MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in uncharted territory as the NBA gets closer to crowning a champion in the NBA bubble in Orlando.
While most players have been doing their own individual workouts at Mayo Clinic Square most of the summer, abiding by strict COVID-19 protocols, things will ramp up next week. The Wolves announced Thursday morning they’re participating in the league’s In-Market Program, starting next Monday at their practice facility.
The program applies to the eight teams that were not invited to the Orlando bubble after the NBA season was put on hold March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, the Wolves were 19-45 and in 13th in the Western Conference.
“This is a time for group work with our players and just focusing on them getting better and getting our team better and getting us into a position where when this next season does start, we’re ready to hit the ground running,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said Thursday morning via Zoom. You’re able to focus on your processes for two weeks in a very secluded environment with a lot of players that you’ll have for the next season. That’s really important, and we’re going to maximize that time.”
“It’s a special opportunity for us to connect after the hard stop in March. This is a good opportunity to ramp up and take the off-season program to a new level,” said Gersson Rosas, Wolves president of basketball operations.
It's also about more than basketball. The team will use the time together to bond, and use their platform in the continual fight for social justice. They plan to hold regular Zoom sessions with speakers, advocates and encourage the push for voting education and registration.
Saunders sported a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt during Thursday's session with reporters.
"Just to be able to get our guys together and get our staff together and to be able to talk through that and continue sustainable change is something that’s a big part of this process," Rosas said.
Most importantly for team development, a majory of the current roster will be in Minneapolis for workouts next week. That includes Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie. The only notable name missing is Juancho Hernangomez, who previously arranged to film a movie before knowing when the workouts would be.
The workouts are voluntary, but the team knows they’ve got to put the work in if they want to compete in the Western Conference.
The Wolves will continue to go through daily COVID-19 testing, and starting next Wednesday, they can begin group training activities including practice, skill and conditioning sessions and intra squad scrimmages. Rosas said there will be live 5-on-5 scrimmaging next week. It'll be the first group work they've done since March.
The big change will be that the team will essentially be in its own bubble. Players could previously come to the facility and go home. Players and staff attending the group workouts will enter a 36 to 48-hour quarantine period and have private accommodations near Mayo Clinic Square.
“It’s very rare in any NBA season that you have the time where we’re going to have here, where you’re basically just shut off from the world, in a private accommodation in a private facility where it’s just you. That’s a pretty unique opportunity,” Rosas said.
It appears the players have bought in as well. Towns is regularly at the practice facility working out on his own at 6 a.m. Russell isn’t far behind at 7 a.m. Teammates are competing to be the first in the building to get a workout in. Saunders joked that he's got his own "Breakfast Club" of players.
“As a coach that gets you fired up. We’re excited about the level of commitment that we have. We’re champing at the bit to get back and compete,” Saunders said.
As Rosas put it, there’s no better motivator than watching your NBA peers battle for a championship.
“I think there’s a bitter taste in our mouth as an organization how the season ended. With all the changes we had, we were really excited about putting that group together. Just watching the playoffs, watching the bubble and not being a part of it, I know Karl and D’Angelo and our vets, it’s tough to watch these guys play at a really high level and not be a part of it,” Rosas said. “There’s a motivation, there’s a hunger. We know we have a lot of work to do, the only thing you can control is the work. They’ve been pushing for us to be ready whenever next season comes.”