Let’s begin with a simple premise: Winning basketball games at the NBA level is difficult. In order to be a championship contender, teams require multiple top 25-50 level players — and often at least one of them needs to be considered top 10 — and a bench replete with veteran talent and superstar role players. To even hope to finish the season with a near .500 record, teams likely need at least one genuine All-Star and pieces that complement them perfectly.
As a case study, consider Anthony Davis during his years with the New Orleans Pelicans. In seven seasons, Davis was named to six All-Star teams, earned three First Team All-NBA honors, and was thrice named to an All-Defensive team. The Pelicans accumulated a record of 251-323 (.437) and made the playoffs twice, reaching as far as the second round.
For an example that hits a little closer to home, Kevin Garnett led the Minnesota Timberwolves through what may forever be recognized as the golden years of the franchise. But even he — Hall of Famer and among the first breed of athletes affectionately known today as unicorns, though he is — required the help of Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and a host of solid role players to escape the first round.
Winning in the NBA is difficult!
However, that fact tends to fall on deaf ears in Minnesota these days. The Wolves have made the playoffs only once since Garnett’s departure and own the worst winning percentage (.393) in male professional American sports. In a league in which winning is difficult, the Wolves are the best at not getting it done.
That was supposed to change during the 2021-22 season, or, at the very least, the Wolves were supposed to be competent. Many people in and around the league — present company included — were encouraged by the team’s performance during the preseason and their first four regular-season games. The Wolves were assuredly going to compete for a spot in the play-in tournament and finish with a record near — or even above! — .500. Sure, the offense was sputtering, but head coach Chris Finch had the defense performing at an elite level and is considered by people who know the Xs and Os of basketball to be an offensive maven. Plus, the roster was filled with pieces — save for a rebounding power forward — whose games complemented that of franchise cornerstones Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
But that’s when the cruel hand of reality struck down and the losing once again began in earnest. As of this writing, the Wolves have dropped seven of their last eight contests, often going through the motions or panicking at even the thought of losing another game. Their lone win was a convincing and crushing defeat of the LeBron-less Los Angeles Lakers, which was promptly followed by the team’s third shitting of the bed against the Los Angeles Clippers the following evening.
It bears repeating that winning games in the NBA is hard. Even the best of the best can’t win alone. Neither can Karl-Anthony Towns, the second-best player in franchise history who is playing some of the best all-around ball of his career.
However, at this point, it’s fair to consider if Towns can be the guy on a playoff-caliber team. Despite its negative connotation — one that has been amplified by the echo chamber of social media and the insufferable talking heads of television and podcasts — there’s nothing inherently wrong with a player not being capable of being the guy.
Anthony Davis was not able to be the guy in New Orleans. Neither was Chris Bosh in Toronto nor Devin Booker in Phoenix. And there are countless other examples.
A failure to develop into the guy does not mean that said player is a detriment to the future of the franchise nor does it mean that a trade is warranted, or even should be considered. Karl-Anthony Towns may not be the guy in Minnesota, but that does not preclude him from being a guy that helps lead the team to greener pastures.
However, what is concerning is the degree to which the Wolves have adopted the mindset and attitudes of their star teammate. Without a doubt, Towns’ lungs are often filled with hot air, which frequently spews out when the lights are brightest. He’ll pick fights with the likes of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid with an often harmful verve intent on showing the world he’s on the same echelon. He’s a cliche machine, uttering phrases and anecdotes he hopes the media wants to hear and will develop them into viral quotes. In short, he’s not evil, he’s not even a detriment, he’s just corny.
But the team has adopted the corniness on the court. They want to prove they belong so badly and when they believe they do — such as the win against the Lakers — they show up to the next game expecting their opponents to fear them and cave to their greatness. And when their opponents don’t, they comment on the team’s need to put in the work, play more as a unit, and not expect to simply show up and win. Rinse and repeat.
Towns may not be the guy in Minnesota, but they either need someone to step up and become the guy or make a trade to get him. To this point, Anthony Edwards has spoken about his desire to speak up more and become a leader, but he’s still an inefficient sophomore who has been more bark than bite. D’Angelo Russell neither has the talent nor the verbosity to be the guy.
Towns may not be the guy in Minnesota, and that’s okay, but until the guy arrives in Minnesota, expect the losses and snow to pile up simultaneously.