The Timberwolves sent young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine to Toronto this weekend to participate in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge game and Saturday night’s contest festivities.
While they are there, their coach wants them to feel what it might be like to play on Sunday evening someday soon.
“They go there,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said, “and hopefully they’ll want to participate more.”
More, as in All-Star weekend’s Sunday centerpiece game. It’s an invitation that, given their development so far, likely will await both Towns and Wiggins for years and years, perhaps as early as next season.
More than anything, Mitchell wants his three young players to return from Toronto motivated.
“Being there, that’s motivation for everybody,” said Wiggins, who played for the World team in last year’s Rising Stars game in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s what everybody dreams: A championship obviously, the playoffs and [being an] All-Star.”
Wiggins, LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad played in last year’s Rising Stars game, and Wiggins and Muhammad assisted LaVine when at age 19 he became the second-youngest player in All-Star history to win the Saturday night dunk contest.
LaVine will defend his title on Saturday night, with an eye all weekend on LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the NBA’s other superstars who will play at Air Canada Centre one night later.
“That’s what we all want to go for,” LaVine said. “I know me, Wig, Kat all want to be All-Stars one day. I feel like we will be. It’s a process you have to go through. You have to live up to the expectations and play that way. That’s what we have to strive for.”
Mitchell went to All-Star weekend when he was a player, just never to play. He went as a spectator and attended the parties.
“Nowhere in my wildest dreams was I ever going to participate, unless there was an old-man shooting competition,” Mitchell said.
“I just wasn’t good enough. But when you got Karl and Zach and Andrew, it’s somewhere in every player and it was in my dreams, too: You want to win a championship, that’s your first dream. But you wouldn’t mind being an All-Star. There’s just something about that, and that’s a great dream to have. There’s just something about being in that environment, being around All-Stars.”
Raised by a former college player and longtime high school coach, Towns long has dreamed about playing on All-Star Sunday. He seems to be most inspired by sharing the experience for the first time with two of his teammates.
“I’ve always had that motivation,” Towns said. “You’re talking about the best of the best in one building. To be considered one of them, to converse with them, that will be really cool. I’m glad to have my brothers with me. It makes the whole experience way more fun to know that you have such close friends with you.”
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant will play his final All-Star Game on Sunday. Towns and Wiggins are arriving on the scene just as Bryant is leaving, as he arrived two decades ago just as Michael Jordan’s career was winding down.
“It just takes you to another level because you see how these guys carry themselves,” Mitchell said. “Think about it: How did Kobe learn to carry himself? You’ve got to pick somebody. He picked Michael Jordan, and people would laugh but who would you want him to pick?
‘‘Kobe’s got five championship rings. That wasn’t a bad guy to model yourself after. You want your guys to be around these guys to pick up their mannerisms and get this energy and feeling that’s around these guys.
“You want it to rub off because if they become those type players and they come back here, it’s only going to make us better.”
Four days after they lost to the Wolves at Target Center, Raptors stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will play for the Eastern Conference back home.
LaVine envisions a day where he could play in the same All-Star backcourt with Wiggins, perhaps even at a remodeled Target Center.
“Hopefully one day we’ll be like Toronto today,” LaVine said. “Hopefully, we can have our own backcourt and KAT [Towns] is the center. The All-Star Game, that’s what we all strive for. That’d be fun. That’d be a lot of fun.”