“It’s championship or bust.”
Newly extended Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t hold back in laying out his expectations for the Minnesota Timberwolves next season during a press conference on Friday afternoon, the official announcement of his four-year supermax extension that will keep him in Minnesota through at least the 2026-27 season.
After a run to the playoffs that brought fan excitement back to the franchise, new President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly brought in three-time All-Star Rudy Gobert to pair with Towns in the front-court and build on a resurgent season.
“I expect a lot of winning, for sure. Winning from everybody. We all want to win. It’s not just blowing smoke, we’re really trying to bring a championship to Minnesota,” Towns said. “Rudy is going to be a massive part of us being a championship team, and my job is to help him as much as he’s going to help me. His strengths are my weaknesses, and his weaknesses are my strengths, so we’ll be able to play off of each other.”
That show of faith in Towns from the Timberwolves’ front office — an aggressive acquisition of a generational defensive talent after the most enjoyable season of KAT’s career — made the decision to commit to the franchise and greater Minneapolis community long-term an easy one, and one he made as soon as he was eligible to.
“[It] shows the faith I have not only in Finch, but Tim and this whole organization. I’m very excited about everything that’s going to happen. I’m very excited about where this team is going,” Towns said. “I’m very excited not only for this organization, but this city. The city is yearning, people are yearning, fans are yearning and it’s only right to give the kids here that felt like they never had a chance to see championship basketball, let’s make a run to give it to them.”
Towns believes the organization has everything it needs.
“We got experience now, we got the right coach, we got the right front office. I think that it’s go time.”
When expectations rise, the time for excuses expires.
“The innocence is gone. You know, there’s always innocence to the team finding itself and starting to figure out how to win and then you know, stacking some wins on top of each other, but that’s gone,” Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch said Friday. “It goes back to building the right habits from day one. The expectations of success are the expectations that you do want, you have to embrace those.”
Finch and the organization are extremely confident about building those habits in order to reach their championship potential because a leader like Towns is at the core of everything.
“[Towns] really is kind of a servant leader. He really wants the people around him to be treated well and handled well and respected well, and he’s always looking out,” Finch said. “So it’s been a joy to get to know him and coach him. It’s been really the key to my settling in here and being able to figure out my way.”
In addition to the security Towns’ re-signing gives the front office to make a seismic move by acquiring Gobert, he makes the lives of his coaching staff much easier because of how eager he is to improve.
“Yeah, I think I’m only going to be as good as my ability or willingness to coach my best players, or our best players. And you know, KAT has allowed me to coach him,” Finch added. “We hold them accountable. And that’s where your culture begins.”
The coaching staff doesn’t have to spend time managing Towns’ personality, either, because he works tirelessly, is a selfless leader without a big ego, and is willing to adapt however he needs to in order to help the team win. An NBA team getting that from a superstar caliber player playing alongside three other high-end talents is by no means a given, and raises the team’s ceiling.
“It makes it a lot easier, of course. If you’re having to spend a lot of time managing your roster from a personality point of view, it’s less time that you can actually put into basketball... It’s just leadership by example. I think that’s one of KAT’s best qualities,” Finch said. “Being a leader by example and how you handle yourself as a professional, how you allow yourself to be coached, what kind of drain or strain do you or don’t you put on your organization. Everyone has to fall in line when your best players are doing that in the right way.”
That’s always been who Towns is. Through all the ups and downs he has endured as a member of the Wolves, he has learned that being himself is the most crucial quality he brings as a leader. Who he is as a professional and a leader starts with his work ethic, and is why he’s ready to assume a key leadership role in taking this franchise to new heights. Everything starts with the work.
“First off, never forget who I am. Just be me. It’s as simple as that. That’s the first thing, the first building block in everything and being a leader is just being myself... and working tremendously hard like I always do,” Towns told Canis Hoopus. “Be the first one in and the last one out, showing them how to take care of their body, and preaching, then also doing what I preach.”
That leadership style — combined with his tight-knit familiarity with the eight returning members of the Timberwolves — will pair very nicely with the lead-by-example nature, maturity and playoff experience that Gobert brings to Minnesota. The hope is that the duo will form a synergistic locker room leadership dynamic.
