There isn't much for NBA players to do when they are on the road. The NBA's stringent COVID protocols have forbidden them to leave their hotels for anything other than basketball-related purposes.
Those will be relaxed a bit in coming weeks, but players still won't be able to do much. Just ask Timberwolves center Naz Reid, who is already over playing video games in his downtime.
"Sometimes you bring your game but … it gets boring," Reid said. "I don't really play my game anymore to be honest."
But these protocols show up on the court in a subtle way — they prohibit player bonding and interaction that would otherwise happen organically, especially on the road.
Last week after a loss to Atlanta, Ricky Rubio lamented that the Wolves could use a three-hour meeting to iron out their issues. NBA protocols won't let them meet for more than a few minutes in close proximity. Players can still have all the meetings they want via video conference. But veteran Ed Davis said trying to build chemistry has become a lot harder because of the lack of interpersonal communication.
"It's just so different," Davis said. "Years in the past, you could have team dinners and team functions and really grow with guys, get that bond and things like that. Now you have to isolate, text and Zoom and stuff like that, but it's not the same as face to face. Every team is dealing with the same stuff we're dealing with."
In that sense it's an even playing field around the league.
But for a team that had a lot of turnover from the NBA trade deadline last season and then again before this season started, there hasn't been a lot of time for the Wolves to get to know each other. The Wolves spent four days in San Francisco this week, which ordinarily would make for a great time and location to hang out. That wasn't happening this time.
"In the past we could all go out to lunch or the mall or something to just get the team oriented, have the [rookies] do something," guard Malik Beasley said. "It's different this year. Now, for instance, we try to go to each other's rooms and communicate with each other. When we have practice we try to get there early so we're hanging out with each other before practice. Just little things we can do."
Those times they have on the floor, whether in games or practice, are the primary chances the Wolves have for hanging out together as a group.
"I do think it's tough on a young group too because sometimes younger players need to be forced into building that camaraderie, that chemistry," coach Ryan Saunders said. "You can do that with those days, with those movie outings, those types of organic conversations, and unfortunately we're not able to do that right now."
Saunders mentioned how the Wolves had a walk-through before one of their games recently and afterward might be a time to have a meal together.
Instead, that wasn't possible.
"We had to take it back in plastic containers to our room to eat," Saunders said. "It's just a unique situation right now."
Rubio mentioned last week that the team text chain wasn't as busy as he's had on other teams in part because the Wolves have been losing. It has brought the collective mood of the team down, with few ways to remedy it off the court.
"We are not playing good, and we know it, and that affects our mood, for sure," Rubio said.
And it doesn't help when having an in-person conversation is an arduous process.
"We're still trying to get to know the next person because at the end of the day we're playing with each other and we have to know what the next person is going to do," Reid said.