Five games. Five stinking games.
That is the number of times Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell have been on the court together since Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas acquired the guard from Golden State at the NBA trade deadline a year ago. The two friends were united with the expectation they would form a dynamic duo that would provide hope for a franchise that has rarely had it.
That plan once again has been put on hold.
The Wolves announced Tuesday evening that Russell will undergo arthroscopic surgery Wednesday to remove a loose body in his left knee and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks.
Towns and Russell played one game together last season, a loss at Toronto, before Towns was lost to a left wrist fracture. The Wolves’ season was then shut down after a March 10 game at Houston because of the coronavirus. Towns and Russell were in the lineup together as Minnesota opened the season with victories over Detroit and Utah, but Towns again injured his wrist in the win over the Jazz. He returned in January for losses to San Antonio and Memphis.
Towns was then diagnosed with COVID-19 and missed 13 games. Russell, meanwhile, was trying to play through a bruised right quadriceps before injuring his left leg on Feb. 8 in a loss at Dallas. The Wolves were calling Russell’s injury a sore left leg when Towns returned four games ago. It turned out to be far more serious than that.
“The sooner we can we can get everybody right, the sooner we can see what those guys look like together is our hope,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders told reporters before the Wolves played host to the Lakers on Tuesday. “In terms of frustration, I mean hey, if you’re going to get frustrated over a lot of things you can’t control on a daily basis, you’ll drive yourself crazy in pro sports.”
Rosas can be forgiven if he’s extremely frustrated. The Wolves entered Tuesday with the worst record in the NBA (7-20) and while they have gotten a chance to take an extensive look at some of their young players (Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Jarred Vanderbilt and Naz Reid), the main goal was to see how many wins Towns and Russell could bring the Wolves.
Towns played in only his eighth game of the season on Tuesday and Russell’s season will be paused after 20 games and 19 starts. He was averaging 19.3 points — third on the team behind Towns (21.6 points) and Malik Beasley (20.9 points) — and 5.1 assists.
Towns is the most important player on the Wolves, so if given a choice Rosas and Saunders are going to take having KAT over anyone else on the roster. But Rosas thought enough of Russell that he sent Andrew Wiggins and a 2021 first-round pick that is only protected for a top-three selection to Golden State. Rosas figured the Towns/Russell pairing would make the Wolves consistently competitive, meaning they wouldn’t have to sweat their draft position.
What Rosas didn’t figure was that a year later he would have seen his two key players together on the court only a handful of times. How could Rosas not be frustrated?