Karl-Anthony Towns tweeted an emoji Saturday morning. It was an exploding head emoji, and no accompanying words were necessary.
The entire NBA erupted over news that the Los Angeles Clippers managed to trump their arena co-tenants, the Lakers, by hitting the free-agency jackpot — Kawhi Leonard — while also shipping a boatload of draft picks to Oklahoma City in exchange for All-Star Paul George.
And just like that — whoosh! — another superteam was created, causing, well, heads to explode.
The NBA offseason has turned into a Netflix original series. I’m partly fascinated by the current state in which superstars hold all the power and partly annoyed that organizations either have no shot or can be turned upside down in a blink if their own superstar decides to join forces with a friend elsewhere.
Patience in a blueprint sounds wonderful, until that plan gets blown to smithereens when a star decides he wants out, even if he’s under contract. Stars hold leverage because teams can’t risk losing them for nothing, and the mood surrounding a disgruntled star becomes toxic and exhausting. That puts organizations in a tough spot.
Within this new landscape, the onus lies on new Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas to build a roster that wins enough to keep Towns excited, happy and optimistic about the organization’s direction.
Towns is a top-15 talent. He represents their foundation, their centerpiece, however you want to describe the most important person in the organization. Yes, Towns needs to improve in certain areas and continue to expand his game, but the team must grow around him.
The Wolves can’t risk Towns becoming dismayed or tired of missing the playoffs and ultimately decide he’d be better off elsewhere. Then what?
To be clear, Towns has shown no signs of that. In fact, just the opposite. He sounded exuberant the day Ryan Saunders was introduced officially as head coach. Towns and Saunders are particularly close, and Towns was vocal in his support of Saunders getting the job.
Rosas noted that players shouldn’t be part of the hiring process for coaches and front-office officials, but picking a guy who already has Towns’ trust and support was a savvy (and probably calculated) move.
Towns also seems energized by changes implemented by Rosas in philosophy and organizational infrastructure. Towns has spent time with both Saunders and Rosas this offseason, and he has returned to Minneapolis several times for workouts. Towns is in Las Vegas this week watching his young teammates compete in the summer league.
All those things are not insignificant. They show his investment level in the new regime and the overall direction.
Rosas made a push to sign Towns’ buddy, All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell, before the Golden State Warriors flashed their championship rings and ruined the Wolves’ — and Towns’ — dream. The outcome was dejecting, but the attempt showed that Rosas is determined to shake up the roster. That’s not an easy task, considering the mess he inherited.
“Big picture, we’re always going to be focused on the best available players, whether they’re in trade, in free agency or in the draft,” Rosas said.
Rosas hasn’t been in the job long enough to know whether he can successfully execute his vision, but he hasn’t been bashful in expressing his desire to be aggressive.
Does that mean he will make a play for Russell Westbrook? Not sure if that option is even feasible given contractual challenges, but a Westbrook-Towns pairing would be a formidable scoring punch.
The NBA feels like a free-for-all right now, and watching superstars create alliances must make it tempting to jump into that fray. Rosas says free agency “can be a hard place to live.” The superteam era has created a strange new world.
The Toronto Raptors got Leonard for only one season, but what a season it was. They struck gold, a championship, before Leonard bolted for Los Angeles. As disappointing as his departure must feel in Toronto, I’d take that trade-off.
The Wolves are a long way from being in any championship discussion. They have one cornerstone star in Towns. The next step is to surround him with better talent, preferably another star. Every decision they make must be with Towns and his future in mind.