The Timberwolves organization has been hit with a lot of difficult times over its franchise history, obviously including the deaths of fan favorite Malik Sealy caused by a drunken driver in 2000 and of the biggest architect of the franchise in Flip Saunders in 2015.
The Wolves are now dealing with another difficult scenario. This past week, star forward Karl-Anthony Towns revealed both his parents had tested positive for the coronavirus that has shut down sports and most of the world for the immediate future. The 24-year-old said his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, was having trouble breathing and was put in a medically induced coma to fight the illness.
The Towns news was devastating to the local sports community and especially to the Wolves, who have had close contact with his family since drafting him No. 1 overall in 2015 and making him the face of this franchise.
One bit of very good news reported Thursday was that Towns’ father, Karl Towns Sr., was recovering from the virus at home and doing much better.
The Wolves put out a statement of support for Towns and his family and, just as important, made note of the great generosity that Towns had shown by donating $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic earlier this month to fight this illness, long before he had his own personal connection.
Everyone in the sports world is hoping for nothing but the best for Towns and his family.
A difficult rebuilding season
While the Towns news is obviously at the front of everyone’s minds, this already had been a tough season for the Wolves from an operational standpoint.
Before the March 11 shutdown, they ranked last in the NBA in average home attendance with an announced 15,066 fans per game this season, and they were already hurting financially.
Now of course there is the real chance the Wolves won’t get to play their final 18 regular-season games, which will not only hurt the team financially but, more important, will be damaging to the development of a young roster that was trying to bring some positive momentum to the franchise.
Yes, this season has been one of the most difficult the team has faced.
Trading away Andrew Wiggins couldn’t have been an easy decision for the front office after the team gave him a five-year, $147 million contract in 2017. Wiggins was supposed to be a cornerstone of the franchise alongside Towns, but it was clear that the Wolves wanted to make a move for a player who fit better alongside Towns.
So out went Wiggins and in came All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell. But since that big trade, Russell and Towns have played in only one game together — a competitive 137-126 loss on the road to the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
If those two do not get the rest of the season to jell and build a connection on the court, that would make this offseason even more crucial for the franchise going forward.
Rosas and Saunders’ plan
After the Wolves made all of their trades in February, President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said just how important it was for this group to play together under coach Ryan Saunders, even if qualifying for the playoffs already seemed out of reach.
“Those [remaining] games are critically important to us. I’ve said it from the beginning, this year is about building identity. It’s building chemistry, building habits, and it is painful. These first 50 games, it was painful to go through the growing pains,” Rosas said. “But as I have said often, you have to know who you are, you have to know what you have and you have to know what you need. Ryan has been an unbelievable partner. He has executed the vision day in and day out.
“It was our job to add more talent to the base. ... The reality for us is we’re building the foundation of a sustainable organization, and every day matters to us. Finishing strong is very important and seeing what we can do the rest of the year. It goes into the summer and into next season. What we do now impacts our future every day.”
Rosas came in with a vision to change the Wolves, and they took the first major step in February.
“We’ve turned things over pretty aggressively. But it’s with a purpose,” Rosas said. “It’s about building the future, building a foundation, and it’s the opportunity to do something different. Minnesota and these fans deserve it. We hope to continue to see them because we have an exciting ride coming up.”
You have to hope that with some of the positive news coming out of the NBA — such as the fact that Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, the first players to have tested positive for the coronavirus, no longer pose a risk to transmit the disease to others — that maybe there is still time for practices and games to get going and for the Wolves to get a chance to return to action to complete what has been a difficult season.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck went on former NFL punter Pat McAfee’s radio show and had a positive message about how he is trying to respond to the shutdown of sports: “We all have a role in this. And we can all row the boat together. We can all take our problems, look at them as situations and create opportunities that make this world better. But here’s the one thing, we all affect this. Every single one of us have an impact of how we actually change the future of this nation. When has that ever happened?”
• Tajae Sharpe, the newest Vikings receiver, was a fifth-round pick by the Titans in the 2016 draft. That same year the Vikings took Laquon Treadwell in the first round. Sharpe has 92 receptions for 1,167 yards and eight scores in his career while Treadwell, now with the Falcons, has 65 receptions for 701 yards and two scores. And Sharpe missed all of 2017 on injured reserve.
• An interesting note from Jimmy Shapiro of Bovada: Sportsbooks already are putting betting lines on some big college football games around the country. The Gophers have opened as four-point favorites against Iowa at home in Week 3.
• The Vikings’ odds to win the Super Bowl have dropped to 30-1 and rank 14th in the NFL. The Packers rank seventh at 18-1.
• Pro Football Focus on the Vikings’ signing of defensive run stopper Michael Pierce: “He peaked in 2018 with a 92.0 grade against the run, and that was also his best year as a pass-rusher, as he notched 21 pressures on 247 rushes. Pierce is a role player, but he’s proven to be capable of putting together a valuable 400-500 snaps as an early-down run stopper.”
• Good news for the Gophers men’s hockey team with Sampo Ranta, the sophomore from Finland who was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2018, announcing he is returning this fall. Ranta had 20 points on 12 goals and eight assists this season.