As the NBA moves closer to resuming their 2019-2020 season in late July, most franchises are beginning to ramp up team activities again as they prepare to “return to play” later this summer in Orlando, Florida. With the agreed upon proposal sending 22 lucky franchises to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, that leaves 8 “unlucky” teams that are forced to start thinking about their offseason program and how to handle the extended hiatus between now and a proposed start date of December 1 for the 2020-2021 season.
One of those 8 “unlucky” franchises is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who held their end-of-season media availability yesterday to discuss a variety of topics, including COVID-19, the team’s response to the death of George Floyd, and the various ways the coaching staff (and front office) continue to use technology to keep players connected and engaged with one another.
1/2 “Our city, our community and our organization are still in a tremendous amount of pain. The incidents that happened here over the past 10 days are still etched in our minds and our hearts,” - Rosas on the death of George Floyd https://t.co/jahbEUjgD6— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) June 10, 2020
Both Gersson Rosas and Ryan Saunders praised many of the team’s young players — most notably Josh Okogie, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell — for their involvement in their communities and the level of maturity they have shown throughout these extremely challenging times.
As it pertained specifically to basketball, Rosas made it abundantly clear that the extended break between now and the projected start of next season is a massive challenge for teams not going to Orlando:
What we have gone through here in the last three, four months is historic. There’s certain things you just can’t control. Our focus is we want to be good teammates with our league. The reality is this restart is incredibly important. The ability to finish the season, to finish the playoffs, finish the finals, is really an important springboard into next season. As much as we’d like to play and compete and develop, that platform wasn’t available to us. It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. But you can either sit there and dwell on what wasn’t or focus on what is.
Without specifically mentioning possible alternatives like a modified summer league, the Wolves president of basketball operations did confirm that his team and the seven other franchises not making the voyage to Orlando are continuously in talks about possible plans for later this offseason:
We’re actively engaged with the league and the seven other teams to create the most intensive, competitive platform for us to work with our players over the next four or five months. A silver lining there is the ability to maybe be better prepared for the following season with the right plan in place as we work through things. Get guys healthy, get guys on the same page. We’ve got a lot of development to do in terms of our team philosophy, our offense, our defense, our player development approach. And this gives us time to do it.
Speaking of getting guys healthy — Rosas was asked during the media availability to provide a health/status update on Karl-Anthony Towns and the wrist injury he suffered earlier this spring. His response was... less than informative:
We feel like things are at a positive place with Karl, but out of respect to him personally and where we’re at with the pandemic and health reasons and everything, what’s expected of him at this point in terms of his rehab. We’ve given him his space physically. But overall we feel very positive about where things are at. At the right time we’ll make a formal announcement of where things are at, but to be fair out of respect for Karl and what he’s living through right now, we want to make sure and give him his space and his opportunity to work through things moving forward. Big picture, we feel positive about that situation and when the time is right we’ll share more details on the specifics of that.
A couple of things on this — for one, it’s appropriate and necessary for the media to ask this question, considering the team’s storied history of divulging injury information and the overall big picture of having the team’s best player healthy for next season. It’s also appropriate (and probably necessary) for the team to give a “non-update update” like Rosas did above, considering the fact that Towns has been through more in the last 3-4 months than I’ve experienced in my entire 31 years on Earth.
With that said, I personally wouldn’t read *too much* into the non-answer answer from the team. Yes, on one side there’s a chance KAT still hasn’t fully recovered from the injury and that a future surgery may be inevitable (which would be a massive disaster for the team going forward). Or, there’s a chance the team is simply using this injury to essentially “cover” or protect their franchise player from having to participate in any offseason basketball activities. Again, there’s an argument to be made for both sides, and while one side (i.e. he may still need surgery) is a full-blown disaster, I’d strongly lean towards option #2 (i.e. the team wants to give him an extended break to continue grieving and get his head right for the upcoming season). Just my two cents.
One of the more interesting questions asked during yesterday’s media session revolved around the team’s defense (or lack therof) and how the extended offseason could throw a wrench in trying to improve in that area without having everyone together. Saunders discussed the team’s current approach by stating:
With our group we’ve done a number of virtual teaching sessions. A lot of our young guys especially they have standing appointments with certain coaches to go through not just their game film but we’re watching other teaching tapes. We’re watching also player comps, ones that guys can draw something from defensively especially. But like you said, that’s why getting guys together and being able to work in larger groups is going to be important for us. Because a huge part of defense is the communication part, continuity part and just an understanding of terminology, which we’ve been able to talk about, some during this pandemic with these guys because there was a lot of time you’re teaching on the fly and players are learning on the fly. You want to be respectful of them after such a roster shift after the deadline where you’re not overloading them. But you also have things that you have to get into. So not being able to get that last month-plus was definitely something we wanted in terms of our continuity as we went towards the summer. That’s another reason why this is going to be important for us to be able to get some time together as a group.
Overall, while nothing Earth-shattering was discussed during yesterday’s Zoom meeting, it was still refreshing to get a sense of what the team wants to do this summer and the franchise’s overall strategy as they approach another extremely important offseason. Rosas made mention multiple times to the team having “draft capital,” which to me solidifies the idea that the Wolves view their potential three 2020 draft picks as ammunition to acquire talent (via the draft or in trades), rather than set-in-stone tiers of prospects.
Big shoutout to Timberwolves PR for inviting me onto the call — I’ll leave you with a couple final thoughts from the Zoom meeting from other media attendees who are far better at this than I am:
Asked about the luxury tax today, Gersson Rosas said some of the financial numbers for this season are still "to be determined", implying the tax could be ducked.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) June 10, 2020
Related to the repeater tax (being in tax next year also), Rosas said they see paths to "not be in that situation". https://t.co/zqRMQExh22
On #Timberwolves season wrap Zoom call. Rosas on KAT’s wrist: “Things are at a positive place.” Wouldn’t say if he had or needs surgery. Said at the right time they’ll make a formal update announcement.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) June 10, 2020
Wolves are disappointed to be left out of restart, but preparing to have some sort of team activities.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) June 10, 2020
Saunders: "We’re also very confident we’ll have opportunities to get our group together this summer at some point."
On a call with reporters, Wolves’ Gersson Rosas and Ryan Saunders spoke extensively about supporting their players who participate in #blacklivesmatter protests. Rosas said the team works to make sure players who are protesting in Minneapolis have PPE and are tested for COVID.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) June 10, 2020