MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Timberwolves have to balance the fine line between player safety and giving athletes an outlet to work out, so if and when the NBA calls, they’ll be ready to play.
The Timberwolves announced Wednesday they’re opening Mayo Clinic Square Thursday morning to coaches and players for voluntary individual workouts. It will be the first time the Wolves practice facility is open since the NBA suspended its season in March after Utah Jazz center Rody Gobert tested positive for Coronavirus.
Play was suspended, and all team facilities were also shut down. The Jazz were in Oklahoma City that night, and the Wolves were headed that way the following day to start a six-game road trip. Wolves front office head Gersson Rosas told reporters Wednesday morning they are taking every precaution possible to ensure the safety of players and staff.
“More than anything we just want to give them a little bit of joy. We want to give them a little bit of normalcy, we want them to have fun back in the gym, but we want to do it in a safe and responsible manner,” Rosas said.
The Wolves are especially sensitive to the Covid-19 pandemic, with star Karl-Anthony Towns losing his mother to the virus in April. Eligible players can report to the facility on Thursday, with several restrictions in place:
- One coach and one player will be allowed on the floor at a time and parties will be required to keep a 12-foot social distance.
- Workouts will be limited to 45 minutes.
- Locker room, weight room, offices and other areas of the building will remain closed,
- Staff members will wear gloves and masks at all times when in the building. Players will wear masks at all times except when on court.
- A thorough cleaning of all spaces and equipment, including basketballs, will take place before and after each player uses the building.
- Symptom and temperature checks will be done by team medical staff before anyone enters the facility.
- Contact tracing will be administered upon entry. Contact tracing will help identify where players have been the past 24 hours and if there were any cases reported from that location.
- Players will receive custom to-go meals from KZ Provisioning lead by Chefs Gavin Kaysen and Andrew Zimmern. Players in market have received daily meals from KZ Provisioning during the NBA hiatus.
- There will be no media, public or general staff access to the building, and security will be in place outside the facility to ensure physical distancing and the safety of everyone on site.
The NBA allowed teams to start conducting voluntary player workouts back on May 8, but Mayo Clinic Square remained closed due to Gov. Tim Walz’s “Stay at Home” order being in place. That was adjusted on Sunday, and the wheels were in motion for the Wolves.
They feel confident that their approach, while conservative, will work.
“We’ve done everything within our power to make sure that they’re safe and that the environment is as controlled as it can be,” Rosas said.
Dr. Robby Sikka, the Timberwolves' vice president for basketball performance and technology, says the team is in constant contact with the NBA and medical professionals to determine what they can do to bring players and staff normalcy, but also keep them safe.
“Nobody wants to be somebody that deviates and nobody wants to be one that cuts corners on this. This is a global pandemic, there’s no place for cutting corners,” Sikka said Wednesday morning. “This is simply about getting players a safe place to come and shoot and come and workout.”
If the voluntary workouts are a success, it could lead to small-group sessions. It’s too early to know when that could happen, and it’s too early to know if and when the NBA could resume play. Simply, it’s out of the Wolves’ control, and they’re not going to take any unnecessary chances.
“Dr. Fauci said it best a few weeks ago, we don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline. We have to do what’s right by our community and that comes first and foremost,” Sikka said. “If we do that, we have an opportunity to do something going forward. We don’t know what the next step is.”
Opening Mayo Clinic Square is the first step for the Wolves to get back to basketball, and a sense of normalcy. There are risks, but the Wolves are going to make calculated, educated decisions to get back on the court.
“They want to be in an environment that they are familiar with, but they understand this is a first step. It’s a small step, and for some of them it’s just the opportunity to mentally get in a place where it’s a safe haven for them,” Rosas said. “We’ve got a long way to go, this is just a new step moving forward for us.”