There is an old allegory of a scorpion who needs to cross a river and a turtle that presents a means of transportation across the water that the poor swimming scorpion cannot cross on his own. The story begins at the edge of the shore with the scorpion hailing the turtle, requesting a trip.
“Are you mad?” questions the turtle. “You’ll sting me while I’m swimming and I’ll drown.”
“My dear turtle,” laughs the scorpion, “if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you, and drown as well. Now where is the logic in that?”
After thinking it over, the turtle obliges to the logic and invites the scorpion to hop on. Halfway across the water, on the back of the turtle, the scorpion unleashes a mighty sting.
“You said there’d be no logic in your stinging me,” exclaims the turtle. “Why did you do it?”
“It has nothing to do with logic,” the drowning scorpion sadly replied. “It’s just in my nature.”
The Nature of the Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns Relationship
Butler demanding a trade one year — and exactly halfway upstream — on his two-year contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves is but the most recent example of Butler delivering a mighty sting to the franchise he helms. Towns was his most recent turtle.
It’s in Butler’s nature to defy logic and to pursue unrealistic goals.
He wields an unrelenting iron fist that historically eventually connects and — in a basketball context — causes fault lines throughout whichever locker room he currently occupies. Butler has a mentality that deserves respect but a leadership style that deserves questioning. From Chicago to Minnesota he has demanded his constituents follow exact orders that mirror his every move — creating a motion that even Butler himself knows is unreasonable.
The one quote that will stick with me from the Butler era in Minnesota is indicative of this disconnect. It is something Butler said to Michael Pina of Vice Sports a month after being traded for and a month before he ever donned a Timberwolves jersey.
“I think it’s wrong for me to think that people want what I want because in reality they don’t. Some people are OK with getting drafted. Some people are OK with playing two years in the league, four years in the league, six years in the league. Some people are OK with just scoring a basket in an NBA game. I’m not OK with any of that. I’m not satisfied until I win a championship,” he says. “I want everybody to work the way that I work and it’s wrong for me to think like that because people don’t do it! But in my mind I’m just like why? Why don’t you want to chase greatness the way that I do?”
These words represent an honorable mentality with a twist of disconnect — enough to just make it impossible to work.
The Way of Butler has been to make progress with a group until he becomes fed up with their pace. As his troops eventually lag behind his unreasonable pace, Butler has a propensity to lose his composure and deliver a near-fatal blow right before he is airlifted to his next destination.
However, his most recent vehicle to the promised land is so buoyant with talent that this Minnesota ship is not yet sunk. Towns and his new $190 million contract are living on.
As 2018’s media day is upon us, I’m drawn back to a quote of Towns’ from media day a year prior: “We were going to get there regardless,” Towns said when asked if Butler would right the Wolves ship to the playoffs.
And now, it’s time to prove that notion. KAT’s pockets have been lined handsomely with the maximum money he can possibly earn. And with that, he is the captain now. This is, in the midst of all the terrible Butler drama, the Timberwolves doing a good thing: locking down a transcendent talent for six seasons, through 2023-24.
Yes, the price tag is hefty but six Towns-led journeys are more than worth the investment. Hopefully more judiciously this time, the next Wolves windows cannot only highlight Towns but be insulating with teammates that carry him across the river.
However, a question looms: What if it is also in Towns’ nature to sting? What if, like Butler, Towns does not effectively know how to lead?
The 22-year-old center is a wonderful man.
He’s kind, socially conscious and really freaking talented when it comes to playing basketball. But he is also counter-cultural; Towns has not meshed with his Minnesota teammates the way a fan would hope the face of their franchise would. He’s a guy who I respect for forging his own path in a way that differs from the more classical tropes of other NBA superstars. He is a person who does his own thing and does it in a funky sort of way that almost mirrors his herky-jerky drives to the bucket.
The fear with this nature is that this may not mesh with his teammates over the next six seasons. Everyone wants him to be Shaq but KAT might just be Kareem — excellent but definitively not the alpha leader a champion needs.
However, and this is a key variable, Towns is only 22. So much changes in the human mind from age 22 to age 28. Who were you when you were in college? Probably someone very different than you were when you were 28.
Similarly, Towns needs to evolve because he has been given the keys to the city in the form of a $190 million contract that expects him to trailblaze. We know he can lead the Wolves in numerous statistical categories, but can he lead men?
This is an exciting question that must be answered “yes” if the Minnesota Timberwolves are ever going to be able to depart from their reputation of being perennially dysfunctional. Towns is now the scorpion who must control himself along the journey. I’m not yet sold that this is in his nature, but the gamble on maturation is worth every penny.