Beginning Monday, the Timberwolves will be home in Minneapolis. But home for many players and staff is going to feel so far away.
That’s because for two weeks, the Wolves will be in their own version of the NBA bubble, only going back and forth from a hotel to their team’s practice facility and Target Center for the first group workouts they will hold since the NBA postponed its season March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wolves were one of eight teams that didn’t make the cut for the NBA’s bubble campus in Orlando, but they and the other seven teams pressed the NBA for an opportunity to hold group workouts in a bubblelike setting so as not to go even longer without holding any organized team activities.
The Wolves are holding individual workouts now before beginning group workouts next week after a “hard” two-day quarantine that begins Monday, according to Dr. Robby Sikka, the Wolves’ vice president of basketball performance and technology.
The Wolves will receive daily coronavirus testing in conjunction with Hennepin County Medical Center using, in part, saliva-based testing Sikka helped reach approval by linking the NBA and Yale researchers who developed the test, known as SalivaDirect.
This will also be an opportunity for HCMC to help gauge how it can distribute the saliva tests in the larger community, Sikka said. Sikka added the Wolves should require less than 1,000 tests in the workout period from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6.
“We wouldn’t have frankly felt good about doing this if we hadn’t found ways to try and encourage saliva testing through the community,” Sikka said. “That’ll be something I think really starts too permeate the community here in the next couple weeks. This whole thing is designed to be a period of time for our team to grow together and we’ve had really good participation throughout.”
The Wolves’ facility has been open for individual workouts since late May, but this will be the first time they can take the court together as a group. It’s still a relatively new team, with President Gersson Rosas remaking the roster in February at the trade deadline.
Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, the franchise’s linchpins, only played in one game together before the Wolves’ season ended because of a wrist injury to Towns, and coach Ryan Saunders said they have been spearheading the Wolves throughout this process.
“D’Angelo worked out this morning at 7 a.m. Karl has been the 6 a.m. guy in the gym,” Saunders said. “It’s good to get out there and even though you can only do it with one player, one coach, it’s been nice for me to be able to get hands-on — not hands-on, but hands-on at a safe social distance — and focus on things that we feel these guys need to work on and know they need to work on.”
Saunders and other coaches will get to work more closely with players the next few weeks. Only Juancho Hernangomez and Omari Spellman are not listed on the roster for the voluntary workouts.
Hernangomez, a restricted free agent, had previously committed to filming a movie, Adam Sandler’s latest project about an overseas basketball scout, before he knew these workouts would be this time of year, Rosas said. Another restricted free agent in the Wolves’ long-term plans, Malik Beasley, is participating.
When asked about the status of Towns’ wrist, Rosas indicated that wasn’t an issue by saying the Wolves are in good health except for one player Rosas did not name who suffered a broken nose.
The next two weeks will be challenging in several ways, since the Wolves will be away from family and friends. Sikka mentioned he is bringing multiple books to read, one of them being “Late Bloomers,” which discusses why people may blossom in a career on a later timetable that others. Meanwhile, “I’m going to be FaceTiming my kid every chance I get,” he said.
He also said he has challenged players in video games of Madden Football. But ultimately, this will be time of work, and finally working together after having to stay apart for so long.
“We’re going to use this time for draft meetings, to be productive because you’re never going to get this time back with your group,” Sikka said. “So you got to use it.”