How The Timberwolves Plan To Get Back To Something That Resembles Normalcy

The Timberwolves made a big announcement on Wednesday. The team will open its practice facility to players for voluntary workouts.

You can read the full press release here.

ESPN also reported that the Timberwolves’ very own Dr. Robby Sikka will be leading the charge in the league’s alliance with Mayo Clinic to study antibody testing for coronavirus. 

Sikka and Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas addressed the media on Wednesday morning to discuss the state of the team and what the immediate future looks like. Here are the four main takeaways from our Kyle Ratke and Katie Davidson.

Sikka Spearheads Leaguewide Antibody Testing

Rosas’ decision to hire Dr. Sikka as the Timberwolves’ Vice President of Basketball Performance and Technology is appearing to be a smarter decision as every day of life in a pandemic passes.

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported Sikka has partnered with the Mayo Clinic to spearhead a leaguewide study that aims to establish what percentage of NBA players, coaches, executives and staff members have developed antibodies to the coronavirus. 

“Antibody testing is something that’s unique in that it looks at your prior exposure, not at your current disease state,” explained Sikka during Wednesday’s call. “As we look forward, it’s understanding what has happened in the past, and that’s what antibody testing will tell us.” 

Antibody testing will help the league identify the people who have a lower risk of contracting COVID-19, a crucial step forward in coming closer to resuming play.  

“There’s certainly a role in (antibody testing) in epidemiologic evaluation and in opening up certain parts of the country and understanding really where we are relative to herd immunity, which is not close,” Sikka said. – Katie Davidson 

What Will These Workouts Look Like? 

Players will be able to enter the team’s practice facilities starting on Thursday, May 21. So, um, what exactly does that mean?

These are for players in-market, which Rosas says is a “handful” of players. None of these players will be on the court at the same time. The workouts will last 45 minutes. That might be long for you and me, but it’s not very long for an NBA player.  

Only one player and one coach will be allowed on the floor at one time. All staff members will wear gloves and masks while in the building. Players will wear masks at all times except when they are on the court.

Upon entering the building, everyone must pass a symptom and temperature check. Everything will be cleaned after a workout and common places like the weight room locker room and offices will all remain closed. 

It’s a way for players to get back to something that resembles a little normalcy. When will we get back to having multiple players on the court at the same time? That’s a great question and we just don’t really have the answer to that. More than anything, this is a big step, but there are still many more steps to take. As Sikka pointed to more than a few times during the call, it’s better to be cautious, especially early with this, than it is to be aggressive. 

It’s easy to want to get things going quickly, but this is pandemic for a reason. 

“For us, a big part of it is to be there for our guys to make sure and see where they’re at after this layoff,” Rosas said. “There’s an assessment period, but more than anything, we just really want to give them a little bit of joy. . .  We want them to have fun, but we want them to do it in a safe and responsible manner. There will be some short workouts as we get started here, just some opportunities for guys to be in a safe environment where they can get their work in.”- Kyle Ratke

A Small But Positive Step Forward

It’s easy to be consumed with the distant future whenever shelter-in-place restrictions are modified. 

What’s next? What restrictions will be lifted in the next six months? When will we finally be back to normalcy?

But Rosas and Sikka were forthright in sharing that the opening of the Timberwolves’ practice facilities does not mean that they have a set timeline for a full return to multi-player practices. 

“We don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline,” Sikka said. “We have to do what’s right by our community first and foremost, and if we do that, then we have an opportunity to do something going forward. We don’t know what the next step is.” 

Frankly, no one does, and it’d be a disservice for Rosas and Sikka to pretend they do. 

"Is the Dow going to 15,000 or is it going to 25,000? The only person you don’t trust with that answer is the person who says they definitely know,” Sikka said. “We have to be truthful about what we know and what we don’t know." 

What we don’t know about the coronavirus still outweighs what we do know about it, but Sikka is optimistic about where we’ve come since March when the United States began to see the tragic impact of the virus.

“The thing that makes me optimistic is that two months ago when this all started here in the United States at this level, where we were knowledge-wise to where we are today has dramatically improved,” Sikka said. 

Yet, we still have a long way to go. And in the meantime, Sikka, Rosas and the rest of the Timberwolves organization will continue to work with the league and state officials to remain educated on best practices going forward. 

“It’s a step forward, we still have a lot of work to do, there’s still a long way to go, but we feel confident about this next step,” Rosas said. “We feel that the protocols in place will allow our guys to give them a little bit better quality of life so they can get back to their routines.” 

“Nobody wants to be someone who deviates and cuts corners on this,” Sikka said. “This is a global pandemic. There’s no place for cutting corners. This is simply about giving players a safe place to come and shoot and come and work out more than it is about anything else. It’s about safety and wellness first, and if we do that right, then we give ourselves a chance to have whatever comes after that.” 

With Sikka and Rosas on board, the Timberwolves are in good hands. – Katie Davidson

Learning From Other Leagues

So far, there hasn’t been an American team sports league that has figured out the best way to get back to business. 

We’ve seen successful virtual drafts from the WNBA and NFL. Sports like golf, tennis and auto racing have been the first sports to get traction in making a return, but team sports are trickier, especially one where 10 players are on the court at the same time constantly making contact with each other. 

The NBA, and the teams in it, will be keeping a close eye on what other leagues and teams are doing around the world throughout this process. However, it is important to remember that not all cities are the same. 

The Timberwolves have been one of the leaders in studying other leagues to best educate them on the best way to move forward. 

“Part of it is our protocol has been to focus on all the markets that are ahead of us and Robby and his group has researched everything from the CBA in China to the soccer leagues in Europe. . . We’re learning, we’re growing, we’re understanding. . . It’s one of the beauties of sports right now is that everyone is trying to come together and share perspectives and share approaches.” – Kyle Ratke