MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Timberwolves face a harsh reality as the NBA starts to get ready to resume play after a three-month layoff due to the Coronavirus pandemic: They won’t be a part of any plans the league has for the rest of the 2019-20 season.
The NBA tentatively will send 22 of its 30 teams to Florida to play an eight-game regular season, then start a modified playoff format. Teams have slowly started to reopen their practice facilities as players can participate in voluntary individual workouts, provided they abide by state and local Covid-19 guidelines.
For the Wolves, they’re now in offseason mode. They were not relevant in the Western Conference playoff picture, not invited to Florida after being 19-45 when the NBA suspended its season.
The Wolves were about to travel to Oklahoma City to start a six-game, nine-day road trip back in March before the NBA stopped play. While disappointed their season is over, they know their body of work wasn’t enough to earn a spot in Orlando.
“Obviously you want to be a part of any competition you can be a part of. That’s our feeling, that’s what players feel, that’s why we’re in this business. You want to compete. But you also understand this is bigger than one team,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders told reporters last week via Zoom. "You want to be good partners to the league, we obviously support this decision.”
The task now for Saunders and Gersson Rosas is to take the next several months and prepare for the 2020-21 season with a roster that’s nearly been completely overhauled. Since Rosas took over the front office, only two players are on the team from the same roster two seasons ago: Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie.
Rosas provided an update, of sorts, on Towns’ injured wrist last week. Towns played just 35 of the 64 games this year before the NBA suspended play, missing the last 12 because of that wrist. He didn’t go into detail, but said “things are in a positive place with Karl” regarding his injury.
Towns is grieving the death of his mother in April due to Coronavirus, and coming to grips with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as well as the civil unrest that followed. Towns made his first public appearance recently in a rally for Floyd led by fellow NBA player Stephen Jackson.
“Overall we feel very positive about where things are at. I think at the right time we’ll make a formal announcement of where things are at, but out of respect for Karl and what he’s living through right now, we want to make sure to give him his space and his opportunity to work things through moving forward,” Rosas said.
In one of the biggest trades in Wolves franchise history, Rosas made a deal to bring Towns’ close friend, D’Angelo Russell, to Minnesota. That trade also sent Andrew Wiggins to the Golden State Warriors. Towns and Russell have wanted to play together for a long time, but in the 14 games the team played after the NBA trade deadline, they were on the court together once.
The Wolves are hoping Malik Beasley ends up being the third piece the team can build around. Rosas made it clear they’re building the team around Towns, with Russell providing offensive firepower in the back court.
But with the Covid-19 pandemic, the team is extremely limited in what it can do when players arrive to Mayo Clinic Square. They can work on individual skills, but have to stay at a distance and can’t do any team activities until given clearance by team medical staff and league officials.
“You’ve got guys champing at the bit to go play, and that’s exciting for us because they’re bringing that approach into our facility. We look at those opportunities as periods to work, improve and get better on the court and off the court,” Rosas said.
Rosas made it clear that even though the Wolves aren’t involved in the league’s return to play plan, efforts are being made with the other seven teams in the same predicament. There’s hope that in addition to holding team workouts at some point, the eight teams can scrimmage, hold joint practices or play games like an NBA Summer League just to get in the flow of competing again.
The teams not going to Florida other than the Wolves include the Warriors, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets.
“As much as we’d like to play and compete and develop, that platform isn’t available to us. It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing, but we can either sit there and dwell on what wasn’t or focus on what is,” Rosas said. “We’re actively engaged with the league and the seven other teams to create the most intensive, competitive platform to work with our players over the next four or five months.”