“What I love about Rudy’s leadership capabilities is that he’s an immense presence. He’s not just 7-foot-2, but he’s also a serious individual, serious about his craft and serious about his body and serious about wanting to win,” Finch told Canis Hoopus about the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. “[On a] young team that’s not been through winning, everybody wants to win. They just don’t always understand the right approaches all the time. You see that with complacency after success or sometimes hiding from failures. From what I’m understanding about the new guys, this is not in their DNA.”
It’s evident that the Wolves are interested solely in acquiring high character players with a strong work ethic, an understanding of what it takes to win in the regular season and playoffs, and a desire to play in Minnesota.
With the combination of Towns and Gobert, along with Edwards, at the forefront of their culture, the Timberwolves not only have three players not only deeply committed to winning, but also committed to and legitimately excited about the city and franchise long-term.
“My dream was always to try to retire here and live every single day of my NBA career as a Wolf... I feel very good with the possibility of that happening,” Towns said when asked if this was the most confident he’s felt about spending his whole career in Minnesota.
That is partly driven by his ties to the community and Towns’ love for a place he now calls home.
Nothing but love Minnesota ❤️— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) July 23, 2022
“It’s not only because of this place, I think has a special energy; not just Target Center, but just Minnesota. It has a special energy when you’re living here. It’s something that brings a deep sense of comfort” Towns added. “But just the guys, you know, the people in this organization, the people in the locker room, the friends I’ve been able to make here in Minnesota, it just feels like home.”
Karl-Anthony Towns took out a full page ad in a newspaper to put up a letter for Timberwolves fans.— NBA Retweet (@RTNBA) July 24, 2022
LOCKED IN. pic.twitter.com/SGjDxN4nBX
Towns’ ringing endorsement of a traditionally unattractive market certainly makes life easier for Connelly and company in the front office.
“Organizations like ours, to have continuity and have elite talent who are locked up contractually, and who want to be here, it’s pretty rare to see a non-glamour market have guys like that who are locked up,” Connelly added. “Karl has told me from the jump, you’re going to love living in Minnesota.... He really loves Minnesota. He’s been consistent in the message to me and my family. We’re pretty fired up because of guys like Karl who really enjoy calling this place home.”
Especially in a “small market,” the level of buy-in and excitement about the community from a superstar level player is a non-starter for a team that is looking to make a real run at winning an NBA title. We saw it happen for Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee last summer, LeBron James in Cleveland, and Tim Duncan for years in San Antonio. It’s the only hope a small market has for winning in a league that, as it presently operates, has no infrastructure in place to truly dissuade players from seeking the bright lights of big markets.
“I can speak with a pretty good amount of confidence that if you don’t have happy employees or colleagues, then it’s hard to be successful,” Connelly told Canis Hoopus about Towns’ excitement to be in Minnesota. “It’s unrealistic to expect for 15 people to be happy, because not everybody will get to play, but your key guys have to want to be there and be bought into the culture and the system of the organization, and the key guys are all bought in, so that gives you a puncher’s chance.”
That buy in and excitement starts with Towns and has certainly trickled down to the rest of the team.
“I feel like all the pieces are there for us to have a championship culture and a team here, so now it’s up to us to just go out there and get it done,” Towns said. “We all are extremely excited to play with each other but we also have the same goal in mind. We all know it’s championship or bust. We’re going to go out there and try to get it.”
Towns’ level of commitment to a franchise that hasn’t surrounded him with a sustainable winning team is impressive. It speaks volumes about his character as a leader, but also his love for and connectedness to Minnesota.
“I’ve said that since Flip called me on draft day and I was there at Target Center, I said this is home and I never intended to lie to you,” Towns said. “I really felt that this place has been fabulous to me and my family and has made this journey so fun and has made this jersey so worth it.”
None of the excitement about the future of this franchise, the record season ticket sales, the Gobert trade, or the first real opportunity to go out and win a title in nearly 20 years happens without KAT seeing his commitment to this franchise and community through. Now, it’s time for Towns to enjoy the fruits of his labor while leading the team he has given his heart, blood, sweat and tears to into a new age of perennial contention.
“I’m just very honored to be able to put this Timberwolves jersey on for many more years to come, and I’m honored to get a chance to do it with these wonderful guys next to me. The future with this team and organization is bright, and it’s time to shine.”