The Timberwolves’ increasingly lost season of 2018-19 was punctuated by so many acute problems that a more subtle one barely made a blip on the radar.
Jimmy Butler’s trade request led to his uneasy return, leading to his eventual trade, leading to the firing of Tom Thibodeau, leading to a second half of a season where players were injured and/or in no hurry to return to the court as the Wolves hurtled toward the all-too-familiar draft lottery.
If everything that happened between Butler’s trade request and Thibodeau’s firing was an indication of a bad chemistry mix, the canary in the coal mine actually came much sooner — as described by veteran point guard Jeff Teague after a preseason loss to Milwaukee in October, in the midst of all the mess.
“You can tell the teams who got together in the summer,” Teague said. “I think [the Bucks] spent a lot of time together in the summer, and you can tell. We didn’t see each other until the season started.”
That was a recipe for disaster, with the key ingredients being that apparently nobody wanted to be around each other until it was absolutely necessary.
This offseason, then, has been a palate-cleansing of sorts — and the hiring of Gersson Rosas as president of basketball operations along with Ryan Saunders as permanent head coach has generated a cultural change.
Several Wolves players already have been working out together this offseason. Most notable among them: Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, both of whom attended Saunders’ news conference Tuesday at Target Center and talked afterward about the road ahead.
“I don’t remember the last time we had anyone back here in Minnesota in the summer, especially this early,” Towns said. “We’re taking a new approach.”
Rosas said players will convene at other times in the summer, including for a stint to work in Las Vegas. He added that members of the Wolves staff will travel to meet with players and work with them when they aren’t together.
“We have a new philosophy, we have a new approach, there’s a different way we’re going to play,” Rosas said. “That’s not going to happen organically. That’s not going to happen on its own. … We’ll do a lot more as the season starts, but we’re not waiting for that to happen. We’re making that happen.”
Wiggins, who is just 24 but is already preparing for his sixth NBA season, mentioned that convening this early is important for the “young guys,” though he didn’t necessarily place himself in that group.
“I think this is a very positive change. You can see the fresh air, you can see the faces and the positive energy in the air,” said Wiggins, who is hoping for a career rebirth after two forgettable seasons.
“Everyone is happy for Ryan — you don’t see negative faces, everyone is happy and we’re supportive. It’s just a positive energy in the room, so I think it’s going to be a great change.”
It won’t guarantee a season like the Bucks are having — Milwaukee jumped from 44 to 60 wins after Teague complimented their summer work — building chemistry and getting a head start on the year can’t be a bad idea.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to change the culture,” Towns said. “It starts by coming back this early and getting ready.”