MIAMI - There are times when the Wolves don’t hold a day-of-game shootaround at the arena, and instead will go through their game plan for that night in a hotel conference room.
Coach Ryan Saunders wants his group to be as loud as they possibly can in those confines, even at the risk of making too much noise in such a quiet setting.
“They’ve got to be loud, and it’s uncomfortable,” Saunders said. “But that’s our biggest thing we have to improve upon at the moment.”
That would be communication, and Saunders said the lack of it showed up in a 139-123 loss to the Mavericks. On tap next in the Wolves reconstruction project is old friend Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat — though his status is in question. He has missed the Heat’s past two games because of personal reasons.
Even after a recent 2-6 slide, Miami is 36-21 overall and battling for a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference, evidence that Butler seems to have found a new home with his second team since asking for a trade out of Minnesota last season.
That drama seems like eons ago compared to what’s happened with the Wolves since. A new front office, a new roster, and then an even newer roster at the trade deadline. So much newness that the only player Butler — if he plays — would face who he was teammates with in Minnesota on Wednesday is Josh Okogie (since Karl-Anthony Towns is out because of a left wrist fracture). Even that was only for a handful of games last season.
Okogie and the new-look Wolves still are adjusting to one another, with communication the biggest glaring issue affecting the team on both ends of the floor.
“That’s what great teams do,” Okogie said. “And if we want to be a great team, we’re going to have to go through that, being able to hold everybody accountable. I think we do a great job of that on the court. When somebody messes up, we address the issue and then it’s dead after that. We all like each other, so we all know it’s coming from a good place.”
That wasn’t always the case when Butler was in town. This is still very much the honeymoon phase for this new Wolves team, which has played just six games together (going 1-5) since the trade deadline, with new guard D’Angelo Russell only playing four of those (all losses) and Towns just two.
“It’s hard to give you a straight, specific answer for [how to communicate better] but [Saunders] is right. It’s as simple as that,” Russell said. “It’s something we’ve got to be better at. I think over time we’ll complement each other on it, but right now, it’s a big gap where we need to improve.”
The Wolves internally are recoiling at the notion that their rest plan for Russell, who sat out Sunday’s game against Denver before playing Monday in Dallas, was related to tanking to improve their draft stock. For one, they want to keep Russell, who has dealt with a variety of injuries this season, healthy the rest of the season. Russell said he is on board with the plan.
“Going into the summer healthy is a major advantage,” Russell said. “For players in our league not having to do rehab, you can gain the edge and work on things you knew you need to work on during the season, but you didn’t get the time to. I agree with it. I think it’s smart and something I’m going to take advantage of.”
Russell said he had faith in the Wolves’ medical and performance staffs and their recommendations for him.
“I trust what they do,” Russell said. “Performance team is great here. Performance team is running professional sports nowadays. They’re way more educated than I am in that aspect.”
But the other reason the Wolves insist they aren’t tanking is because they want to evaluate the team they have, and having a healthy Russell — even if he has to miss a few games — is preferable to him missing a lot. That way, the Wolves can better gauge where they’re at, and how Russell fits into the way the new group communicates.
“It’s tough because we’re on the road right now,” guard Malik Beasley said. “It’s not like we’re at home practicing and getting better and having training camp or anything like that. We’re all learning on the fly. But at the same time we’ve got to hold each other accountable. Communication is basketball in general. In pickup if you have five guys, you have to talk to them and communicate with them.”