MINNEAPOLIS — One of the backboards spontaneously combusted Thursday, but workers had it replaced before the Lynx’s afternoon practice 24 hours later. Guys in neon-yellow vests and hardhats still mill around the Timberwolves and Lynx Courts at Mayo Clinic Square, adding some finishing touches before next month’s official grand opening. The team’s staff won’t officially move across the street from their old Target Center offices till Monday.
But Minnesota’s championship-level WNBA team has been practicing there since training camp began May 17. The Wolves will use it for pre-draft workouts ahead of drafting first overall June 25.
And so far, all internal reviews are exuberant.
"I feel it’s probably going to be the best practice facility in the NBA," Wolves coach and president Flip Saunders said.
Said Lynx star Seimone Augustus: "It’s a basketball player’s paradise."
Two full-length courts — one with Wolves insignia, one bearing Lynx emblems. A hydrotherapy room with four different pools. A movie theater, player lounge, locker rooms and nutrition cafeteria. Increased weightlifting and cardio space. And access to specialists and equipment from one of the nation’s highest-regarded medical systems at the connected Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center.
It’s almost all installed and open for business. When Augustus first saw it, she was "in awe."
"Everything is within walking distance," the Lynx standout said. "The locker room is right back here, the weight room, we’ve got a chef here, a movie theater — you name it, we have it here. And then we have some of the best doctors in the state of Minnesota right upstairs if anyone does get injured. They can get diagnosed real quickly, start their rehab process and get back on the floor."
That was the goal when Saunders and the clubs’ front office laid out a joint effort to transform the old Block E complex into a structure that’s loads more accommodating than their former practice gym in the Target Center’s Lifetime Fitness. The 107,000-square-foot, $25 million digs are hoped to keep current players healthy, attract free agents and provide all employees — from the players down to the janitors — with a fresh, new workspace.
Wolves swingmen Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad both plan to work out here this offseason, a trend Saunders expects to multiply as players balance their usual summer work with the chance to shoot, lift and run at such an advantageous locale.
"I’m definitely going to spend some time here," said Muhammad, who missed the second half of his second season due to a ruptured finger ligament surgery.
"Coach was talking about the new facility, and we’re definitely going to use that, utilize it. So that’s one thing I want to come is back and forth between (here and California, where Muhammad also trains). I think that’ll be a good opportunity for me."
For the Lynx, who open the 2015 season next Friday, it’s brought an extra lift during preseason practices, Reeve said. It’s also a reward for winning two championships and reaching the WNBA Finals three years in a row from 2011-13, according to the coach.
"I think more than anything for me, for Lindsay (Whalen), Seimone (Augustus), Maya (Moore), Rebekkah (Brunson), to have this type of facility is a statement to the respect that they deserve," Reeve said.
At any level, nice facilities don’t guarantee victories. But they can play a part in the process, one Saunders immediately kick-started when he returned to Minnesota as president of basketball operations two years ago.
With the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft and reigning rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins in tow, such a covetous headquarters befits the equation, 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," Saunders said. "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."