Only two Minnesota Timberwolves players have ever given out a telephone number during a live press conference. Jimmy Butler famously broadcast his digits during his introductory presser at the Mall of America. Asked about accusations of being an abrasive leader in Chicago, Butler said, “Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But with that being said, my phone is in my back pocket. Whoever has anything to say to me, feel free: (773) 899-6071.”
It was his business phone, and it was with his friend Ifeanyi Koggu. But Jimmy had done his best to suggest that there was nothing to the rumors about his leadership style.
On Tuesday, Karl-Anthony Towns became the second Wolves player to broadcast a phone number publicly. Only, it wasn’t his business phone. He displayed it on a “Lover’s Hotline” hat he wore after Minnesota’s 126-120 win over the Charlotte Hornets in overtime. A brave Timberwolves fan called the hotline, which Towns claims he had not dialed.
But love was in the air on Tuesday night.
“I think that’s what makes this team so special, is that that chemistry is there,” Towns said, echoing something that he and his teammates have said repeatedly. “And I think that one of the things that’s different than a lot of years that I’ve been here is when we speak, it comes from a place of love.
“It comes from a place of love, and in that love, it doesn’t mean craziness. But just in love, I’m saying it comes from a place of wanting to see you succeed. Wanting to see us be better. Wanting to see us be a great team.”
I know you’re sick and tired of hearing about the Wolves’ chemistry. We’ve covered it extensively here. They’ve got good vibes, and it probably justifies their decision to stand pat at the deadline. To a man, every player on this team has expressed how much they love playing for each other. They want to make it clear that they’re lovin’ this.
So let’s view this a different way. Towns was on a losing team in his first six seasons. Butler drove winning in 2017-18, the only other winning team KAT has been on, headlining Tom Thibodeau’s hostile takeover of the Wolves. Jimmy was the alpha TimberBull, a proven player who would turn KAT and Andrew Wiggins into winners.
“I’ve been a part of teams where things were said with no love in it,” Towns said, “it was just being said to be an a-hole, most of the time.”
It’s hard not to see that as a description of his time with Butler. Perhaps there were other occurrences when someone constantly criticized Towns, and it didn’t come from the right place. But KAT said that this is the first year he’s felt this kind of camaraderie since he played with Kevin Garnett. Therefore, we can infer that Towns embraced Garnett’s mentorship of him. Anyone else who was abrasive probably fell behind him on the team hierarchy.
It’s not as though the Wolves don’t have sandpaper on the roster. Patrick Beverley isn’t afraid to speak his mind and is willing to confront teammates he feels aren’t giving their best effort. Finch is willing to dole out tough love when necessary.
“When they’re talking to me, there can be criticism, cursing at me, everything,” said Towns. “Telling me to take my game to another level. But I know it comes from a place of love. So it’s great to hear that. I want to hear that.”
Butler may have driven winning for the 2017-18 Wolves, but KAT contributed in a meaningful way. He’s always been the prototypical big who can shoot the lights out and zip the ball around the court. And his defense has progressively improved enough that he’s no longer a liability on that side of the ball.
However, because he put up numbers on losing teams, he gained a reputation as an empty stats guy. But now he looks like a winner because of the player around him. Anthony Edwards is the crowd-pleaser who can score through force of will. D’Angelo Russell is a close friend who orchestrates the offense and offers defensive instruction when he’s off the court. The depth players know their roles. Finch holds them all accountable.
“In my experience, that camaraderie comes through in the fourth quarter when things get really tough,” said Towns. “Then you put your pride to the side and say, ‘You know what? You could make that shot. We’re gonna get you that shot.’”
Minnesota’s players are taking ownership of their team. They want to win because they know that GMs break up teams that can’t contend. Still, the Wolves are a young team, and their efforts to engage fans and garner national attention are occasionally clumsy. Hell, Towns showed up in a trucker hat with a lover’s hotline telephone number on it. Minutes earlier, Russell had presented a game ball for fans that he had previously had called out for being too quiet. And the Timberwolves currently don’t look like a team that can go on a playoff run this year. Until then, fans won’t fully embrace them.
Gersson Rosas intentionally built a team around him, and Sachin Gupta has worked to create a positive atmosphere after his dismissal. As a result, the Wolves have a foundation. But they must build upon it. Still, that’s more than can be said about any Timberwolves team in recent memory.