The Minnesota Timberwolves held “Fan Fest” last Saturday at Target Center to generate inconsequential enthusiasm for the fitful placenta stage.
It was time to examine the shooting of Bryn Forbes, as he splashed and clanked threes; to gauge D’Angelo Russell’s engagement as the point guard with the expired contract; and to determine if you had to know the name of CJ Elleby.
It was a time to take in Rudy Gobert, Timberwolves’ prize acquisition, walking around in his Timberwolves uniform. To enjoy a Jaden McDaniels quicksilver dunk, get to know Anthony Edwards and confirm that the 2022-23 season’s final trimester was indeed over.
The revelation of what the Timberwolves’ particular edition has in store for us, for better or worse, will continue to tease at a molasses pace. It will taunt and tantalize in a way that makes “fan dance,” a double entendre for burlesque, and b-ball.
The dawn of KAT-Gobert’s era
The biggest question for the Wolves this season is how Gobert and Karl Anthony Towns, their largest and most important players, can work together in a league that favors smaller players who use outside shooting and rapid ball movement. The circumstances conspire against the Wolves, even before they begin to address the topic. Gobert missed Minnesota’s preseason training sessions this summer because he was participating in EuroBasket, the French national team. Towns missed the entire league’s training camp period due to a non COVID illness. His girlfriend posted the story on social media.
KAT smiled on the bench wearing street clothes during Fan Fest. She is expected to begin practicing this week. Chris Finch, the head coach, stated that Gobert will be rested more this season due to EuroBasket. Towns will also get more time together at the court after the practice. KAT will not be available for tonight’s Miami game.
The Wolves have focused their defense efforts almost exclusively on the “drop cover” scheme, which emphasizes Goberts exceptional rim protection skills. This is a markedly different approach to the “high wall”, which was used by the Wolves for the majority of last season. KAT was the starting center, while Gobert was at the back. KAT has not been in training camp so Kyle Anderson has been the power forward. Kyle Anderson is the position KAT will be playing in tandem with Gobert in the frontcourt.
KAT will need to be more flexible and challenging for Manning’s speed and decision-making in order to move forward in NBA drop coverage. Finch spoke to me last month about his desire to keep his defensive strategies fluid until he and the Wolves have a better understanding of the opponent’s plans for attacking Minnesota’s bigs. It doesn’t matter if they are dropping coverage, switching-heavy or straight zones, KAT and Gobert will be better able to cope with any opponent’s schemes.
Although it’s a setback for the team, the impact on the team’s prospects is a reminder of the different timelines. The sooner you can maximize synergy the better. It is worth noting, however, that Gobert’s blockbuster deal was originally intended to last four years. This is a huge window for a deal this large. Gobert is currently under contract until 2026. KAT will be one year later. After McDaniels and Edwards’ rookie contracts expire, the Wolves will be in control of any negotiations. DLo is the only remaining starter for the foreseeable future.
It was a team effort
Although the attraction to the compatibility between the bigs is obvious, there will be an interesting battle at the other end. The majority of NBA teams have nine players per game. Some teams use 10 players, while the Wolves tried 11 for a time last season. It seems sensible to assign eight players to regular duty at the moment: The five mentioned starters, forwards Anderson, Taurean Prince and Jordan McLaughlin, as well as backup point guard Jordan McLaughlin.
Jaylen Nowell, a combo guard, is currently believed to be in the ninth slot. Finch grouped Nowell with McDaniels and Edwards in late June as young talents who were crucial to the team’s growth in the 2022-23 seasons. After Tim Connelly, president of basketball operations, sent four players out and the Wolves’ top draft pick for Gobert, Finch filled in two gaps with Austin Rivers (a veteran) and Bryn Forbes (a veteran who has valuable, but different skill sets.
Micah Nori, the assistant coach for the Wolves, was able to fill in for Finch at practice last week. He adroitly explained why the slots 9 through 11 might be changing depending on the situation throughout the season.
“Do we need defense? Nori said that Austin is a very skilled defender. Need someone to spread the floor when Rudy or DLo are out? Bryn Forbes is able to make those space-creating, long distance shots. Jaylen is there to help you when you feel like things are getting stale. You don’t want any stone unturned. It’s nice to have these luxuries.
Finch expressed his hope that Nowell would be able to separate himself from the competition when I presented a similar round-robin scenario in our conversation last month. Forbes and Rivers, despite being journeymen in recent seasons have managed to get more playing time for a variety of winning teams. (Hat tip to Rob Mahoney, the great NBA writer for, for raising the topic in conversation while he was visiting town to cover the Wolves.
