Karl-Anthony Towns Talks About Camaraderie, Trust & Togetherness Now That Jimmy Butler is Gone, But Will That Be Enough? (Video)Read Now
It was an early tip for an NBA game. The Friday after Thanksgiving, at Noon on the road in Brooklyn. The Minnesota Timberwolves who entered the game with no road victories, a two-game losing streak, and a 7-11 record, needed this win badly. That’s just what the T-Wolves got. A 112-102 victory over a, better than you think, Brooklyn team. Derrick Rose (25 points) and the native Brooklyn son, Taj Gibson (16 points), were much of the postgame talk. But Karl-Anthony Towns quietly put up 21 points and 9 rebounds and had timely buckets to push the lead ahead for the T-Wolves. No doubt KAT has started to play better, since the trade of Jimmy Butler, and is putting up the type of numbers that had GM’s, as recently as last year, saying he is the number one guy they would start a franchise with, in the NBA. But, will the trade of the team’s most determined player in exchange for solid, above average NBA players with more amenable personalities be enough to change the mood and direction of this team?
The Jimmy Butler “drama” had officially ended two weeks ago with his trade to the 76ers, in exchange for Robert Covington and Dario Saric (principal players involved). But the fallout from his training camp showdown with KAT and Andrew Wiggins still appeared to linger from afar. There was clear on-court tension during the games Butler did play in this season. Obviously, something had to be done for the good of the franchise. Ownership and a reluctant management sided with Towns and dealt Butler. They kind of had to. Towns just signed his max extension in the off-season. This means, for better or worse, they have tied their entire future to KAT. On the surface that makes sense. He is younger and far more talented than Butler. But KAT wasn’t lighting up the scoreboard very much early in the season and looked to be despondent and not happy with his surroundings.
In Friday’s victorious postgame locker room, KAT looked like a man happy to be at work with his new co-workers. Particularly Robert Covington, their lockers were right next to each other and they were joking and having a good laugh with teammate Gorgui Dieng. They then shifted their attention to Gibson, who played off the emotions of returning home to Brooklyn, and hyped it up as “TG’s moment.” Yes, KAT was a happy man Friday afternoon. A large reason for that was the win, coming off the aforementioned losing streak and their first road win of the season. But, there was something more. There seemed to be a sense of freedom from KAT, as he engaged with the locker room. Almost as though he were “commanding” it. The team has plenty of veteran presence, but none of them are on KAT’s level from a talent perspective. Plus, none of them have the personality where they would attack KAT publicly. All indications are that KAT does not respond well to that type of coaching or criticism. In theory, a friendlier locker room is where he thrives and is at his best. If he is at his best, with the roster they have, this team should be in contention for a playoff spot. But there are still some questions and tensions around this group. KAT has the kind of locker room he wants, but how does that work with the “tough love” head coach Tom Thibodeau? He isn’t happy his “guy” (Butler) is gone. Thibs is no doubt on the hot seat and coaching for his job.
All that is to say, the Timberwolves are not out of the woods yet. They are still under .500 and on the outside of the playoff race in a difficult Western Conference. But, if the atmosphere at work is better for the franchise player, that has to be a good thing, right? KAT has the tools to be an MVP and best player in this league. Butler knew it and said as much, even on his way out the door. But he questioned KAT’s heart and “want to.” The two skills hardest to quantify but very evident when you see it. Does KAT, have the requisite “dog” in him to lead this team to the playoffs and beyond over the next several years? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, KAT is enjoying coming to work again and believes everyone in the locker room has each other’s back, and for now, that’s enough.
Check out KAT's postgame comments. I ask him about playing with his new teammates.