Coronavirus prevented the Timberwolves from taking their annual trek down to Mankato for their traditional lasagna dinner with owner Glen Taylor and his wife, Becky.
The team had a virtual event with the Taylors instead. Glen Taylor said the lack of lasagna was disheartening to one player in particular: Ricky Rubio.
"He said, 'That's why I came back,' " Taylor said with a laugh in a phone interview recently.
Taylor enjoys the relationships he is able to build with players and staff on the Wolves, and the pandemic has forced him to keep his communication with everyone at a virtual distance — even as the Wolves enter a pivotal time in Taylor's tenure as owner, one that could be concluding if Taylor reaches an agreement to sell the team after he confirmed in July he was fielding offers for the franchise.
Taylor addressed the status of those talks, saying the effects of the pandemic on the NBA have delayed a potential deal. In the meantime, as the current owner, he has expectations for the team this upcoming season and for coach Ryan Saunders.
He'd like to see a playoff appearance — something the franchise has achieved just once since the 2003-04 season, all during Taylor's time as owner.
"I think I expect playoffs," said Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. "We're in a really tough division, but I think we really have a good team. By that I mean, what we have done is we aren't relying on four or five players. I just think the way that we have put this team together that the first unit or second unit should go in and be very competitive with the groups that they need to compete against."
Depth is key
Taylor said he likes how President Gersson Rosas has built a deep team, one whose reserves can compete with opponents' bench units. Rosas, however, in an interview shortly after the Wolves secured the No. 1 pick in August, pumped the brakes on the Wolves being a playoff-contending team this season.
"I'd be naive to say we're playoff contending next year because that's not how it happens, especially in the West," Rosas said then. "You have to build a winning program. You have to build an identity. You have to build your DNA, and that takes time. My goal is that we become a winning team next season and become a playoff team in the following couple of seasons."
But Taylor hopes that with acquisitions like the No. 1 overall pick in Anthony Edwards and the trade for Rubio that the Wolves have necessary depth and talent to get there now. It'll be a slightly easier road given the NBA has adopted a play-in format for the seventh and eighth seeds that keeps the ninth and 10th seeds eligible to make the playoffs at the end of the year.
That roster depth should also help the Wolves overcome injuries that may pop up at a higher frequency in a compressed schedule, along with any issues the Wolves may have with COVID-19.
"These guys are young enough and still in that learning area that we should see improvement during the year," Taylor said. "Some of the teams are a little older. They will probably be steady but good. We should be good but improving. I think you're heading toward the playoffs."
In particular, Taylor wants to see Saunders bring about tangible improvement with the team. It was Taylor who made the decision to hire Saunders as interim coach after he fired Tom Thibodeau. It was Rosas who kept Saunders permanently. With Saunders entering his second full season as coach, Taylor expects better results than last season.
"We talk about things he's doing and it appears he's doing good things. It appears he's motivating the players and appears he utilizes as much practice [time] as he can, but I'm a guy on results," Taylor said. "Without a doubt, the team needs to improve and we've done a lot of that by bringing in the right guys, but now we have to have them jell and get ourselves into the playoffs."
Taylor hasn't been in communication with Edwards and said he liked the pick not only for basketball purposes but also because Edwards "seems to be a fine young man that'll work in with our team really well."
He looks forward to how Rubio's experience could mold a younger roster.
Taylor also signed off on the Wolves' most controversial re-signing of the offseason, Malik Beasley. Beasley signed a four-year deal, including a team option in the final year, for up to $60 million total.
Beasley was charged with drug possession and threats of violence stemming from an incident in September at his home in Plymouth. His next court appearance is scheduled for Monday.
Taylor said he didn't speak with Beasley directly before Beasley re-signed with the Wolves, but he did discuss it with the front office and trusted their judgment.
"We talked about it in the sense it's very important not only that he plays well and helps the team but he gets himself focused on the right things in his life …" Taylor said. "What was important is the team decided they wanted him back and they're going to support him and try to help him through this and get on with his life so that he doesn't make the same mistakes."
The ownership question
Taylor, who bought the Wolves in 1994, may not be the controlling owner of the team through the duration of Beasley's contract and several others if he sells the team.
In July, he confirmed reports he was fielding offers with the requirement that any potential buyer has to keep the team in Minnesota, though it's unclear how Taylor may be able to do that contractually. He also said he hoped to sell the Lynx as part of any deal, and there could be scenarios where Taylor remains in a smaller ownership role moving forward.
In the months since, a few interested buyers emerged. Former Wolves forward Kevin Garnett said he was part of a group attempting to purchase the team and offered no comment on the process when asked about it in October. The Associated Press reported in July that former NBA player Arron Afflalo was connected to an interested group. Taylor entered into an exclusivity agreement with former Memphis Grizzlies minority owner Daniel E. Straus in August, but that agreement expired since.
Taylor declined to comment on the status of specific bids but did say coronavirus was slowing down the process.
"It's because of all the unknowns that are happening in basketball or any sports right now," Taylor said. "It has slowed it down, and people who would be interested in making acquisitions are probably more cautious right now. We're probably more cautious. … I think it's time for them to be a little more cautious until they know how this year is going to be set up."
By that, Taylor means potential buyers want to see how a lack of fans in Target Center and other arenas for at least the start of the season is going to affect the bottom line across the league, considering a significant portion of league revenue comes from ticket sales. Taylor said he hopes Target Center might have some sort of crowd in the second half of the season, but that decision is in the hands of lawmakers, not him, he said.
"Hopefully the vaccine will come out and it'll just be cut down and we'll have the opportunity in the second half of the year that we can try bringing in some people," Taylor said.
Taylor hopes by that time the Wolves will have rounded into playoff form, even if they start slowly from getting to know one another.
"We should see improvement during the whole year," Taylor said.
Improvement he wants to see end in a postseason berth.