The Timberwolves won 47 games this season — a 16-victory improvement over Tom Thibodeau’s first year in charge 2016-17 — and made the playoffs for the first time after a 13-year absence. They have a veteran star in Jimmy Butler and a young star in Karl-Anthony Towns.
This should be an offseason in which owner Glen Taylor’s franchise can finally begin to celebrate its progress and look forward to future improvement.
But that isn’t happening.
Instead, anyone who is being realistic with themselves has come to the realization that something feels very wrong about what’s going on at Target Center.
Veteran Jamal Crawford already has made it known that he plans to opt-out of his contract after one year and become a free agent this offseason. Andrew Wiggins, about to begin playing under a max contract, showed no signs of progress this season and, in fact, took a step back. Thibodeau, the Wolves’ boss basketball and coach, spends most games bellowing from the sideline and looking miserable, while the most successful coaches in today’s game look calm and cool while letting their players do their thing.
Then you had Brian Windhorst telling ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s on his podcast on Friday that the Wolves and Towns are “not in a good place internally,” and later added, “I don’t think Anthony Davis is going anywhere any time soon, but Karl Towns … now that might be a different story.”
Let’s start by making one thing clear: Windhorst is an excellent NBA reporter for ESPN who doesn’t just make up things. So as much as Wolves followers might want to dismisses what Windhorst said, deep down we all know that if he is saying Towns and the team are not in a good place, a pretty good source told him that.
It likely doesn’t help that the Wolves recently fired player development coach Vince Legarza, who was reportedly close with Towns.
Now, does this mean Towns is leaving town? Absolutely not. Towns stands to make far more from the Wolves under a max contract than he would from any other team and the odds are very good he’s not going to try to force his way to cost himself that payday.
Here’s the disturbing thing. If everything else with the Wolves was calm right now; if Wiggins was progressing as he should be instead of regressing; if Thibodeau’s coaching approach looked like it belonged in 2018 instead of 1978; and if there weren’t weekly rumors of dissension at Target Center, the Towns report might not be that big of deal.
But when you start to connect all the pieces, it certainly appears you have smoldering fire that could turn into a raging one and derail the Wolves.
So what can be done?
If Towns is not pleased with things in Minnesota, Taylor is going to have to step in and make it clear to Thibodeau that his future employment is contingent on making sure that changes. Towns struggled in his first playoff series against Houston and he is far from a finished product, but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft is only 22 years old and more than anyone else he is the future of this franchise.
It’s Thibodeau’s job to make sure Towns improves, it’s Thibodeau’s job to make sure Towns is happy in Minnesota and it’s then Thibodeau’s job to get out of the way. Wiggins seems like an aloof guy and it’s difficult to tell what direction his career might be headed. That isn’t the case with Towns. This is the player the Wolves need to build around and anyone who questions that doesn’t belong on Taylor’s payroll.
Thibodeau needs to understand that ASAP. These should be happy, not turbulent, times for Towns and the Wolves’ organization. It’s largely on Thibodeau to makes sure that feeling changes. If he’s incapable, and that might be the case, Taylor is going to need to start looking elsewhere for a basketball boss and head coach.