staff.”

Gupta served as Rosas’ wing man until he was fired and had input into many of the moves made to assemble the roster, but the fingerprints were heavily Rosas for better (Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Patrick Beverley, Finch) and for worse (Jarrett Culver, attaching a pick that became Jonathan Kuminga to Andrew Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell, and Rosas’ conduct that led to his firing).

Gupta was less active in his first season running the show, primarily because it was time to see what this roster could do after years of churn. He did not make a trade at the deadline in February, but he did preside over negotiations for Beverley’s contract extension and worked with ownership to sign Finch to a contract extension just before the playoffs started.

With Gupta and Finch leading the way on the basketball side, the Timberwolves doubled their win total from a year ago, finishing with a 46-36 record, a victory over the LA Clippers in the Play-In Tournament and their first playoff appearance in four seasons, losing in six games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.

Finch said in April he told ownership he would like to see Gupta remain in the lead role.

“I’m a huge fan, and I’ve advocated for him to have his opportunity to be the guy to run this team,” Finch said. “Nothing would make me happier than that. No better time, after this season, to be able to continue to build.”

Since their arrival on the scene last year, Lore and Rodriguez have conducted an in-depth examination of the franchise and looked for areas that need improvement. Lore often has preached, both with the Timberwolves and his other businesses, the importance of hiring the best people available in that particular field, no matter the cost. It is part of the “Vision, Capital, People” mantra that drives his leadership approach. How aggressive the Timberwolves are in applying that to their current front-office situation remains to be seen.

Taylor is still the man in charge, still the one making the final decision on major issues like this one. When Lore and Rodriguez first came aboard, with plans to eventually succeed Taylor as majority owners by the end of 2023, the three started a collaboration process on important decisions. Taylor wants the young owners to have a say in the major moves made to try to ensure a seamless transfer of power when the time comes. That is how things worked, for instance, when the Wolves hired Marquise Watts from Klutch Sports Agency to serve as the team’s new chief experience officer, a high-profile position geared toward making sure players and their families are attended to that was created after Lore and Rodriguez identified it as an area of need in the organization.

After getting Finch taken care of before the playoffs started, charting a clear course with who is running the front office is the next big thing on the Timberwolves’ to-do list. Whether it is Gupta or someone else, it is a decision they have to get right so a young team that made encouraging progress this season can continue to grow.

(Photo: Brad Rempel / USA Today)

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