This October, the Minnesota Timberwolves will play two preseason games in Europe. Their first stop will be in London, playing at the O2 Arena (pictured) against the defending NBA champion LA Lakers. Their next game will be against the New York Knicks at the Bercy Arena in Paris.
One can easily see the high value for the NBA in having preseason games abroad. NBA commissioner David Stern told the associated press that cultivating the European fan base, especially in countries that have sent stars to the league (France and Spain in particular—the Lakers will play in Barcelona) including Tony Parker and Pau Gasol. The additional revenue stream into the league from packed arenas abroad for preseason games that would have meant very quiet home venues for NBA teams is also a huge bonus.
But what does an NBA team have to gain from a trip abroad, other than the obvious?
If you’re the Minnesota Timberwolves, you stand to gain a great deal by taking the entire team away for a week or two.
As has been discussed in my previous articles, the Timberwolves have had an offseason during which enormous changes have occurred. This team has just a few players left over from last season. Those players are Kevin Love, Wayne Ellington, Corey Brewer, Darko Milicic (only with the team for 30 games last season), and the injured Jonny Flynn.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that this team will face is simply getting to know one another. It’s one thing for a team with some established starters to work in a rookie acquired in the draft. It is quite another to get an entirely new stable of players to get to know one another, recognize habits, and learn to play together before an NBA season that is both long and filled with constant scrutiny.
That’s why the Wolves’ European sojourn will be so valuable. It will, first off, provide a little respite from some of the media attention that dogs professional athletes in every American league. Being able to get away for a little while from the 24/7 coverage and the previously mentioned constant scrutiny should, at the very least, provide a much less stressful environment for the players to gel in.
Being able to shed the spotlight for a week or more, all the while training and ramping up into the regular season should be a great value for the Wolves. The coaching staff will be able to work with the players in a structured environment without the large number of potential distractions inherent in being home for the preseason.
That brings up the second point. This trip will give the players a chance to gel that the normal preseason structure would not have given them. The chance to travel abroad is always a treat for anybody, but for young NBA players, many of whom probably have not traveled overseas much before, experiencing the world’s great cities with teammates should help create a nice bond both on and off the court.
It is a generally accepted fact that these athletes perform better when they work in a system that accepts and supports them, and having a shared experience like a European trip is an excellent way to accelerate this process for the Timberwolves.
The benefits of this trip have already been recognized by Milicic. Having experienced the atmosphere surrounding sports teams in Europe and the United States, he noted in an interview that the European teams have much more of a community feel amongst players. Having dinner at each other's houses almost nightly, families all socializing together, etc. helped bond the players together very tightly.
The hope in the Timberwolves’ participation in this European tour is that, by the time they return to American soil, they will be much more of a cohesive unit than they were when the left.