Is this the move that is finally going to make Karl-Anthony Towns happy?
Those of us who have been card carrying members in The KAT Enabler Club saw the Wolves take their latest swing at satisfying the often-dissatisfied Towns on Thursday when it was reported they had acquired guard D’Angelo Russell from Golden State in a deal that is a win simply because it rid Minnesota of Andrew Wiggins’ terrible contract.
It was no secret that one of Gersson Rosas’ first moves after being named the Wolves’ president of basketball operations last May was to try to work a deal with Brooklyn that would land Russell, a restricted free agent. Towns and Russell are good friends dating to their time playing AAU basketball together and the feeling was the pairing would work well in Minnesota. It also would have made Towns happy.
Russell, however, ended up going to Golden State in a sign-and-trade on a four-year, $117 million contract. That came at a time when I was still in the KAT Enabler Club. Those of us who have membership always have had an excuse for Towns, despite the fact we had no interest in giving the benefit of the doubt to Wiggins.
So when Towns didn’t play defense, we attempted to explain that eventually he would improve in that area. When Towns was being ripped for his soft play in a first-round playoff loss to Houston a few years back, we told his critics that this was good experience for him and that expecting too much wasn’t fair. When Towns was yelled at by coach Tom Thibodeau or challenged by teammate Jimmy Butler, we criticized Thibs and Butler for their approach and applauded when the latter was traded and the former was fired. I’m sure there are more examples but those are top of mind.
So when Rosas was selected to run the Wolves’ front office and Towns’ good friend, Ryan Saunders, was hired to be his coach, even though he’s only 33 years old, the moves were applauded as a way of keeping Towns happy as he entered the first season of his five-year, $190 million super-maximum contract extension.
The Wolves got off to a 10-8 start and when Towns was ejected in the third quarter of a late October game for standing up for himself against the 76ers’ Joel Embiid we nearly threw a party. In his fifth season and at the age of 24, Towns was maturing into the player we expected.
And then he wasn’t.
The past few months have been extremely concerning when it comes to Towns. The Wolves are 10-27 since their solid start and Towns is on a personal 17-game losing streak that dates to late November. (He missed 15 games in December and January because of injury and illness.)
Towns continues to glare at officials or throw up his hands anytime he doesn’t like a call, his recent complaints about not being picked to the All-Star team were laughable and his lack of leadership on a team he was expected to lead has been startling. The latest example came Wednesday night at Target Center in the Wolves’ 127-120 loss to the 14-win Atlanta Hawks. A day after Rosas traded five players, including Robert Covington, Towns responded by going through the motions.
A sullen Towns then talked about the difficulty of seeing his friend, Covington, traded away, even though he had to know that behind the scenes Rosas was trying to do everything in his power to obtain Russell in the latest attempt to placate Towns. Saunders, meanwhile, had to be wondering whether Towns was really his friend or only when it was convenient considering the effort he had seen on the floor.
This was enough for me to turn in my card to the KAT Enabler Club. I long ago gave up on Wiggins because it’s my feeling he just doesn’t enjoy playing the game of basketball and that means he’s never really going to care if he’s great, average or awful. Towns has more talent than Wiggins and he has the ability to be a star. But this far into Towns’ career, and at this age, if he can’t take control of the situation and wants to pout whenever things go wrong there have to be real questions about how far he can take a team.
Does Russell fix this issue and make Towns happy for the long term? Rosas and Saunders hope so but at this point that’s a dangerous assumption to make.