The Timberwolves are running their first group workouts and scrimmages since the NBA postponed its season March 11. They likely won’t take the floor again for another few months after this as the NBA decides when it will begin the next season.
Of course, coach Ryan Saunders has been installing concepts the Wolves will be using on both ends of the floor, but the main objectives of this camp, he said, were just to find a safe way to be around each other and to compete. If they did nothing else, this time would still be a success.
“Our No. 1 goal within this week was to compete,” Saunders said. “Because it’s been a really long time since they’ve been able to do that in more of a structured setting. Then we also wanted to connect with this group. While you’re connecting, you also want to be able to build relationships. We talked about it today where the team that is the most connected … will get a jump start on next season whenever next season starts.”
Under President Gersson Rosas the Wolves have made a concerted effort to grow their off-court chemistry. Before last season there was a trip to the Bahamas, and after Rosas revamped the roster at the trade deadline, the Wolves took advantage of a trip to Miami to get in some team bonding.
But does off-court chemistry actually lead to on-court chemistry? Does playing well require that everybody be friends off it? Saunders thinks there is a correlation.
“There’s a lot of documented teams that have been talented groups but, throughout the league, and not just in basketball, but in other sports, that maybe have a lot of talent but they aren’t the most connected group away from competition on the court or field,” Saunders said. “So I do believe that it plays a role.”
It helps to accomplish that when the team is isolated in a hotel for a few weeks with nothing else to do.
“When you talk about culture, when you watch these playoffs, you see a lot of these teams that have gone through those types of builds, and those are the things that they do — they play together, they play hard and they play for each other,” Saunders said.
An important part of establishing that, Rosas said, is the continuity Saunders has brought with his coaching staff. The NBA coaching carousel has been in full swing now with big names like Mike D’Antoni and Doc Rivers becoming available.
But Rosas has liked what he has seen from Saunders, especially after being handed a completely different roster at the trade deadline and not having Karl-Anthony Towns for a significant chunk of the season.
“We knew when you’re going into the process of building a program, it’s hard,” Rosas said. “I talked about it last year when I took this job that this first season wasn’t going to be about the record. It wasn’t going to show what we were doing. It was going to be more about our ability to establish a program, to establish an identity, to change the philosophy and bring the organization into more of a modern platform. And we’ve done that in a lot of ways.”