Minnesota Timberwolves: Why being left out of the NBA’s return is a bad thing

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - MARCH 03: D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - MARCH 03: D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves are being left out of the NBA’s return-to-play plan, and it’s a decision being made by the league that could hurt the Wolves moving forward.

As we await final word on the NBA’s “return-to-play” plan, it’s fair to acknowledge that there are two very clear sides to the coin when it comes to how the plan affects the Minnesota Timberwolves.

On Wednesday, yours truly argued that there were benefits to the Wolves’ absence from the league’s pending return. Now, I’m happy to take the other side of the argument.

The proposed 22-team return will include 13 teams from the Western Conference and nine from the East, with only the Wolves and Golden State Warriors remaining at home among the teams in the West.

The argument for the inclusion of all 30 teams is simple, really. The eight teams being excluded are overwhelmingly rebuilding squads with young rosters, and excluding them from even an additional eight games — not to mention what will amount to a full nine months away from their teams — matters.

Why it’s a bad thing the Minnesota Timberwolves are being left out

Impact on player development

Along with the Wolves, the other teams being left out of the return-to-play plan will be the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and the Timberwolves.

The Warriors are really the only team in that group that could be seen as not rebuilding, which is admittedly ironic as they carry the league’s worst record. But a return to health for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson will right a great deal of the wrongs from the 2019-20 campaign.

Five of the eight teams being left out of the re-start were one of the eight youngest rosters when the season started last fall. The Pistons, Hawks, and Cavs all had slightly older rosters, but the obvious point stands: the worst teams are often the youngest and almost always rebuilding, and having fewer games to develop said young talent is frustrating for these teams.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols this week that his team will be negatively affected by ending the season prematurely. (Never mind that Pierce incorrectly stated that he coaches the youngest team in the league. According to the preseason NBA survey, the Hawks actually had the 17th-oldest roster in the league, meaning that 13 teams were actually younger.)

ESPN reports that the eight teams not included in the restart are exploring possibilities too bring players into town this summer, including mandatory summer camps or even organized fall leagues. Otherwise, it will be at least eight months in between mandatory events for players, which will be a steep hill to overcome in November and December as the 2020-21 season kicks ooff.

There are several other questions to be answered that need to be answered, both to the individual franchises as well as players.

Questions surrounding draft lottery

If the season is indeed over for the eight aforementioned teams, that means that the first eight slots in the draft lottery are set. Or, maybe not.

The Wolves have played only 64 games, while other teams have played more. For instance, the Pistons have played 66 games and the Hawks have already played 67, and both are within percentage points of the Wolves in the lottery standings. How will the league handle these slight gaps that make a big difference in the lottery odds.

Related Story. Why it's good the Wolves were left out of NBA's return. light

Player pay

The way things are currently set up, players who play more regular-season games will get paid more of their prorated salaries than players on teams like Minnesota, whose seasons are over after just 64 games, or 78 percent of the season.

Will Wolves players only be paid 78 percent of their salaries?

Impact on the business side

Yes, all NBA owners are millionaires or billionaires, but team revenues still matter.

Consider Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett’s comments in last week’s NBA board of governor’s call, noting that for many small-market teams, not playing games for nine months would have a considerable impact on revenue streams.

And not simply gate receipts, concessions, etc., but also sponsorships and season ticket revenue. It remains to be seen what the NBA hiatus and breaks in the action in other sports will mean for season ticket bases and sponsorships across the board, but teams like the Thunder and the Wolves need to consider this question.

Despite one of the league’s worst records, the Wolves were working towards rebuilding some sense of momentum locally after the acquisitions of D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley, and even a couple weeks of games this summer could help continue that progress into the offseason.

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Clearly, there are solid cases to be made on both sides of the NBA hiatus when it comes to the Wolves. There are definite pros and cons to the league’s proposed plan, and only time will tell what kind of impact it will ultimately have on the Wolves.