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NBA mock draft: A new No. 1 for Timberwolves at the top
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson breaks down the top of the NBA draft, where LaMelo Ball is now projected to be selected first overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The accomplishment bears more worldly significance than what the Minnesota Timberwolves might do with their No. 1, 17 and 33 picks for this week’s NBA Draft. Or if they can keep Karl-Anthony Towns long term. Or if the Timberwolves can make the playoffs for the second time in 17 years.
Since taking over as the Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Operations on May 3, 2019, Gersson Rosas has become the lone Latino to head an NBA front office.
“It’s an honor, but it’s also a motivation,” Rosas told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m blessed and fortunate to be in this position. But at the same time, that position comes with responsibility.”
Hence, Rosas does not just want to be in the history books because of his ethnicity. He wants to be in the history books for how he handled his new role. So, he remains determined to ensure a few things.
Rosas expects to stay open minded on whether he uses the pick to select a prospect or in a trade leading into Wednesday’s draft.
“We have to explore all of those options,” Rosas said. “But we’re fortunate that we have a couple of building blocks on the roster already with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell where you’re not desperate for that first player.”
Rosas expects to develop a winning environment so that Towns will want to remain the franchise’s centerpiece. Even after making the postseason only once and playing for four general managers and three coaches since the Timberwolves selected him at No. 1 in 2015.
“We’re committed to him, and he’s committed to us,” Rosas said. “He and his family are incredibly important and vital parts of our organization. It’s not just basketball. It’s not just on the court. It’s off the court. He’s committed to what we’re doing and we’re committed in him as our best player and as our leader.”
Rosas expects to oversee a Timberwolves team that will soon end their season with a playoff appearance instead of another trip to the NBA draft lottery.
“We’re in the West, which is historically challenging. But crazy things happen,” Rosas said. “I like the timeline we’re on.”
Rosas’ path to an NBA front office
To explain that fast timeline, consider the timeline that Rosas took to arrive at his current position.
At age three, Rosas, his parents and his younger brother moved from his native Bogota, Colombia, to Houston, Texas. Then, Rosas knew nothing about the English language and American sports. Rosas learned quickly.
At age eight, Rosas spent his mornings reading the sports section of the newspaper and watching game highlights. His enthusiasm only grew.
So he attended the University of Houston and graduated with a degree in sports and business management. During that time, Omar Minaya worked as an assistant general manager with the New York Mets. Before Minaya even became the first Hispanic GM in MLB history with the Expos (2002-2004), Rosas already knew he wanted to follow his path.
“I finally saw somebody who looked like me, somebody that came from a place close to where I was from and reached that level,” Rosas said. “That motivated me.”
So Rosas pursued any opportunities that would lead him there.
Rosas interned with agents, sports marketing firms and international federations where he worked as a Spanish translator on behalf of agents representing European players. He became an assistant coach on Westbury Christian High School’s state championship team. He became a basketball coordinator for the Venezuelan Basketball Federation during the 2002 World Basketball Championships. He then interned for the Houston Rockets for former executive Dennis Lindsey.
“The beauty in the story with Gersson is he never got discouraged. He always came back for more,” said Lindsey, who is currently the Utah Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations. “He was always hard working and ambitious. He did it the right way and didn’t skip steps.”
Rosas considered Lindsey an “incredible mentor” who continuously encouraged him. Rosas gladly became the Rockets’ personnel scout and video coordinator in 2004 before moving up the ranks to vice president of player personnel. He also became the GM of the Rockets’ G-League team (2009-2013), where he won two league championships.
The Dallas Mavericks then hired Rosas as general manager, making him the first Latino GM in NBA history. Three months later, Rosas resigned abruptly.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a good relationship with Mark Cuban there. But it wasn’t the right fit,” Rosas said. “It wasn’t the role or the opportunity for me to grow and develop.”
So, Rosas returned to Houston for six more seasons as its executive vice president of basketball operations. Then, Rosas assisted former GM Daryl Morey with evaluating draft prospects, free agents and potential trade acquisitions as well as overseeing domestic and international scouting.
Morey considered Rosas “instrumental” in the team’s key free-agent acquisitions (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Patrick Beverley), trades (Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic) and draft signings (Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell, Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, Chandler Parsons) that coincided with 12 playoff appearances. Therefore, Morey predicted Rosas is “going to have Minnesota winning” after also interviewing with the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards.
“It’ll take some time over there, so hopefully people can be patient,” said Morey, whom the Philadelphia 76ers just hired as president of basketball operations. “But he’ll definitely get them on a winning path.”
How Rosas handled his new role
Rosas’ first season entailed dealing with the fallout over Tom Thibodeau’s firing and Jimmy Butler’s departure. So Rosas supported Ryan Saunders and his young coaching staff.
During free agency, Rosas then pursued D’Angelo Russell by taking him on a helicopter ride over Los Angeles and sharing a plan on how he would create cap space to ensure a max offer. But Russell had already agreed to Brooklyn committing a sign-and-trade with Golden State.
That did not dissuade Rosas. Before the trade deadline, Rosas dealt Andrew Wiggins, a 2021 protected first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick for Russell, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman. Rosas had envisioned Russell and Towns thriving as a tandem the same way they did as high school teammates.
“We always felt like we were the best home for D’Angelo and had the best opportunity and role for him,” Rosas said. “To be fair and honest, we needed him more. So we were pretty aggressive.”
The Timberwolves had only one game to see how that duo looked. Then the NBA suspended the season because of the coronavirus outbreak. Just over a month later, Towns’ mother, Jacqueline Cruz, died due to complications with COVID-19.
Before her passing, Rosas helped the family connect with various health experts familiar with the virus. The franchise also gave Towns space to grieve.
“Challenging tragic and devastating,” Rosas said. “We’ve supported him in any way that we can. But it’s been tough. You want to say something and you want to do something. But at the end of the day, there is not much that will fill that hole.”
Hence, Rosas became inspired with Towns in various ways. How he honored his mother. How he still attended voluntary workouts. How he donated $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic to help with testing patients for COVID-19. How he led a peaceful protest after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.
Rosas ensured the franchise became just as involved. He invited guest speakers to talk to the team about social justice issues, such as Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Mayor Jacob Frey, civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and former NFL coach Tony Dungy. Rosas ensured that 100 percent of the team registered to vote and had the organization participate in the league’s voter registration initiatives. And he had the team visit the George Floyd memorial.
“We don’t want to act for the sake of action. We want to have purpose and sustainable impact in anything that we do,” Rosas said. “I’ve been very proud of our players, who have really taken the lead in what’s going on in our community and what’s going on in the world around us.”
Therefore, Rosas has overseen the Timberwolves having a diverse staff. The Timberwolves have an Indian American executive vice president of basketball operations (Sachin Gupta), a white general manager (Scott Layden), a Black assistant general manager (Joe Branch), an Italian assistant GM (Gianluca Pascucci) and a white assistant GM (Emmanuel Rohan). Saunders, who is white, has two Black assistant coaches (David Vanterpool, Kevin Burleson), two white assistants (Bryan Gates, Kevin Hanson) and one Latino assistant (Pablo Prigioni).
More work awaits with Rosas overseeing the NBA Draft and further assembling a roster capable of making the playoffs.
“I hope my story and the opportunities that I’ve gotten will motivate others,” Rosas said, “not just Latinos and Latinas, but anybody of any different background and different perspective and different race.”