Minnesota Timberwolves star forward/center Karl-Anthony Towns is nearing his return to the court from a Grade 3 right calf strain that has sidelined him for the team’s last 46 games.
Head Coach Chris Finch said Wednesday during his weekly appearance with Paul Allen on KFAN radio that Towns is achieving a milestone in the recovery process today.
“Today he’s going to have some live activity on the floor, the first time in forever. Some controlled, live action on the floor. I know he’s looking forward to that.”
Chris Finch with @PAOnTheMic today on KAT:— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 8, 2023
"Today he's going to have some live activity on the floor, the first time in forever. Some controlled, live action on the floor. I know he's looking forward to that."
Still no timetable, but that's notable progress.
According to our friend Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, the Timberwolves are not practicing on Wednesday, but will on Thursday. Krawczynski did not offer a report on whether or not Towns will participate in any capacity in the team’s practice. Towns has been seen participating in individual workouts on the Wolves’ recent road trips as he works his way back to the court, and has been on the team’s bench during games for the better part of the last month.
During his weekly spot on KFAN with Dan Barreiro, Krawczynski mentioned that there is concern that the injury could lead to a more serious achilles or ACL injury if the team/Towns rushes the recovery process. Our friend, physical therapist and adjunct professor Lucas Seehafer confirmed that anecdote about the risks of returning too soon.
Can't speak to most of the information here, but not wanting to rush back in order to avoid knee or Achilles injury is legit. Again, grade 3 calf injuries take months to recover and not all progress at the same rate. https://t.co/6PZBtJnGlE— Lucas Seehafer (@seehafer_) March 6, 2023
Keep in mind that then-Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant rushed his recovery from a calf strain in the 2019 playoffs and, partly as a result, ended up tearing his achilles in the NBA Finals. Consequently, Durant missed the entire 2019-20 season while in the seemingly never-ending prime of his career.
While we all want to see KAT back on the floor as soon as he is able given the context of the Wolves’ place in an incredible Western Conference playoff chase, it is important to not compound the opportunity lost this season as a result of his current injury into a more serious one that could cost the Wolves part or all of another season in Towns’ prime to both grow and evaluate the KAT/Rudy Gobert pairing.
With that said, if both Towns, his representatives and the team’s medical staff feel good about the three-time All-Star returning to the Wolves before the end of the season, he should absolutely play. This coaching staff getting something on film from the new starting lineup of Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Towns and Gobert that they can take with them into the summer in preparation for next season.
Not to mention that adding an All-NBA-caliber player would go a long way in raising both the ceiling and the floor of a team that would evidently be talented enough to make a run in the playoffs with Towns back in the fold, but could also lose a Play-In Game without him.
Bottom line, we all want the best for Karl-Anthony Towns from a medical standpoint. Hopefully he is close to being able to put this injury in the rearview mirror and get back to playing dominant NBA basketball in meaningful games alongside the best supporting cast he’s ever had.
If you set aside the medical aspects of this injury, it has been a very puzzling rollercoaster. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the day after Towns suffered the injury that the big man was diagnosed with a Grade 2 calf strain and the expected timeline for his return would be 4-6 weeks. KAT disputed that in January during a Twitch livestream, according to Wolves beat reporter Chris Hine of the Star Tribune:
“It was never a Grade 2 [strain], it was never going to be a Grade 2, unfortunately,” Towns said on his livestream. “I prayed to God almighty that it was a Grade 2, but I knew it wasn’t. It was a Grade 3.”
Towns took issue with a reported timetable of four to six weeks for giving fans “false hope” he might return sooner than anticipated.
“I wish it was four to six weeks. I knew then it wasn’t going to be four to six,” Towns said. “The team was trying to say four to six. There was no way with the injury I sustained, it’s a very significant injury. I don’t know if they were trying to give false hope to the fans or what the case may be.”
Towns was clearly upset at the false expectations — and ultimately frustrations — it created among the Timberwolves fan base.
“That wasn’t fair to y’all,” Towns said. “And more importantly, not to be on a selfish tip, but it was not fair to me for me to step into the room [after his MRI] and already have all this info out to the world that, one, wasn’t accurate but, two, it was already unfair to me, a person who wants to play.
“I love playing basketball. I love doing what I do. I love my job and love the game and for you to give me false hope that I can be back in four to six, that’s not fair. I just want to clear that up because I’ve been seeing a lot of people say that.”
The Timberwolves have offered zero official updates beyond their initial release on Towns’ injury, in which they stated their franchise cornerstone would be “sidelined indefinitely and reassessed in several weeks.” The team also added that “further updates to his progress will be issued when available,” but hasn’t done that. President of Basketball Tim Connelly went on KFAN before the trade deadline last month and called Towns’ injury “complex” and provided some color to the team seeking external opinions on the injury, but still steadfastly maintained the indefinite nature of the injury recovery timeline.
Towns went from 1) publicly wearing a boot sitting on the bench with his teammates at home games while not traveling with the team to road games, to 2) not wearing a boot on the bench at home games anymore, to 3) no longer attending games and wearing a boot again, back to 4) attending games but not wearing a boot, and finally, progressing to 5) travel with the team again and be on the bench without a boot at every game. All this took place while Jordan McLaughlin (who had a less serious, but still significant calf strain) traveled with the team on the road throughout his injury recovery process before making his return last month.
By not issuing further updates to Towns’ progress prior to Finch’s statement to KFAN today, the organization effectively — and incorrectly — sent the message its fan base that before today there were no updates to his status. Whether that decision was made by the club or Towns and his representation, or a combination of the two, it was very clearly the wrong decision.
For context, Towns has developed a proclivity to be open and share information about his health with local reporters over the years. Also keep in mind that Devin Booker has the same CAA agent as Towns — Jess Holtz Steinberg — but the Phoenix Suns continually offered timelines and updates to local reporters while Booker missed time earlier this season with a groin injury.
All the decision to offer no updates has done is fuel unfair — and wrong — speculation from national media, fans and everyone in between about Towns’ work ethic in his recovery, accentuate the team’s shaky-at-best history with reporting injuries, and alienate a fan base in the midst of an already-frustrating season.
Now, that isn’t the standard around the NBA. The Golden State Warriors — the league’s gold standard franchise — provide very clear updates of their injured players’ progress all season long. They provide clear timetables of when players will be reassessed and actually follow through with updates upon completing those reassessments, rather utilizing vague language they can hide inaction behind.
It'd be awesome if everyone got these same updates on Karl-Anthony Towns.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) March 1, 2023
Love how transparent the Warriors are about injury recovery processes. https://t.co/sCbZG7LMoC
Soon after the team provided the report on Stephen Curry above, Warriors beat writers reported a clear target date for Curry’s return: March 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Curry indeed made his return on that date. The team made clear information available to its fans through a press release, and then either Curry’s representation or the team made more specific information available through reporters.
The Timberwolves can learn from the Warriors as it pertains to building a better relationship with its fan base and the reporters that fans look to — both local and national — for accurate information. I understand and can appreciate the club’s aim of trying to be respectful of and protecting of Towns, but this entire process has done just the opposite. Keeping everyone in the dark has only brought more attention to the situation, and unfair and harsh criticism to the light.
No matter who’s calling the shots in this situation, one thing is clear: Karl-Anthony Towns deserves better.