MINNEAPOLIS - The culture, the atmosphere and hopefully the quality of the on-court product at Target Center appears to be changing as the Minnesota Timberwolves embark on the 2019-20 season.
Yet with as many as 10 new faces on the current roster, they feel as connected as they've ever been.
The players, head coach Ryan Saunders and front office leader Gersson Rosas all said the right things as the Timberwolves held Media Day Monday on their home court. Whether it translates to on-court success remains a much bigger question and an entirely different story, one that starts Oct. 23 on the road against the Brooklyn Nets.
For the players and Saunders, that journey starts Tuesday with the first practice of Training Camp in Mankato, where owner Glen Taylor resides. If you ask the team, the journey started months ago. Presumably early May, when Rosas left the Houston Rockets to be the new mastermind for the Wolves.
His ultimate goal is to build a family-first, championship-caliber franchise in Minnesota. He wants to do it by getting the most out of his players, and putting everyone in the best position to succeed.
“For us it’s building a foundation of success that over time will allow us to contend at the highest level, and that’s for a championship. The things that matter for us day in and day out is that we’re maximizing the talent that we have here. Our success is going to be measured over time. At the end of the day the commitment that we have to not only our players, but our ownership, is to do something that’s never been done here,” Rosas said.
Veteran guard Jeff Teague spoke of a different energy and vibe around the organization. Karl-Anthony Towns spoke about the character and professionalism of his teammates, committing to spending time together not only to form an on-court chemistry, but building essential relationships away from basketball.
Andrew Wiggins spoke about Saunders and the front office having a belief that this can be a fresh slate and a breakout year for him. Gorgui Dieng says he’s never seen a team mesh this summer in his seven years in the NBA like the Wolves have. The hope is they’re building a foundation and establishing an identity that translates to long-term, tangible success on the court.
But it’s going to take time, and it’s not going to be easy.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day, the Pyramids weren’t built in a day, it takes time. The summer was a great spot for us to get a head start on building that culture, setting the standard, setting who we are, what is our identity as a team, what is our true identity as a team,” Towns said.
He added something that might come as a shock to Wolves fans: They won’t be 82-0 at the end of the regular season.
“We’re not going to go undefeated, I’m sorry to tell you guys. I know you guys want to write the Timberwolves are shocking the world, going undefeated. There’s no way in hell that’s happening,” Towns said. “What I can tell you is that we’re going to out there every single game, we’re going to be unified, we’re going to be cohesive. When things get bad, we’re going to be together regardless of how the outcome of the game is, we’re going to be together, we’re going to work tremendously hard and we’re going to be the best team we can be every single night.”
Towns is sounding more and more like the complete leader Rosas and Saunders want him to be. He’s entering the first year of a 5-year, $158 million max contract and will make more than $27.2 million this season.
He’s the Timberwolves’ best player, and Rosas said on multiple occasions this offseason he’s the centerpiece of what they do this season.
“The message is the same for him as it is for all 15 or 20 guys on the roster, we want to do something meaningful. We want to do something that’s about winning and about legacy, and he cares about that. But his commitment as the best player on the team has impressed me to no end,” Rosas said.
From the moment Rosas came into be the front office leader, the culture started to change. He’s invited Wolves staff members to watch practice on more than one occasion. He bought pizza for the entire staff after he was hired. Taylor will also host his annual team meal during Training Camp this week in Mankato.
Several Wolves players spent time together in the Bahamas over the summer to bond, build a foundation and form a chemistry that should help when adversity hits this season. Maybe most importantly, they’ve spent nearly the last three weeks together working out, playing basketball and coming together before they head to Mankato on Tuesday.
“This year is more special, a lot of guys showed up weeks before Training Camp so I feel like that means a lot,” Wiggins said.
“The energy is different, the vibe is different. Everything about it is different, and it’s exciting. The guys feel like it’s more upbeat,” Teague said.
It’s not easy to have that when you’ve missed the Western Conference Playoffs 14 out of the last 15 years. Saunders, who had the interim label removed from his head coaching spot in the offseason, expects and intense Training Camp.
His points of emphasis for the first week of camp are conditioning, defense and shooting. They want to play fast, their defense has to improve and they need to make more shots. All that, and competition.
“It’s going to be a competitive training camp. We have a number of guys that all have something to prove. With that, we have guys that say we want to compete every day, compete for minutes, compete for roster spots, compete for starting positions,” Saunders said. Rotation-wise, it’ll be very open.”
The roster features plenty of new faces, 10 between the NBA Draft and free agency. There’s been plenty of change, but the Wolves are welcoming it with open arms.
They’re saying all the right things, but will it translate to wins?
“At the end of the day it’s about wins. You get those wins, it just changes the whole atmosphere,” Towns said.