One thing the Timberwolves could count on a season ago was leadership from guard Patrick Beverley. His was among the most prominent voices in the locker room through thick and thin, from Game 1 until the Grizzlies knocked the Wolves out of the playoffs.
Through 23 games, coach Chris Finch said this year's team, with Beverley now playing for the Lakers, is still searching for its identity and the structure of its leadership.
"Everything about winning requires leadership. It's something that we've not been great at," Finch said. "We're trying to find a voice collectively, trying to find a personality as a team. Those are things that we've got to keep working on, trying to cultivate as a team. That's my job."
This Wolves team has an intriguing dynamic when it comes to the breakdown of voices.
Some of its more veteran players are either new to the team or don't play as many minutes as the starters, and it can be hard for players to speak up if they aren't playing or aren't playing a lot. Karl-Anthony Towns has never been a rah-rah kind of leader. Towns is also out indefinitely because of a right calf strain, so the Wolves would have to get by in this stretch of time without him anyway. Anthony Edwards may eventually have the personality to lead, but is only 21 and in just his third season.
"It's tough. Guys either have it in them to be a leader, but if they do, they might not be ready to bring it out and you've got to try to coax it out of them," Finch said. "Leadership is about one thing — who's willing to follow you? There's a million different ways to do it. But all leaders have one thing in common: People follow them."
Edwards has tried developing his voice this season, and has pointed to veterans like Austin Rivers, Taurean Prince and Kyle Anderson as helping him learn when to say something and when to stay quiet. He's doing that in part because he senses a leadership vacuum.
"I feel we need it," Edwards said last week. "We don't have that voice in the locker room. I feel like we need it. I try to do it if need be. Say the right things. Not say too much. Not do too much. Go out there and show what I can do instead of talking about it all the time."
Center Rudy Gobert has been among those trying to hold teammates accountable on the floor and lead by example at the same time.
"I use my voice, but I think sometimes talking too much isn't doing anything," Gobert said last week. "So, just trying to lead by example and understanding that I need to be better first. … It's not just about basketball. I think it's about being a pro in general."
Accountability often begins with looking at yourself, and on Monday, Gobert said he hurt the team with his ejection in the second quarter of Saturday's loss to Oklahoma City. He wasn't the only one tossed. Toward the end of the game, guard D'Angelo Russell was ejected and was fined $20,000 for the comments he directed toward an official.
Officials kicked Gobert out after he put his leg out to trip the Thunder's Kenrich Williams.
"It was just frustration," Gobert said. "Guys are going to talk. It's a part of the game. Sometimes you can feel it's disrespectful, but I got to be smarter than that. Penalizing my team, penalizing myself. So, I got to be smarter."
Gobert said that's especially true because he is a veteran on a team mostly of players younger than he is. How he conducts himself can set a tone for the rest of the team.
"I know for sure I would never try to get anybody hurt," Gobert said. "I've never done that in my career and I'm never going to be that type of person. But just got to be, always got to be the bigger person and especially as a leader of this team. As the older guy on the team too, I got to show up better."