Basketball and India

Sachin Gupta: Journey of the Indian-American from Boston to President of Basketball Operations for the Timberwolves

Early on Thursday (Sep. 23), the Minnesota Timberwolves parted ways with their President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas.

That has paved the way for Sachin Gupta, the current Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, to assume Rosas' role in the interim, as per a team announcement. Although interim, the promotion made Gupta the first NBA executive of Indian descent.

Further, as reported by The Athletic, Gupta is well-received by all within the staff and will be given a chance in the No. 1 role as the team begins their search to replace Rosas.

So, how did the high-ranking front office staffer of Indian origin in his late 30s, who has been among the top executives for a better part of the last decade, make his way to the top?

Outisder to NBA franchise staff

An Indian-American, Gupta was born to parents Ram and Meetu Gupta and grew up in Boston, Massachusetts.

Early on, he followed a very traditional path. As nearly every Indian-origin in the United States was viewed a couple of decades ago, he became an engineer albeit from the illustrious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

The degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering earned him a job as a software engineer at ESPN, the first of many pivotal steps in his rise. It was at the multi-sport network where Gupta first made a name for himself.

While he gives credit for the idea to ESPN.com NBA editor Chris Ramsay, Gupta was the man behind the code that runs ESPN's Trade Machine. The simulator which includes the instant analysis from John Hollinger, at the time an NBA writer at ESPN and inventor of PER (Player Efficiency Rating), has grown in popularity among NBA fans over the years as a go-to tool to see if their fantasy trades were valid as per the NBA's CBA rules.

En route to putting the Trade Machine together, Gupta immersed himself into the ins and outs of the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). So, by the time he was done, the engineer had gained knowledge on the CBA that could be equated to a PhD.

It was meeting Daryl Morey, at an alumni gathering for MIT students in the March of 2005, that changed the trajectory and course for the Indian-American.

At that time, Morey was the Senior Vice President of Operations for the Boston Celtics. Given their shared love for the growing trend of Moneyball and analytics in the NBA, the duo remained in touch via email, before Morey hired Gupta in 2006 when he moved and was in charge of the basketball operations for the Houston Rockets.

Gaining popularity and credibility

In Houston, where he was in charge of the team's database and producing reports that analysed the team, opponents, trade options and draft-eligible players, he worked alongside future Presidents of Basketball Operations in Sam Hinkie (Philadelphia 76ers) and Gersson Rosas (Minnesota Timberwolves).

However, given how well-versed he was with the CBA, it wouldn't take long for Gupta to be more than just 'an analytics guy'. Gradually, he began actively participating in the team's roster decisions, discussing prospective trade deals and other aspects involved with the franchise's basketball operations.

He would overcome the tag of 'not being a former player who was participating in roster decisions' by building key relationships with the team scouts with humility rather than any arrogance.

His role grew to such an extent that he had reportedly played a prominent role in the Rockets landing James Harden in 2012, a move that sparked the franchise's most successful years since their two championships in 1994 and 1995.

After six years with the Rockets, Gupta left Houston to pursue an MBA from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

However, the mark he had left on the people in Houston wouldn't let him stay away from the sport too long. While still at Stanford, he agreed to become a consultant with the Philadelphia 76ers, who had hired Sam Hinkie as their President of Basketball Operations in 2013.

Upon graduating from Stanford in 2014, he would be hired as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the 76ers in a role as Hinkie's No. 2 in Philadephia.

One of Hinkie's first hires in the City of Brotherly Love, Gupta played a pivotal role and was part of the brains behind getting 'The Process' rolling. While the methods received plenty of flak, especially on Hinkie publicly, the franchise is reaping the rewards of that time with franchise superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

When Hinkie was ousted from the 76ers in 2016, Gupta was hired as a consultant by Morey for the Rockets, who were reportedly interested in bringing him back after his degree at Stanford.

Soon, he transitioned to the role of an assistant manager with the Detroit Pistons during the 2018-19 season before an old friend in Rosas came calling to join the Timberwolves in the 2019 offseason.

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