Throughout the last couple of weeks, the prevailing theme surrounding the NBA has been the growing desire of owners, coaches, and players to resume the 2019-2020 season in some capacity, whether that include regular season games or not.
Over this past weekend, our guy Mike O’Hagan looked at various strategies on how to make a return to play work, which included various tweaks to the current NBA model (reseeding playoff teams, play-in tournament, World Cup-like “group stages,” etc.). On Tuesday, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that the “group stage” idea was gaining popularity in the league office, while ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski detailed how the debate surrounding the NBA’s “bubble idea” is starting to heat up.
While most (if not all) of the league’s latest chatter revolves around playoff teams and how best to format the remainder of this season, very little has been publicly reported on what role bottom dwellers (like our beloved Minnesota Timberwolves) would play in this whole thing. Do the teams at the top of the lottery really want to risk a July hot streak that could significantly alter their collection of ping-pong balls? Do stars on those underwhelming teams (Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, Zach LaVine) want to risk an injury playing in 7-10 semi-meaningless games? What about salary cap ramifications? Contracts with Regional Sports Networks? Player safety?
While it appears that progress continues to be made towards a return to play, there are still a plethora of topics and questions that need to be ironed out, including questions directly pertaining to Minnesota. Let’s try to dig into some of the pluses and minuses of the Wolves finishing the 2019-2020 season, otherwise known as “pros and kahns.”
PRO: The More Wolves Basketball, The Better
While I fully understand that not everyone is as thirsty for Wolves basketball as I am (yes, I realize I may have a problem), it’s hard to ignore that having even just two weeks of real, live games to talk about is a lot more enjoyable than live-tweeting a classic game from 1987 or debating which shade of blue best compliments the Wolves logo on a replica jersey.
Aside from a fans perspective, one would *think* that the Wolves front office would also welcome a few additional weeks of competition to get a better sample size of what exactly they currently have on the roster.
From what I've heard, the Timberwolves have all along been planning for a return to play and see value in it. They only played 14 games after a massive roster turnover.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) May 26, 2020
That sentiment holds while Karl-Anthony Towns (understandably) operates on a completely different timetable.
As Dane points out, Minnesota has only played 14 total games since their Extreme Wolves Makeover, and only one of those games included both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. The combination of an abbreviated training camp with a Summer League-like schedule would hypothetically give Gersson Rosas and his staff a better idea of what pieces fit (and don’t fit), thus giving them more information as they continue to rebuild around DLO and KAT.
KAHN: The Karl-Anthony Towns Dilemma
Speaking of KAT — under no circumstances whatsoever am I even remotely comfortable commenting on where that dude is at mentally right now. I personally just found out over the weekend that a family member of mine tested positive for COVID-19, and while currently stable and recovering, that original news flipped my world upside down, so I won’t even begin to put myself in Karl’s size-20 sneakers when it comes to his situation.
With that said, the discussion about the Wolves possibly resuming their season really starts and ends with their franchise center. Everything I said above in my first “pro” still holds true, but if you remove Towns from the equation, does any of this really matter? How much insight can Rosas & Co. gather about which players fit best around their franchise player if that franchise player is on the bench (or not even with the team due to personal reasons)? How can Ryan Saunders build his offensive (and defensive) philosophies if the centerpiece of both of those is out of action?
Again, this is a REALLY sensitive subject, and one that I (nor many people currently at Mayo Square) have a firm grip on. Since taking over the reins last spring, Gersson Rosas has made player safety and player relations two of his biggest priorities, and I would imagine that in this situation no one will be asking Karl to return to the team until he is 110% ready (and rightfully so). But if his absence does extend into the fall, then do a handful of “exhibition” games for the team really matter?
PRO: Player Development
The obvious counterpoint to “do exhibition games really matter” is that reps are reps — most NBA players have now gone the longest period in their professional careers without some sort of training, pick-up games, etc. Having the opportunity to re-program and re-train their bodies at the highest level (while simultaneously being monitored and tested for COVID-19 symptoms) does seem to give these athletes the best chance at regaining their athleticism and stamina for not just this season but future seasons to come.
This idea directly relates to the Wolves as well, especially when it comes to young guys like Jarrett Culver, Naz Reid, and Jordan McLaughlin. While some of these guys may have home gyms or access to indoor courts, their overall development will remain somewhat stagnated until they are allowed to train with their teammates and compete against other professionals. As Darren Wolfson reported on Tuesday, more and more Wolves players are beginning to return to Mayo Square, which is a positive sign:
#Twolves players are starting to trickle back into town, including Okogie and McLaughlin. Now, the question is, will the resumption of the season include the #Timberwolves? As Anthony Tolliver said on my last podcast, he can see a scenario where they aren't included. Many agree.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) May 26, 2020
It remains to be seen if/when more notable names like D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley will return, although I’d imagine their travel plans will depend greatly on whether or not the Wolves are invited to whatever summer “party” the NBA plans to throw in Orlando.
KAHN: Risk vs. Reward
While players at all levels and ages can benefit from additional basketball reps, some players will obviously profit more than others. In other words, those players that tend to possess higher financial profits (superstars) may not be as focused on short-term developments compared to guys with lesser financial incentives (rookies, G-League guys, etc.).
Take Damian Lillard for example — on Tuesday, DAME D.O.L.L.A had this to say to Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes about possibly playing “meaningless games” if/when the season resumes:
“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that in there.”
Lillard went on to say that if a format was created that gave outside teams a better shot at a postseason run (i.e. a play-in tournament), he would definitely participate, but his overall stance is understandable. If you were a veteran star on a max contract, but your team wasn’t within shouting distance of a postseason opportunity, why would you risk putting unnecessary “miles” on your body that could possibly result in a long-term injury?
Superstars aside, what does the risk/reward look like for other players in the league, most notably impending free agents? Would a guy like Malik Beasley be less inclined/motivated to resume the season knowing that one cold streak or twisted ankle could greatly affect his potential earnings come this fall?
As I mentioned at the top — while the prevailing notion is that the NBA will indeed return one way or another this summer, there are still a LOT of unanswered questions as to what the league will exactly look like once the ball is tipped. For veteran teams in contention, the desire to finish the season and crown a champion is obvious and understood, but for young, rebuilding teams like the Wolves, there will be increased discussions as to whether or not the pros of returning can outweigh the khans.