The Wolves spent Friday night on the road in one of the strangest environments they’ve been in all season. While it seemed odd, it seemed familiar at the same time. It’s also a lesson the Wolves can learn, or a glimpse into the future of this franchise’s worst nightmare.
When Anthony Davis’ agent Rich Paul requested a trade out of New Orleans a couple of weeks ago it became the top story in the NBA, and rightfully so. Davis is an elite player in the NBA, and the services of those types of guys don’t come along very often.
Due to some strange circumstances that don’t need to be re-hashed out here, the market for Davis wasn’t quite as robust right now as it may be come July 1, so the Pelicans held on to him. This led to Davis suiting up for the first time in a couple of weeks – he had missed the previous nine games with a finger injury – and playing in front of the home crowd in New Orleans.
The crowd reaction was mixed, and may have reminded Wolves fans what it was like when Jimmy Butler was still playing basketball for Minnesota. There were certainly boos, but the performance was too good to not applaud. Davis finished with 32 points and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes. He didn’t play a single second in the fourth quarter.
Davis’ frustrations with the Pelicans stem from the fact that he doesn’t play for a championship level organization, and he cares about his legacy. The Pelicans haven’t been run well enough to surround him with the pieces to take themselves deep into the playoffs. In the six full seasons that Davis has played, the Pelicans have been to the playoffs just twice, amassing exactly one series win.
Davis has given the Pelicans the first six and a half seasons of his career, and they have essentially squandered it.
The Wolves – as you may know – also are the employers of a dominant big man that spent a year in college at Kentucky. And just like the Pelicans, the Wolves haven’t been overly successful with Karl-Anthony Towns on the roster. They’ve made one trip to the playoffs in his first three seasons, and don’t look as if they’re destined for a second trip this year.
Towns signed a max-level extension this past summer with the Wolves. He’s not going anywhere soon. He’ll be donning the blue and green (or purple, or black, or neon, depending on the night) for at least a few more seasons. He’s not quite the caliber of player that Davis is right now, but he certainly can be in time as he continues to develop.
It must be said that Towns and Davis are different people, with different agendas, priorities, and goals. As far as things are concerned their similarities are that they both played at Kentucky, are both 7-feet tall, and are both in the top one percent of their profession. What Davis wants right now could be totally different than what Towns ever wants. That’s not known, and it’s not fair to speak for Towns.
It is fair to say that a situation like this could be possible down the road. Towns is the type of player that only comes along so often. The Wolves haven’t had someone like him on their roster since Kevin Garnett (meant with nothing but respect for Kevin Love).
If things don’t turnaround beginning this summer in Minnesota, it’s plausible to think that the clock on Towns may start ticking. Just like it was ticking for Paul George in Indiana and Davis in New Orleans and may start ticking for Giannis Antetokounmpo this summer in Milwaukee. Towns won’t be going anywhere soon, but becoming more competitive in the Western Conference is key to ensuring that the clock slows down, and ultimately stops ticking all together.
This season is all but lost. The Wolves are 4.5 games out of eighth in the West with 27 games left in the season and three other teams between them and the No. 8 seed. Injuries have ravaged the team, the Butler situation sabotaged the first part of the season and ultimately led to the firing of Tom Thibodeau.
The Wolves have decisions to make this summer. Interim coach Ryan Saunders has guided the team to a 6-9 record since taking over in early January, but it’s unfair to judge him on that with the seemingly village full of players that have missed time lately with injury. Friday night’s loss was the 27th consecutive game that a starter has missed due to injury. Isaiah Canaan was in the 10th and final day of his 10-day contract and was the starting point guard, to just pinpoint where things are at health wise. The Wolves have been so thin that they’ve had to dress injured players – such as Jeff Teague, who made his return Friday, and Tyus Jones – just to have enough active bodies on the bench.
The Wolves are going to need to hire a coach – and it may be Saunders – and potentially a new President of Basketball Operations depending on if current general manager Scott Layden is retained. Those are two hires that need to be home runs.
Look at what Milwaukee did this offseason in taking a middle-of-the-road roster with a transcendent talent and surrounding it with the perfect fit in terms of a coach and minimalistic roster upgrades. The Bucks went from a seven seed to the best record in the league with Brook Lopez as the only new starter. It may be a tad foolish to think the Wolves can make THAT kind of leap, but there’s no reason to think the right moves – both with the roster and the coaching/front office – cannot help them drastically improve.
The Wolves and Towns made a commitment to each other this past summer. It’s now up to the franchise to ensure that it never turns into the same situation the Pelicans have on their hands in New Orleans right now.