Karl-Anthony Towns was selected to the All-NBA third team Thursday afternoon to cap off what was his best season yet in his still incredibly young professional career.
Towns, 22, finished his third NBA season by leading his Minnesota Timberwolves team to their first playoff appearance since 2004. He averaged 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game this past season while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and an impressive 42.1 percent from deep. Towns made the All-Star team for the first time in his career, as well.
After the Wolves traded with the Chicago Bulls to acquire Jimmy Butler, Minnesota finally had their own “Big 3” to work with, consisting of Butler, Towns, and Andrew Wiggins. Although, as the season went on, it appeared to be more of a “Mid 2” with Butler and Towns being the clear stars as Wiggins continued to fade into the background. The team won 47 games this season, the most since the team lost in the Western Conference Finals back in 2004, and it was in large part thanks to Mr. Karl-Anthony Towns.
So how do the Wolves follow up their most successful season in over a decade? The first item on the list should be to keep the up-and-coming 22-year-old future superstar as happy as possible for as long as possible. However, it appears that the relationship between Towns and the Wolves front office isn’t in a preferable state at the moment. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently said on a podcast with Ryan Russillo that he believes the Wolves would never allow any differences to get in the way of keeping Towns for the future, but if the two sides are reported to be “not in a good place internally”, that could be a cause for concern.
If the Wolves were smart (and let me remind you they signed Wiggins to a $146 million contract extension in October, which is an entirely different can of worms, and are also still employing Tom Thibodeau as their head coach), they would do everything in their power to ensure that Towns is the happiest man in allll of Minnesota (which shouldn’t be too hard). If that means getting rid of the head coach/management or trading away Butler/Wiggins, then that’s what they should do – although trading Butler would be a worst case scenario type ordeal. But choosing between the 22-year old unicorn and the 29-year old with recent knee issues isn’t exactly a hard decision.
Figuring out their coaching staff as soon as possible is going to be vital to their immediate and long-term success. The first step would be to fire Thibodeau and bring in a coach who can better manage the team’s rotations and run a more efficient modern NBA offense (Dwane Casey is someone who comes to mind and he would do a great job of building a solid relationship with Towns). The Wolves need more consistent outside shooting, less of Jamal Crawford and Derrick Rose (and probably less Wiggins, too), plus a deeper bench. Trading Jeff Teague for a more pass-first style point guard (like that Ricky Rubio guy they just traded away this past offseason) might be an option as well.
The Wolves may have had one of the franchise’s best seasons yet, but they were far from a being a legitimate threat. They were bounced in the first round of the playoffs 4-1 against the Houston Rockets, who, to be fair, were historically great on offense and featured the likely NBA MVP, James Harden. But they had their problems all season. The Wolves finished fourth in offensive rating but were an abysmal 27th in defensive rating despite having a defensive-minded coach. Some of that has to do with Towns, who did improve on the defensive end but only minimally. A lot of it has to do with having a pitiful bench cluttered with inefficient gunners and Gorgui Dieng. In the end, they were never built to be a good defensive team and didn’t have the weapons to run an offense that could keep up with teams such as Golden State and Houston or even Portland and New Orleans in a seven-game playoff series.
Something Towns might need to ask himself is if this is the best possible situation for himself. Does he have a future in Minnesota that would allow him to be put in a position to make a run at an NBA Championship? Well, actually, the more important question is if he thinks that is a realistic possibility. Running things back next season with the same coach and similar roster would not be an encouraging direction. So before any drastic hot takes are made, it might be safe to wait until this offseason plays out, but I’m gonna go for it anyways.
Towns has two years left on his rookie deal, which is an absolute bargain at $17 million combined over those two years, so he’s somewhat stuck right now. If the Wolves run things back next season with the same team and it ends in another first-round playoff exit, the 2019 offseason becomes one of the most important in Wolves history. The Wolves need to restructure their entire franchise around Towns sooner rather than later and if doesn’t happen by next offseason, he might be willing to follow the trend of forming a superteam elsewhere. NBA teams may be struggling to free cap space right now but in two years, the money will open up a bit more and practically every team will be more than happy to give everything they have to Towns.
Divided relationships between front offices and players don’t always end poorly so there’s no reason to believe whatever is happening with the Timberwolves and Towns can’t be mended. The Wolves obviously would like to keep Towns and I’m sure he would love to stay there as well, but this is an interesting new dynamic to keep in mind going forward. The Wolves are going to be a team to keep an eye on during the offseason as the moves they make or don’t make will have longterm impacts. They have a rare opportunity to keep a budding superstar on their team. If they botch it, there is no one else to blame but the front office.
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