Nori points out that the selections made by the competition are a luxury considering the personnel further down the roster. This is Connelly’s talent and a testament to his savvy. It also shows that there are smart ways to compensate the talent loss that resulted from the slew future draft picks (and swapped places in drafts when they aren’t punting their top pick) that Connelly gave up in order to acquire Gobert.
The elephant in the room:
This column will end on a controversial subject: the homophobic Instagram message Edwards sent and then deleted. Recording a group strangers going about their business on the streets – one was a man in a bra – Edwards called them “queer” before rhetorically asking what the world was doing.
For personal reasons, I decided that I wouldn’t engage with the issue at first. In the Stone Age of the 1970s, when I was a high-school football player, I used maggot as a slur in my interactions with teammates and friends in the locker room. It was a long time ago, and today we seem to be more aware of the dangers of wanton verbal bigotry. It was culturally acceptable and I didn’t realize how much damage it could cause. Both true.
However, I knew the word had a special meaning that cut deeper than any other epithet. Even though I knew that, I remember feeling arrogant about the fact that I was able to use it.
Ant was much younger than I was at the time. I felt that Ant’s comments in the Instagram video were incorrect, but it was also hypocritical of him to criticize me for it. This was made easier by the fact that Ant is an older white man and I am a young Black man.
Ant’s answers to pointed questions by Chris Hine (Star Tribune’s Wolves beat reporter), as well as other beat writers like Jace Frederick (Pioneer Press) and Jon Krawczynski (The Athletic) were what changed my mind. Since Ant was drafted by Wolves two years back, I have been covering Ant on a daily basis. As most people, I was both impressed and charmed at his incredible instincts and inner compass. This has allowed him to connect with people in an honest and guileless way. These positive impressions are evident in my coverage.
Media Day’s Ant was different. Everybody understood that he was in the first crisis in public relations of his career, and they were curious about his plan to change it. The outcome was autopilot contrition.
These were a general expression of regret that was not specific and lacked the self-awareness and intuitive insight that made his interactions with media and the public so rewarding. Hine was persistent but not hounding. He was trying to give Ant the opportunity to speak his mind in ways that would heal Ant’s relationship and those he had wronged.
After hearing Ant tell that the two previous weeks of controversy had been an educational experience, Hine asked Ant what specific lessons he had learned and what he had reflected upon in those two weeks. Ant began to give another pro forma answer and then stopped.
Edwards replied, “That’s an excellent question.” “What have you learned over the past two weeks?”
He replied in a brief moment: “In a flash of an eye, everything can be gone man. It’s important to think before you speak.
Ant’s homophobia on Instagram was much more severe than one might expect. Ant had set such high standards for empathy and friendly human relations that he joyfully invested his emotions to help others. Retrospectively, it is impossible to imagine anyone expecting a media genius to give another command performance at a reckoning where his previous unerring instincts had gone horribly sour for the first.
Ant, a well-known public figure at Media Day, was subject to criticism less than two months following his 21 st birth. In these circumstances, Ant was just too young – like most of us – to merit genuine atonement.
Why not harp on this here? Because Ant’s inexperience under other circumstances is not something I shy away from. He may say he wants to protect the opponent’s top player, but if the team agrees, I will write that this is not because Ant is the most suitable option. It is because Ant is engaging and it is the best way for him to engage. His off-ball defense, pick-and-roll nuances, and his off-ball defense are likely to still be problematic. If and when these problems do arise, I will not hesitate to point them out.
It affects Ant’s leadership ability, which I insist on. We were all excited to see his potential as a leader when he voiced his frustration with his team’s lack of selflessness in the first weeks of last season. A leader is someone who can honestly learn from mistakes and not shame a section of the fanbase.
It was something I kept harping on because Tim Connelly’s actions speak louder than his words. He keeps most things irritably close to his vest. The one thing that the Timberwolves’ most powerful and highest-paid member of the front office has in common is his commitment to recruiting and retaining good people who respect the franchise and the community who watch them play. Ant’s gaffe is a reminder that this isn’t just lip service.
Regardless, I will be paying much more attention to Ant’s defense in the future than to his ongoing reconciliation with homophobia. I am more qualified and have less baggage. Finch also noted the difference between learning difficult lessons in private and in public. Ant has had to deal with appropriate criticism. He deserves the space and time to learn from it.
As Ant matures, we hope that he will be able to keep his youthful joy and guileless innocence as well as his expectation of a good-faith marriage. These precious traits are often hampered, if not destroyed, by painful lessons learned. You can expect me to insist on their preservation whenever I can.