The Whiteboard: Organizational competence is the NBA’s not-so-secret weapon

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There was no actual NBA basketball to watch Wednesday night but fans were still glued to their screens as the Minnesota Timberwolves appeared to meltdown in real-time. In the morning, the team’s focus seemed to be on acquiring Ben Simmons, a trade that they had become the favorites to actually complete.

Then, at 3 p.m. ET, the team’s PR staff released a statement from owner Glen Taylor that they were parting ways with President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas. That announcement was met with plenty of hand-wringing — how could they fire the head of their basketball ops staff while they were in the middle of important trade negotiations, just a few weeks before the season began and at a point where they desperately need to project stability for the sake of keeping franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns happy in Minnesota?

Towns spoke for all of us when he tweeted: “wtf…”

It turns out the answer to his question was, per ESPN, that Rosas had been in the midst of a consensual affair with another team employee and had seen his relationship with his second-in-command Sachin Gupta deteriorate to the point where he had barred Gupta from the team facility.

Rosas had been in his position with the Timberwolves for less than three seasons. He replaced Tom Thibodeau who completed a disastrous three-season run of his own as both head coach and president of basketball operations. It’s been a rough stretch for the Wolves from an organizational and management perspective and it’s fairly easy to draw a straight line between that and their struggles on the court.

The best NBA teams have stable, solid management structures in place running them

This Rosas scandal isn’t the most troubling (Dallas Mavericks tied with the New York Knicks) or even the weirdest (Philadelphia 76ers) meltdown front office meltdown in recent memory but it underscores how the effects of a chaotic management structure can ripple throughout all levels of an organization. To be clear, there are different levels of chaos — protecting and/or ignoring a sustained culture of sexual harassment is not the same as running burner accounts on Twitter to attack critics, which is not the same as having an affair with another executive, which is also not the same as making racist comments, being a toxic control freak or just generally being followed by conflict at every turn.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the only four teams who won better than 60 percent of their games over the past decade are the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Each has been blessed with incredibly talented players but the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder have each had a single GM for essentially the entire decade. The Clippers were able to weather the storm of Donald Sterling in no small part because of the work of Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank, who each held the head executive position for four years, with Frank still in the top spot.

They have systematically made a habit of not sexually harassing their employees, not having affairs with co-workers, not micro-managing their subordinates and not treating their colleagues like enemies to be bested, incompetents to be micro-managed or interchangeable assets to be manipulated.

I firmly believe that interpersonal chemistry is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court variables — how much worse is your job performance when you hate your boss or a few of your co-workers? But it extends to the front office too. Talent doesn’t always win in the NBA, not without the connective tissue of being an actual team that wants to win together. And the best front office isn’t just the one with the sharpest basketball minds, it’s the one that has some of that and values people, treats their employees with respect and understands the ramifications of their actions.


Ben Simmons’ future as a 76er has dominated the NBA news cycle all offseason, but this week it finally reached a point of no return. Ben Ladner has all that plus what the Suns are weighing on contract extensions for Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges in this week’s installment of The Long Two.

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