2016 Offseason

Karl-Anthony Towns was fueled by watching the Cavs win


It’s weird what watching a franchise like the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome to finally stand at the top of a championship stage, congratulating each other, and hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy makes you think about the downtrodden team you love to root for. Behind a super human effort from LeBron James, a leap by Kyrie Irving, a contract validation by Tristan Thompson, and even some Game 7 heroics from the much-maligned Kevin Love, the Cavs finally bucked their trend of being lovable losers in the NBA.

Throughout the bumbling attempts of the Cavs in their franchise history and a questionable ownership that was willing to spend but never quite willing to set a culture that fostered championship level success, it was always assumed they would end up blowing whatever chance LeBron could carve out for them. Part of it was that Cleveland sports just have this stigma, which will happen when you go through 52 years as a franchise without a professional team winning it all. The other part was they had to take down a historically great team in the most unlikely of scenarios (being down 3-1 in the Finals).

And yet they did it. Call it a fluke. Call it learning championship tendencies on the fly. Call it traversing the hardest road possible, as LeBron alluded to after the win as he tried to figure out why they make things so hard on themselves. But they came out the other side of this endeavor soaked in champagne, cigar smoke in their immediate atmosphere, and heading to Las Vegas to celebrate in decadence.

It makes you wonder if there are enough similarities with the possibility of the Minnesota Timberwolves breaking through their franchise-long malaise and eventually having that chance. Kevin Garnett was never given that chance in his prime with the organization, save for one semi-run in 2004 when they reached the conference finals. So if they wasted that opportunity with an all-time great in his prime, why would they possibly make it work this time?

It’s possible the necessary culture change is beginning to take form. The Wolves cleaned house a bit once Tom Thibodeau took over as president and coach. Rob Moor has stepped aside from a position that could be maximized in a much better manner. Glen Taylor is possibly taking this current Wolves situation more seriously than he ever has. And if you’re wondering why it’s even possible to wonder if Glen can own a title-winning team, look at the owner of the current NBA champions.

As KG exclaimed, “Anything is possible!”

The key is obviously finding your LeBron James. The Wolves don’t have a LeBron. Few teams in NBA history have ever been lucky enough to have a LeBron level talent. So maybe that’s where the quest for a title dies. You need the best in order to be the best. Superstars win titles. There are rare exceptions to this rule in the NBA. You can fool yourself into thinking the 2013 Denver Nuggets never needed a superstar or last year’s Atlanta Hawks were a star-less title contender. It’s foolish to think the exceptions (like the 2004 Detroit Pistons) are even something you can replicate. And even then, that team was ridiculous.

What the Wolves need is for Karl-Anthony Towns to be their LeBron. How likely is that? I don’t know. I know Towns put up a rookie season that only Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal have managed to do. Those guys were LeBron’s in one way or another. Or more respectfully, they were the Duncan and Shaq of NBA history. It’s too early to tell whether or not Towns can reach those heights. I have no doubts in my mind that KAT is capable of being that great and that he will likely be that great. I don’t fault people for reservations in anointing a player capable of that after one year.

I just don’t feel the need to be careful there. He’s awesome. He’s going to be a monster in the NBA for a long time. After spending time talking to him, I can see the focus and understanding of what’s ahead of him despite not legally being able to drink alcohol. And while they’re just tweets and this may be just good self-marketing, seeing Towns’ reaction to the Cavs winning the title Sunday night was just validation that this guy will be capable of breaking an often hapless franchise through.

Even if that franchise last made the playoffs when he was eight years old.

Back in March, KAT told me he doesn’t watch a lot of basketball in his off time. He loves football. He often doesn’t know which city they’re leaving for on the road trip until he’s packing. He remains focused on his team and his game. There’s a singularity to his approach that prevents distraction. He’ll study video but he’s not exactly a League Pass junkie like other players around the NBA. He’s just not wired like that.

But making sure he attended part of the NBA Finals and soaking in the celebration of the Cavs to motivate him toward the future is very much a part of who he is. There’s a KG element to him where he refuses to accept losing with anything. Naively, he thought the Wolves would make the playoffs in his rookie season. He thinks they’re going to win every game they play. He’s left sleepless when Mirza Teletovic hits a game-winner over him. Success and failure consume him with failure always having the hands on the wheel.

The Wolves have another player like that in terms of that hunger for success. Ricky Rubio has been a champion in his teenage years in Spain and has hated losing as much as any player I’ve ever been around. Unfortunately for him and the Wolves, he’s lost a lot in his still young career. All players want to win, but not every player dies with losing. Rubio and Towns die with losing and share that thirst for conquest on a very similar level.

Who knows if Rubio will be a long-term part of this plan? I know he’ll likely thrive under Tom Thibodeau, who is a bit of a point guard whisperer and whose defense can thrive with a defensive-minded point guard like Rubio at the tip of the spear. Throw in Towns, Andrew Wiggins, gym rat Zach LaVine, and whatever pieces end up coming together over the next couple of years, and the Wolves legitimately have a core you can see challenging for a title some day.

It doesn’t mean it’s definite. It doesn’t mean it’s likely. But it seems much more possible than tricking yourself into thinking Kevin Love (congratulations are in order, by the way), Michael Beasley, and Wes Johnson eventually could grow into it.

After all, that’s what Cleveland has now conditioned other curmudgeonly fan bases to do. Believeland now permeates into the hearts of potentially lovable losers all around this league. Maybe it’s crazy to think the Wolves can be next. They don’t have a LeBron.

They do have a KAT though. And eventually, he’s probably going to be too good and too hungry to stop.

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2 thoughts on “Karl-Anthony Towns was fueled by watching the Cavs win

    1. What an insightful comment, Mark. We’re all smarter for having read it.

      Back to the article, Zach, I echo your sentiments. There’s a confidence and joy that KAT brings to his game that makes you want to shoot for the moon when it comes to predictions about what he and this team can eventually do. In a less personal sense, the Wolves do seem to have the core of what works these days for championship teams since the NBA seems to be moving away from the outdated idea that you need “the big three” to win a championship. What’s needed is coincidentally similar to what the Wolves potentially have:

      1) An absurdly good leader of the team who is as driven as he is talented.
      2) An absurdly good player who is almost as good as the leader of the team but doesn’t butt heads with said leader of team.

      The Cavs didn’t have a big three. Love was barely a factor in the series although I have to give him credit for a nice game 7, especially that defensive stop on Curry in the last minute. Regardless, it was Lebron and Kyrie and a good supporting cast. It was not Lebron, Kyrie and Love.

      Right now the Wolves have KAT and Wiggins. With the right cast of supporting players around them and a few years of experience and the right head coach, it will be fascinating to see how closely they can duplicate the Cavs’ efforts.

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