MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves have done everything in their power to keep their players in the best possible frame of mind during the coronavirus pandemic, from daily virtual visits to film studies to setting them up with Peloton bikes.
Priority No. 1, team president Gersson Rosas and coach Ryan Saunders said in a conference call Tuesday, April 7, is ensuring the health of their players and members of the organization.
But they also want to be ready to return to play, if given that opportunity. Minnesota was 19-45, with no shot at reaching the postseason, when the league shut down last month, so there wouldn’t seem to be much reason for the Wolves to care about playing out their final 18 games.
But the remainder of the season was meant to be a period of evaluation for a team that just reshuffled its roster at the trade deadline. How did those new pieces — such as Malik Beasley, James Johnson and Juancho Hernangomez — fit alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell? We don’t really know yet. Towns played just a couple games with his new teammates before he was sidelined with a wrist injury that Rosas declined to provide an update on Tuesday as Towns and his family focus their efforts on Karl’s mother’s current battle with coronavirus.
Even Beasley and Co. have played only 14 games with the Timberwolves. Saunders said it was good to get a look at how those guys fit into the team’s offensive scheme and defensive coverages. But was that enough time for Rosas and Saunders to get a proper evaluation heading into a summer in which Beasley and Hernangomez both will be restricted free agents and Minnesota figures to continue to fine-tune its roster for the future?
“The reality is the data is there for the players. The reality is we’ve had guys in our environment for over a month,” Rosas said. “Of course, we’d like that to be more, but the exposures, the opportunities, the relationships, the experiences, the assessments that we have to make, we feel confident about all of our players that are on our roster and we feel confident about what the future holds. We’ve done our due diligence.”
Still, Rosas hopes there’s a window to create a larger sample size, and he doesn’t feel like Minnesota’s season is finished, though that remains to be seen. Minnesota’s president of basketball operations said everyone in the league wants to play, but wants to make sure they can do so without putting anyone in danger. He said the NBA is putting its efforts and resources into finding a way to finish the season “in some shape or form.”
“Any and every scenario is being studied to the extent of extending the league out further into the summer and into situations where next season might be pushed back. All of those scenarios are being explored and it’s all with the mindset of finishing the season. … We think we owe that to our fans,” Rosas said. “And we want to do the right thing. But we have to be smart about things and those are scenarios and approaches that are being developed as we speak. But we all know until we have more information on our environment and safety, those things come first. But I guarantee once the situation is controlled, the league is 100 percent forward seeking in terms of putting a plan in place for us to continue, whenever that may be.”
ESPN reported Monday that officials within the league and the players association have looked into the viability of quick-result blood-testing devices that could determine in 15 minutes whether or not someone has the virus. Such tests, when available to the league, could make returning to play a possibility. ESPN also reported Monday that Major League Baseball at least discussed the possibility of holding part of its season entirely in the state of Arizona, with teams essentially isolated within certain facilities and being consistently tested to make sure it’s safe for them to play.
Rosas was asked Tuesday about leagues looking into such radical measures in the pursuit of play.
“It’s our responsibility to figure out how we can operate in a safe manner. I think a lot of ideas are being thrown around, and those ideas are being thoroughly checked out to see if, potentially, when the time comes, those are executable platforms that we can have, whether it’s games, continuing the season, but there’s a lot of motivation to finish what we started,” Rosas said.
“For us, it’s incredibly important. We’re a young team. Every game matters, every opportunity matters. We look at not only finishing strong, but into the future, continuing to grow and develop. We value every and all opportunities. And to our players, who’ve worked incredibly hard this season and want to have the opportunity to finish the season out, it’s important. (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver and (deputy commissioner) Mark Tatum deserve a ton of credit, because they’re not standing pat. Along with Major League Baseball and all the other leagues, they’re looking at what platforms could work as we see progress and as we see control of this pandemic into the future.”
Saunders said the organization as a whole is a group that misses basketball.
“I think everybody would tell you that, but health and safety, that comes first,” Saunders said. “The commissioner and the commissioner’s office have done a great job of keeping everybody informed, and they’re tirelessly working and looking toward the future, whenever that future may come.”