The Twins are reaching the one-third point of the tentative 60-game schedule on Saturday, and remain a source of optimism and sizable TV interest.
The Vikings have started training camp and once again are anticipated by the faithful to be playing in the Super Bowl, if there comes to be such an event in February 2021.
St. Paul’s Wild-ings were recipients of high praise for several weeks of not playing like stiffs at the end of the virus-halted schedule, received an optimistic buildup for what might occur in the Edmonton bubble, and then regained their form as stiffs.
The Loons are fresh from an MLS tournament run and now will be in action at Allianz Field. The Lynx are in the Bradenton Bubble in Florida, winning some and losing some.
The Minnesota teams in the major league of their sport have commanded a significant degree of coverage and conversation since mid-pandemic competition resumed last month.
And then there are the Forgottens — first, buried in a pre-shutdown winter with the poorest attendance in a 30-team league, then pariahs from the 73% of teams invited to participate inside NBA confinement in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
These would be the Timberwolves, and when and if there’s a 2020-21 season to promote to consumers, a catchy TV ad is easy to envision:
D’Angelo Russell, the personable, potential star acquired on Feb. 6, smiles into the camera and says, “I didn’t go to Disney World.”
Russell is the Wolves’ angle to push, not only because he brings a promise of entertainment, but also that it reminds the missing customers of last winter that he’s here because Andrew Wiggins is not.
“D’Angelo is a basketball junkie,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said Friday. “We’re communicating as we’re watching games from the bubble.
“He might be in Louisville, in Miami or here in Minnesota, but he’s watching, and he sends me video clips of actions he’s seen — a play he likes, or asking, ‘How would we defend this?’ ”
Wait a minute, coach. Did D’Angelo actually use the term “defend?”
Saunders passed on the opportunity to chuckle and said: “D’Angelo is a highly intelligent basketball player. He knows that if we want to win, we’re going to have to improve considerably our team defense.
“And, that’s why he’s with our team, to help lead the process that will turn this team into a winner.”
Saunders turned 34 in April. He coached 42 games after Tom Thibodeau was fired at mid-schedule in 2018-19, coached 64 games this past season before Rudy Gobert’s positive test shut down the NBA and America in mid-March, and now his third season will be starting late and with what is expected to be a reduced schedule.
There are two players remaining from when Saunders took over in January 2019: Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie. The truly massive overhaul took place when basketball President Gersson Rosas unloaded nine veterans between Jan. 16 and Feb. 6 this year.
There’s no coaching staff in the world of pro sports that could have used a normal offseason to become familiar with players more than Saunders and his raft of assistants.
“With all the NBA’s safety protocols in effect, we are working out players every day,” Saunders said. “You can have one player on the court with two coaches. It’s all voluntarily, but we’ve had good attendance, including KAT and D’Angelo at times.
“We had such a short period to play together, after we flipped the roster at the trading deadline. We had KAT and D’Angelo on the floor together for, what, two games, which didn’t give our new guys any real experience in playing off those two.”
Actual learning how to play together will take full practices and those remain in the offing. Having this collection of strangers get to know each other is being worked on currently.
“We’re having the individual workouts, and then on the last day of the week, Thursday or Friday, we get together and have a team event,” Saunders said. “We do social distancing, but we go somewhere — usually the lake — and do something enjoyable.
“I feel like we’ve had a good summer building rapport.”
How’s it been watching the first few weeks of basketball from 1,600 miles outside the bubble?
“Mainly, it has been a reminder that the West is really good,” Saunders said. “Phoenix went 8-0. San Antonio played great. Those teams didn’t make the final eight; plus, either Portland or Memphis is going to miss.”
Outside the bubble, news was made with Knicks hiring Thibodeau as head coach — getting him back on the job 19 months after being replaced by Saunders.
“I’m thrilled for Thibs,” Saunders said. “I was able to learn much from him on preparation and commitment. He’s a good man, and as a coach, he’s focused on the work.”
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