Last week, the NBA made official what had been rumored for a while — that it was seeking a way to resume its postponed season on the grounds of Disney World in Orlando.
The league announced it was entering talks with Disney World to make that a “bubble” site so it can salvage what’s left of a season that stopped when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus on March 11.
Except as word begins to leak out on what the NBA’s return will look like, the chance is growing that when play resumes it may be without the Timberwolves and other teams languishing near the bottom of the standings.
It’s possible the Wolves’ last game was on March 10 in Houston. Several return to play scenarios have circulated recently, and some of those include leaving teams near the bottom of the standings out of the bubble site.
A source said no vote has been scheduled on that yet after Commissioner Adam Silver had a conference call with team general managers on Thursday, but momentum seems to be building for a return-to-play scenario that includes only teams in playoff positions — and possibly ones just on the outside to give them a chance to earn a way in the postseason. But teams like the Wolves would be out in those scenarios.
More progress could emerge from Friday’s NBA board of governors meeting, though the meeting reportedly won’t include a vote on a plan.
When the season stopped, the Wolves had the second-worst record in the Western Conference at 19-45 and were 12 ½ games out of the No. 8 seed. Here are some of the recently reported scenarios that would exclude the Wolves:
• The league could just go right to the playoffs, meaning the season would be over for the Wolves and any other non-playoff teams.
• The league might look at the standings and give teams within striking distance of a postseason berth an opportunity to have a play-in tournament to determine who gets the final playoff spots. The Wolves would also be out of any scenario like that.
• The Ringer recently elaborated on the NBA’s possible “group stage” finish to the season, where it would take the top 20 teams and divide them into World Cup-style groups based on their records for the initial round of the playoffs. The Wolves wouldn’t make the cut.
• There are still other options on the table that include a resumption of the regular season involving all 30 teams. There is also a possibility of a larger play-in tournament for the playoffs that might involve all teams.
The league has a financial incentive to get all teams back in action for some sort of finish to the regular season. Once regional broadcast networks, like Fox Sports North, air 70 games, the league retains the value of those television deals. Not included in that number are games that aired exclusively on national television. The Wolves had played 64 games total before the stoppage of play.
But that financial windfall seems to be taking a back seat to the logistics of returning all teams to the bubble site.
First, from a sheer numbers perspective, having hundreds of fewer people at the location reduces the chance of the virus puncturing the bubble.
Second, there has been some pushback from players who may not want to go through a four- to six-week modified training camp only to play for a handful of games and then stop again. They would be putting their bodies at risk of injury for not much in return, not to mention the possibility of contracting the virus.
Third, there is a large emphasis from all parties that next season, even if its start is delayed, hits the ground running as smoothly as possible. Shortening the time window to finish this season by going straight to the playoffs can help that.
“It’s bigger than sports and there’s great symbolism around sports in this country, and to the extent we do find a path back, it’ll be very meaningful for Americans,” Silver said on April 17.
As for what the Wolves would like to see? A source said they will go along with whatever scenario is in the best interest of the league.
Wolves coach Ryan Saunders has often said he wished he had a training camp to install systems instead of having to do it on the fly with a team that was largely assembled at the early February trade deadline.
In that week the Wolves traded seven players, including Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins, in three separate deals. It amounted to a total makeover of the roster. They acquired a bunch of new players — including Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and guard D’Angelo Russell, whom the Wolves envision playing for a long time beside Karl-Anthony Towns.
But Russell and Towns played in only one game together before the season stopped as Towns dealt with a fractured wrist. The Wolves would like to see what they have when all are healthy and playing together.
But at what cost would that come? Because of that, the 2019-20 season for the Timberwolves might already be over.