Kevin Love was back on the court in Cleveland. Karl Anthony-Towns got to work in Minnesota and his old coach started to mould his new team in New York.
After six months without one, it felt so good for some NBA teams to practice again that even Allen Iverson might’ve enjoyed it.
“I’ve never seen a layup drill with such intensity,” Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We did a full-court layup drill and the guys were clapping and cheering. You know they haven’t practiced in a long time if they’re excited about layup drills.”
The teams that didn’t qualify for the restart of the NBA season at Walt Disney World could begin voluntary workouts Wednesday to start preparing for their next game — whenever that is.
“As of right now, we don’t know when next season will begin, but there’s obviously a lot of work to be done between now and then,” Tom Thibodeau said after the Knicks practiced.
The league allowed those eight clubs (Atlanta, Golden State, New York, Minnesota, Charlotte, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit) to have voluntary team workouts by creating their own bubbles, where players and staff stay together and are tested daily for the coronavirus.
While the other 22 teams had all played at least eight games at Disney, the bottom eight had been restricted to only voluntary individual workouts since the NBA season was suspended on March 11 because of the pandemic.
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland had essentially been vacant since then. For a young team like the Cavaliers, the interruption was a double blow since they had just undergone a coaching change and were playing their best ball of the season under J.B. Bickerstaff, who was promoted following John Beilein’s stunning resignation.
Love said it was “paramount” for the team to get together and make up for lost time.
“It gives us some sense of continuity, some sense of togetherness,” said Love, who didn’t want to miss the voluntary workouts. “Unlike those other teams, they were able to get together. Even other teams that didn’t make the playoffs, they still had eight games. They got to play for something.
“We weren’t able to do that. So it’s huge for us to be on the same court, even just seeing each other and spending time with each other and be around one and other.”
Under the agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, players who planned to take part in the group workouts could continue their individual workouts at team facilities on Sept. 14, at which time they began their daily virus testing. Following two days of quarantine, workouts and scrimmages could begin Wednesday and run through Oct. 6.
Stephen Curry and Draymond Green opted not to take part in the workouts, but Golden State coach Steve Kerr said the Warriors expect Klay Thompson on the court this week as he works his way back from a torn ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Pierce got the Hawks quickly playing 5 on 5, because they hadn’t in so long. Coaches who didn’t know what to expect were pleasantly surprised by the level of play they saw.
“We know the basketball will get better and better,” said Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders, whose group of 15 players included Towns and D’Angelo Russell. “Honestly, it was a lot better than I expected it to be after a six-month hiatus.”
The workouts allowed Clint Capela to finally join the Hawks for practice, having been sidelined by injury following his acquisition from Houston before the shutdown. Players and coaches had been in contact during that time, but not the way they were Wednesday.
“We’ve been texting, calling, Zooming a ton throughout the six months, but there’s nothing like being live, eye to eye, face to face with another person,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said. “So this time is really valuable for us.”
Unfortunately, they don’t know when they’ll be back together once the workouts end. Commissioner Adam Silver said the 2020-21 season may not start until at least January, so it’s unclear when training camps would begin.
At least the teams won’t be off the floor until then.
“There’s nothing we can do about what we missed or didn’t get to do,” Pierce said. “We know how to navigate through what we’ve been given. That’s why the energy was great today. The guys want to maximize this and take advantage of this.”
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, Paul Newberry in Atlanta, Janie McCauley in San Francisco, Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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Brian Mahoney, The Associated Press