In the middle of March, the NBA season was put on hold when the league suspended play indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country and around the globe.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves and the rest of the NBA, that left around 20 games yet to be played with questions surrounding when or even if those games would ultimately be played before the start of a 2020-21 year.
In early June, the league and its Board of Governors announced a plan to restart the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, with all games being played at one site and team personnel all living in a central location to complete the year.
Part of that plan includes inviting 22 teams still in the hunt for playoff spots, leaving eight teams out of the mix to complete the regular season schedule. Unfortunately for the Wolves, they are one of those eight squads whose season has officially come to an end.
“With the NBA’s announcement of the season last week, there was a lot of disappointment because we are an organization that wants to compete and play and get better,” Minnesota president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said in a Zoom call with media on Wednesday. “At the same time, what has happened this year has been historic on a lot of levels for bad reasons. The league requires us to be a good teammate right now to make sure it’s not just about the short-term, but the long-term. Working together with the other teams in the NBA, we decided this was the best approach to take.
“The reality is, this restart is incredibly important. The ability to finish the season, finish the playoffs and finish the Finals is an important spring forward into next season. As much as we would like to play and compete and develop, that platform wasn’t available to us. It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing, but you can sit there and dwell on what wasn’t or focus on what is.”
Options for the Teams Left out of Orlando
For the eight teams left out of the resumption of the season in Florida, they want an opportunity to continue to develop their players during a time when 22 other teams are conducting valuable reps on the court in Orlando.
When it comes to the Wolves, who are the youngest team in the NBA and a team that hasn’t spent that much time on the court together collectively, that’s an even more important objective right now.
“We’re actively engaged with the league and the seven other teams to create the most intensive and competitive platform for us to work with our players over the next four or five months,” said Rosas. “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.
“We’re competitors, we would have loved to play and have the opportunity to bring some closure and finish what we started. The reality is, we don’t have control over that. … We really feel like what the league is going to put together for us over the next four or five months is going to be a very productive platform that will allow us to not only get our work in, get with our players, but to prepare them physically and mentally and emotionally to take a big step forward next season.”
The league is reportedly contemplating a number of different scenarios for teams not taking part in the restart of the season, including the possibility of organized team workouts, regional minicamps consisting of joint practices or an extended training camp leading into the 2020-21 season.
One scenario that would be intriguing to see is a Summer League-type minicamp in July or August between the eight teams not heading to Orlando. Similar to what is organized during Summer League competition annually in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and California, but with the eight squads being the lone teams competing.
That could be hosting all eight teams in one location or splitting that group up into a few regional minicamps while they host joint practices and scrimmages to get more time on the court together. It could also be an opportunity for the NBA to broadcast live games to audiences during that time.
“Our hope is, with the league and the union, they will give us approval to have more team-like (activities), and I would phrase it more like NFL OTAs. Just to have some live competition, whether it’s inter-squad or with other teams,” Rosas said.
“There’s a lot we can do in terms of philosophy and we have a good understanding of who our core group is moving forward as we plan out next season. … We want to give them the opportunity to grow and develop individually in between those periods so they can be ready in December.”
Maneuvering in an extended offseason unlike any other
In a typical season, teams throughout the league have their regular season schedules wrap up in April while others see their years stretch into May or even June during the postseason.
For the Wolves and seven other teams this season, the offseason kicked off in March following the suspension of play in the NBA. That means Minnesota is forced to maneuver through an offseason unlike any other while dealing with an extra month-plus of time without games.
“The flow of everything is different. We’re doing this from our homes right now,” Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders said. “With our group, we have 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 are watching other teaching tapes and player comps.
“That’s why getting guys together and working in larger groups is going to be important for us. … Not being able to get that last month-plus was definitely something we wanted in terms of our continuity as we head towards the summer, but that’s another reason why this is going to be important for us to get some time together as a group.”
Although every offseason is important in terms of development, potentially acquiring talent to fill out the roster and ultimately improving heading into a new year, the Wolves are also still in the process of trying to figure out what they want their roster to look like following a heavy overhaul of personnel during the season.
“It makes it more challenging because you would like more repetitions and data on the group and understand the positives and negatives,” Rosas said. “I wish we had more information, but it is what it is and we are fortunate we have a good staff and we will make educated decisions as we put this team together.
“We have some moving targets with the season restarting and seeing how everything plays out in Orlando. Realistically, for us, we have the draft that is upcoming first. After the draft, it will be free agency. Between both of those periods, the trade market should be pretty active. Our staff has been diligently at work on all of those platforms.”
There’s no question this season, the restart and the offseason is something like we have never seen in the NBA and perhaps may never see again. But Rosas, Saunders and the rest of the Wolves organization have begun the process of trying to continue the rebuild leading up to an eventual 2020-21 season later this year.
“We can’t treat this as a typical offseason. We have to be very creative and you will see us take different approaches,” Rosas said. “We have to be able to impact our players on a totally different level for a historical offseason that nobody has really experienced before.
“At this point in time, we feel like we have made significant improvement, but by no means are we there. We have more work to do. … I’m excited about what we did at the trade deadline, I’m excited about what we could potentially do at the draft and getting a high-end talent or multiple players that could help us. Every step of that process is making decisions about what is best for us long-term. We took a big step forward in year one and we have a lot more work to do.”