Karl-Anthony Towns is clearly a patient man, but anyone with a brain observing the situation in Minnesota has to be asking themselves the same question – how much more can he take?
Towns is currently in his sixth season. He’s played for four head coaches, including the team’s latest hire, Chris Finch as well as multiple head executives. Towns has seen his fair share of teammates come and go, too: Andrew Wiggins was the team’s “future” when Towns was drafted. Zach LaVine was a core piece. Jimmy Butler came and, rather explosively, left. Derrick Rose made a brief appearance. And, most recently, the team leveraged their immediate future on Towns’ friend, D’Angelo Russell.
A revolving door is a bad way of showing your star you’re committed to him. And, regardless of why it’s happened, it’s fairly obvious that the same degree of turnover is far less common in more successful organizations.
In fact, if the team could just win some games, the above points might just be moot – but the Timberwolves have done almost nothing on that front as of late. What’s more, the sheer amount of turnover is symptomatic of that losing; since Towns’ rookie season (and including the first 31 games of 2020-21), the Timberwolves have won slightly less than 40 percent of the games they’ve played, qualifying for the playoffs once in their lone winning season (2017-18).
Towns, the consummate professional, has been diplomatic through the whole process and said all of the right things: “If you want to build a legacy we got to win,” Towns told Chris Hine of Star Tribune. “And I want to build my legacy here so I want to win with the Wolves, and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to keep step-by-step, brick-by-brick, building something and a culture here that’s going to stand here for a long time.
But there’s only so much any player can put up with before their eyes drift for greener pastures. And it’s fair to wonder how far Towns is from his breaking point.
In his time in Minnesota, Kevin Garnett went through, more or less, the same experience Towns is going through now. Garnett, for much of his time with the Timberwolves, was a top-five player in the league. But he also watched his prime waste away, as the team, time after time, mishandled even the simplest of situations. Stephon Marbury. Joe Smith. Latrell Sprewell. Management just couldn’t get the job done.
No, Towns hasn’t achieved as much as Garnett, but he’s established himself as a top-tier big man and, once again, the Timberwolves have seemingly fumbled away their opportunity to win with him. In his five-plus seasons, Towns is averaging 22.6 points and 11.7 rebounds, shooting just below 40 percent from the three-point line, has posted a career 25.1 PER and is a two-time All-Star. Long story short, Towns is the player you move Heaven and Earth to commit to.
And, while they’ve tried, Minnesota has failed to do so.
Making matters worse, the NBA has recently seen a shift in player empowerment, as more and more stars force their way out or carve their own path via trade. In just the last few seasons, we’ve seen Kyrie Irving traded from Cleveland to Boston, Jimmy Butler traded from Minnesota to Philadelphia, Paul George trade from Indiana to Oklahoma City (and, later, to his home town Los Angeles), Anthony Davis traded from New Orleans to Los Angeles and James Harden traded from Houston to Brooklyn.
And, more often than not, those players are far happier (not to mention more successful) on the other side.
Each of those players forced their way out, forced the hands of their respective teams into action. Now, Towns is in the position to do the same. A trade may not be his priority this year, as the 2020-21 season has been fraught with so much emotion and trauma for Towns from day one. But, once the dust has settled, Towns might have to truly reflect on where he is in his career and where that career might go should he decided to stay in Minnesota or go elsewhere.
Towns may very well stick to his word, try to build a lasting, championship legacy with the team that drafted him. But after another down season, he also might just realize that he can’t do it alone — that, in order to reach that next level, he’ll need to join a team that not only sees him for the superstar that he is (as Minnesota has), but make the corresponding roster moves that reflect that fact and can truly put Towns in the position to win.
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