Wolves hope new practice facility lures top free-agent talent

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx's Mayo Clinic Square training center, 60-70 percent done and set for completion by mid-May, will be unlike many other NBA and WNBA practice venues due to its proximity to the playing arena and downtown living space.

MINNEAPOLIS — Since the franchise’s 1989 inception, the Timberwolves have struggled to lure and retain top-end talent, particularly in free agency. Kevin Love has come and gone. Stephon Marbury, too. And when the NBA’s annual expiring-contracts circus makes its annual appearance, its main acts rarely look at Minnesota as a potential destination. The free agents that do end up here are usually considered overpaid — see Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic as recent examples.

But the $25 million practice facility currently morphing out of the old AMC movie theater and surrounding retail space across North First Avenue from the Target Center is hoped to help terminate that trend.

"It’s going to help from a recruiting standpoint; players want to know they can go somewhere they can get better," coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said. "It also shows the team’s made a commitment to build those type of facilities. There’s a commitment to doing what you can to try to be the best."

The Wolves and Lynx’s Mayo Clinic Square training center, 60-70 percent done and set for completion by mid-May, will be unlike many other NBA and WNBA practice venues due to its proximity to the playing arena and downtown living space that many current Minnesota players call home during the season. The 107,000-square-foot structure also is adjacent to the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, a partnership which gives the clubs almost a perpetual leg up on the competition in terms of player health and development.

At least, that’s what the Wolves and Lynx are selling as progress continues in what used to be known as Block E.

"We spent quite a bit of time looking at other teams’ facilities when they would allow it," chief marketing officer Ted Johnson told reporters Tuesday during a guided tour of the construction site — hard hats and orange vests included. "We’ve talked to any number of teams that have done facilities like this. I know Flip and the basketball operations people have spent a considerable amount of time researching other facilities. I think with all of them, we took a look at how you take the best of what everyone else has done, and how you do a few things even better."

The space will feature a pair of brand-new practice courts, weightlifting and cardio areas, offices for the entire organization’s staff, a glass-encased lobby with views into the practice gymnasium and across the way to the Target Center, brand-new locker rooms, a film room, a player lounge and nutrition cafeteria and some of the highest-tech sports medicine equipment available, including a cryogenic sauna, an antigravity treadmill and a hydrotherapy tub, among other fixings. In addition to being the NBA’s brightest and newest practice facility, it’ll render the Lynx the only WNBA team with its own, exclusive practice space.

It’s for the fans, too; a 7,000-square-foot "fan experience" zone is being installed on the building’s second floor — one below the gymnasiums — and a glass-heavy design will allow them unique views into the practice and workout real estate.

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Of course, curtains can be drawn any time Saunders or Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve desire some privacy for their teams.

Originally planned to be completed by the start of this Wolves season, the project hit a snag when it was discovered additional work would be necessary to mitigate vibrations throughout the building. That set things back about six months, with a current — and, judging by the drywall, plaster and scaffolding visible at the site, aggressive — timeline that would have the place ready sometime between the Wolves’ and Lynx’s regular seasons this year.

The Mayo Clinic’s adjacent sports medicine clinic is already open and operating. Across the street, officials continue to work on the design plan for the Target Center’s near $100 million in renovations.

Johnson said the teams hope work can start before the end of 2015. That project, too, has been delayed as the team, arena, city and design firm Dimensional Innovations seek to hammer out a plan to update the 24-year-old hoops, concerts and event venue.

But back at Mayo Clinic Square is where players will spend the majority of their time. Any new facility ought to be better than practicing in the basement of the Target Center’s Lifetime Fitness, but a player-centric approach is hoped to attract talent as well as provide the team with as useful a home base as possible.

That’s why players, including Love, had input during the initial design phase.

"I feel it’s probably going to be the best practice facility in the NBA," Saunders said. "You put all those things together, you hope it’s going to help in the development of your young players, you hope it’s going to help in recruitment of free agents, you hope it’s going to help when you practice. You have two full courts, there’s so many more things you can do. What that’s going to add to our organization is going to help us tremendously."

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