Timberwolves Ryan Saunders on NBA COVID protocols: 'You can't let your guard down'

Head coach Ryan Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center on January 07, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. ((Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images))

With COVID-19 cases rising across the country and the NBA having an uptick in teams quarantining, in addition to postponing games, league officials on Tuesday announced updated protocols for the season.

Players and team staff are required for at least the next two weeks to be home at all times when the team is in-market, with the only exception being team-related activities at their facility or arena, outdoor workouts or essential activities as a result of extraordinary circumstances. Players and team officials are limited to interactions away from the team to only within their own household. When teams hit the road, they are not allowed to leave their hotel other than team activities, and are not allowed to interact with non-team guests at their hotel.

For at least the next two weeks, pregame meetings are not to be longer than 10 minutes, and everyone must wear facemasks. All other meetings must occur on the court, in a league-approved space or in a room large enough to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Teams flying must maintain social distancing on planes, and treatment sessions must occur in ballrooms or other large spaces with masks or face shields required. Teams are not to arrive to the arena more than three hours before tipoff, and players must limit elbow and fist bumps, or extended socializing before and after games.

League officials say all players on the bench must wear masks, but can sit in cool down areas 12 feet from the bench, where masks are not required. Masks are mandatory in the locker room, and they’re required for all coaches and staff.

Any team with a positive test or high-risk staff member case can be required to be tested twice per day for five days, in addition to daily testing.

Locally at Mayo Clinic Square, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders believes his team has been as diligent as any in the NBA with protocols. In 10 games this season, the Wolves haven’t lost any players to a positive COVID-19 test.

Saunders said Wednesday the team now does film review on the practice court on a large projector screen, with players spaced apart. Any player meetings are done on Zoom, and coach’s meetings have been done on Zoom since the season started.

"We see what COVID-19 is doing to our world and society. As the league continues to evolve and evaluate what protocols we have, you can feel safe at times but you also can’t let your guard down. We’ve tried to continue to reassure these guys that that is the mindset that we have to have," Saunders said. "Mask wear is prevalent, diligence is all around us when we are focusing on trying to play a game but also trying to stay safe too. We need to really stay true to these protocols."

Saunders knows the camera is always on, and he tries to do his best to set a good example, coaching while also following COVID-19 guidelines. That makes communicating with officials, and his players for that matter, complicated while wearing a mask during games.

Saunders said his own wife has recently held him accountable.

"I’ve tried to be diligent and aware of how much I’m pulling that mask down. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but you want to be a good example to what everybody in society is seeing. My wife let me know that last game I was pulling it down more than I had in the past, so I’ll try to be a little more careful tonight," Saunders said.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Josh Okogie expeced to play Wednesday

Ryan Saunders said before the Timberwolves' morning shoot-around he expects Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie to both play Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. Towns missed seven games with a left wrist injury, before returning last Saturday night. He missed Sunday's game against the Spurs. Okogie, who had missed time with a hamstring injury, returned for Sunday's win.