'We miss basketball': Wolves' Saunders, Rosas talk KAT, life without the NBA

It’s been almost a month since Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for Coronavirus, and the NBA suspended its season indefinitely.

Minnesota Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders might have said it best Tuesday, speaking on a Zoom chat with Twin Cities media for the first time since play was halted.

“We miss basketball, but health and safety comes first,” Saunders said. “There’s no manual to this. There’s nothing you can look at and say this is how it’s been done before. We want to be part of a group that is better on the other side of this, and better looks different for everyone. Even though we’re isolated as a society right now, we don’t have to be divided. It’s a time for unity for all of us.”

The Timberwolves were set to embark on a six-game road trip just before the NBA suspended its season. They were doing so after a roster overhaul that involved trading seven players, including Andrew Wiggins, and acquiring eight new ones, led by star guard D’Angelo Russell. That group had been together less than a month before sports across the globe were shut down.

Wolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, also on Tuesday’s call, said about 70 percent of the current roster is still in the Twin Cities. Other players went home to be with families. Rosas said the organization has done everything in its power to help players and staff out during the Covid-19 pandemic. Players are getting meal and workout plans, some got Peloton bikes for working out and others were moved to homes with indoor gyms to get shots up on their own.

The team’s medical staff also does daily check-ins, both from a physical and mental health standpoint. The medical staff was aware of the Coronavirus pandemic well before the NBA canceled games.

Their focus is on winning the day. Basketball can wait.

“We preach about family, preach about being player-centric, these are the type of opportunities that allow you to make it a touch point,” Rosas said. “It’s not about sports, it’s not about basketball, it’s about individuals and their safety, and getting to a place where this pandemic is controlled and that’s going to take some time.”

The Wolves, like thousands of others around the globe, have a personal connection to Coronavirus. Jacqueline Cruz, the mother of star forward Karl-Anthony Towns, tested positive for it about two weeks ago. His college coach, John Calipari, said Tuesday to Kentucky media that she’s still hospitalized and fighting the condition.

Towns went to social media about two weeks ago, making the news public that his mom was in the hospital. He was emotional, pausing to fight tears at times, but was confident that she would come out on the other side and healthy again. Saunders and Rosas both offered their support to Towns on Tuesday.

“His strength and the strength that he’s shown for his teammates, just for him being able to share isn’t just admirable, it’s something he should be commended for,” Saunders said.

“At this time we want to be respectful of Karl and his parents as they go through this, our prayers and thoughts are with them. We’ve rallied around KAT and his family, and we want to be there for the family right now,” Rosas said.

They also declined comment when asked about an update on Towns’ fractured left wrist. It sidelined him for 12 games before the Coronavirus pandemic shut down the NBA.

Nobody knows when play will resume, not even Commissioner Adam Silver. He said Tuesday there won’t be any discussions about resuming the season until May.

For Saunders, this time is all about adjusting. There hasn’t been anything normal about his time as the head coach of the Wolves. He stepped in last year as the interim after Tom Thibodeau was fired. This season, he’s had to navigate the largest roster overhaul in franchise history, and now being isolated from his team during a global health crisis.

When he’s not watching film or connecting with players, he’s spending time with his wife and son. That’s in part why basketball is secondary right now.

“The most important thing for all of us right now is to try to be part of a solution. That’s by being diligent and keeping safe and as healthy as possible,” Saunders said.