Indianapolis native Jeff Teague joked that the Timberwolves this offseason were like New York City — always somewhere to be with everyone on the move, doing something. That was reflected in the media day set up, which included a DJ playing mostly hip-hop and rap, creating an amusing juxtaposition as several veteran scribes took their seats for a series of news conferences.
Previous seasons were like Indiana, Teague said. The freneticism was missing. More laid back, chill. But he added: “I think everyone around here is happy with the way things are going.”
That extended to the franchise linchpin Karl-Anthony Towns, who bounced onto the stage and appeared much happier to be here than he was a season ago, even though he had just signed his maximum contract extension. That was when Jimmy Butler ran roughshod over the team. Now, Butler is gone. As is Tom Thibodeau, and the culture Towns so desperately wants in place has taken its infant steps over the offseason, he said.
“Who are we going to be? We set that early this summer,” Towns said. “We built on it throughout the offseason, and now we’re at this point where we feel we have a true identity of who we are as a team, what is our culture, what is our standards as a team.”
There were several tangible things Towns could use an examples of that — the fact that most everyone took time out of their summer for a team retreat to the Bahamas, and that everyone already was working out in Minnesota for weeks prior to Monday, which wasn’t the case last year. For that, he said credit goes to the players for making the commitment, the front office with Gersson Rosas at the helm and Ryan Saunders’ coaching staff.
This is the most important thing for the Wolves as Towns begins his max deal — making sure he is in lockstep with where the organization is going. Rosas hasn’t minced words about the need to build around Towns, and if Monday is indicative of their relationship, it’s a promising start to this new regime for the Wolves.
“What I can tell you is we’re going to go out there every single game we’re going to be unified,” Towns said of the new-look roster. “We’re going to be cohesive. When things get bad, we’re going to be together regardless of how the outcome of the game is, we’re going to work tremendously hard and we’re going to be the best team we can be every single night.”
Rosas also hasn’t been shy about his demands for the team’s other maximum contract player, Andrew Wiggins. Rosas has said the organization hasn’t maximized Wiggins’ potential throughout his career, but the team needs more from him, and Wiggins said he has been open to what Rosas and Saunders have had to say during what Rosas termed “hear-to-heart” conversations.
“They believe in me,” Wiggins said. “And I feel like that is important because that gives me confidence. When your head coach and people in the front office are telling you they believe in you, ‘This is your year’ and all this stuff, that gives me confidence. And it makes me believe that this is my year.”
Specifically, those conversations have focused on showing Wiggins analytics and game film to help him improve his efficiency. He said he will be working on eliminating long two-point shots in favor of more threes or drives to the rim. As for the waves of criticism Wiggins receives, he said he noticed it and is trying to use it as fuel.
“The fact that I can prove people wrong and get back out there and let people know that I’m still the same player — that’s the motivation,” Wiggins said. “It means a lot if you work harder, think harder and want to be great.”
That last part — the want to be great — applied to a lot of what Towns said about the team as a whole — and he thinks the Wolves have taken those steps.
“To see that we can compete at a high level in practice, and not have any animosity carry over to after practice at the end,” Towns said. “Cuts, bruises, just mentally worn down, physically worn down to come at the end and be in that circle and say, ‘Good job men, way to compete today.’ … We could be something special.”
They could, but how long that may take, or if it happens, is still up for debate.