Tim Connelly, Timberwolves are bringing it back for next season

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The Minnesota Timberwolves have a lot of questions to answer after one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. One of the biggest has now been addressed. 

The Timberwolves have reached an agreement with president of basketball operations Tim Connelly on a restructured contract that ensures he will remain in Minnesota for the immediate future, team sources told The Athletic

The agreement includes Connelly pushing back an opt-out clause that he had in his contract until after next season, the sources said. With questions about the team’s ownership swirling, Connelly could have chosen to opt-out as soon as the Wolves were eliminated by Dallas in their first Western Conference finals appearance in 20 years. But Connelly and his family wanted to stay in Minnesota and continue building on the team’s success. 

In pushing his contract option back a year, Connelly maintains flexibility as current owner Glen Taylor battles with Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez for control of the team. The two sides are set to begin arbitration in their contract dispute over who owns the team, but that process is expected to take months to play out. 

The lack of clarity on the long-term stewardship of the franchise makes it difficult for those working on both the business and basketball sides of the organization to chart a course for a team that won 56 games in the regular season, swept the Phoenix Suns in the first round and toppled the defending champion Denver Nuggets in the second round before losing to the Mavericks in the conference finals. 

Connelly has spoken highly of working with coach Chris Finch to build a roster worthy of contention in the Western Conference. Getting this agreement with Taylor in place now will allow the basketball operations department to focus fully on the draft at the end of the month and free agency. 

Getting Connelly committed for what will be an important offseason while the ownership of the team is in flux was a crucial first step in trying to capitalize on their playoff run. 

The Detroit Pistons loomed last month as a potential suitor for Connelly, and the Timberwolves were bracing for Pistons owner Tom Gores to make a lucrative offer that would have been difficult for them to match. But when the Wolves beat the Nuggets in the second round, the Pistons decided to move forward in hiring Trajan Langdon from New Orleans rather than wait for the Timberwolves to be eliminated before approaching Connelly. 

Even with the Pistons moving on, it was feasible to believe that another team could have changed course and gone after Connelly, who has emerged as one of the top executives in the league if he exercised his option and became a free agent. He played a major role in building the title-winning team in Denver before turning the long-struggling Timberwolves into a contender, forging a reputation as a connector at both spots. 

Or Connelly could have left amid the ownership struggle and taken a year off. He immediately would have become one of the most coveted candidates for any front-office opening across the league over the next calendar year. 

Even with the ownership issues, Connelly’s preference was to stay in Minnesota. That includes the possibility of signing another long-term deal after the ownership situation settles, team sources said. 

At his season-ending news conference in May, Connelly said he and his family, including his wife, Negah, and their three children, felt like roots were starting to form in Minnesota. 

“It has been a great couple of years and hopefully we can make it a much longer couple of years,” he said then.

The transition from Denver, where they spent the previous nine seasons, was not seamless. The 2022-23 season was a rocky one, with Connelly’s Rudy Gobert trade producing underwhelming returns in Year 1. But the payoff was much greater this season with Gobert re-establishing himself as one of the league’s elite defenders and Connelly’s trade for Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker playing a huge role in the Timberwolves’ first playoff advancement since 2004. 

As Connelly’s vision started to become clearer, fans embraced him. His public approval rating in Minnesota is high, and the Timberwolves sold every ticket at Target Center for the regular season and playoffs. 

Continuity has been hard to achieve for the Timberwolves in the last 20 years. Assuming that Connelly and Finch finish next season in their positions, it would be the first time that the Wolves have had the same head coach and general manager for three consecutive seasons since the end of 2004. 

“Continuity and internal growth, to me, is the key to going far in this league,” Finch said last month. “We’ve experienced it ourselves — heavy change takes a while to settle down and then build off of.”

Keeping Connelly around right now is particularly important given how expensive the payroll is about to get and how front offices are still wrapping their heads around how the new collective bargaining agreement will influence team building.

Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert will all be on max contracts, Jaden McDaniels’ salary will jump to more than $23 million and Gobert will be eligible for a contract extension coming off of his fourth NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. 

Connelly is a respected dealmaker, both when it comes to contracts and trades. Had he left, the Timberwolves would have had to find a replacement in the middle of an ownership fight and set that person on a thorny path for roster management. 

All indications are that both factions of Wolves ownership are open to paying the luxury tax to keep the team competitive. For now, Taylor has the final call on any moves that are made or not made, an authority that will likely extend through the draft and free agency while the arbitration unfolds. 

Lore and Rodriguez were once empowered by Taylor to help make the decisions, including the hiring of Connelly away from Denver in 2022. Taylor brought an end to that influence in March when he declared the deal to sell the team to them was off. But Lore and Rodriguez were at every playoff game and remain confident that they will prevail in their pursuit of the team. They take great pride in their role in recruiting Connelly from the Nuggets. 

Everyone below the principals involved in the fight has been caught in the middle of it, and now Connelly will play a major role in keeping them focused on the team so they do not let this season’s leap forward go to waste. He has already been successful on that front. Before the season ended, senior vice president of basketball operations Matt Lloyd turned down a chance to take a higher-paying position in the Charlotte Hornets front office to stay with the Timberwolves, team sources told The Athletic. 

Conley, the 36-year-old point guard so integral to the team’s success, also decided to stay rather than test free agency. He signed a two-year extension that will pay him around $22 million, perhaps setting him up to retire with the Timberwolves. 

Seeing personnel and players stay in Minnesota even if they are not maximizing their compensation is a fairly new development in this franchise’s history. 

Connelly believes the Timberwolves have a great chance to build on this season. Edwards is 22 and on a superstar trajectory. He will benefit from his role on Team USA at the Paris Olympics this summer and vowed to come back next season with a better understanding of what it takes to play deep into the playoffs. 

“I’ve never played this deep into a basketball season,” Edwards said after the Wolves were eliminated in Game 5 by Dallas. “So now I know, like, OK, in order for me to be dominant in the third round and if we get past this and finally go to the finals, I’ve got to train like I’m going to go to the playoffs.”

Towns will surely see his name in all manner of trade speculation throughout the summer as people look at the exorbitant cost of keeping the team together and at his disappointing shooting in the conference finals. But he professed his desire to return for a 10th season in Minnesota. 

“I’m confident I’ll be able to be here with my brothers and continue what I love to do here at home,” Towns said at season’s end. “So that’s the plan, nothing’s changed on my side. I love this city. I love this organization. I love this city. It’s given me my life, me and my family.”

Naz Reid has become a folk hero in Minnesota. McDaniels took a step back offensively during the regular season but was named to the NBA All-Defense Second Team and was one of their best players in the playoffs.

We think we have the DNA of a championship-level team,” Connelly said in May. “It’s never easy.”

With his contract status addressed, Connelly can now move forward fully with plans for next season. He said at the end of the season that continuity is his preferred path, just as it was last season when they stayed with the Gobert-Towns roster construction despite considerable outside skepticism that the pairing could work. 

I think when you get a taste of it, you want more and more, so that’ll be something we discuss with ownership,” Connelly said. “It’s also something that we’re pretty aware to a large degree, to be where we are, it’s going to come with a certain check, and I think by all accounts ownership has given us no indication we’re going to be anything but aggressive and try to get over one more hump.”

(Photo of Rudy Gobert and Tim Connelly: David Sherman / NBAE via Getty Images)

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