The Wolves Are Powered By Chemistry As Much As Talent

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez (USA TODAY Sports)

On Thursday night, Karl-Anthony Towns expressed why he thinks the Minnesota Timberwolves are having success for the first time since Jimmy Butler left the Twin Cities. “It’s more than just the talent this locker room has,” he said after putting up 13 points in the third quarter in a 128-117 win over the Detroit Pistons, “it’s the character.”

In the middle of the fourth quarter, the Pistons rolled off an 11-0 run to bring the game within five points. We’ve seen the Wolves lose like that so many times. They roll into town to face a team that they view as inferior, fall asleep, and lose. But on Thursday, they stepped on the gas late and left the Pistons in their dust. This team is different.

Yes, in fact, there is an entirely different air about this Timberwolves team. Obviously, some of Anthony Edwardsresidual confidence has seeped into the fibers of this squad. Patrick Beverley’s ferocity has encoded itself into their DNA. Chris Finch’s schemes have started to settle into everyone’s bodies and become less thought process and more muscle memory. However, beyond all that is an underlying key to success that Towns has been trying to manifest for years:

Good vibes.

Again, on Thursday night, Finch reminded us just how good the vibes are. “As I’ve said many, many times, this team really likes each other,” he said. “They really root for each other. They’re fun to be around. They have fun with each other.” You can see that in the way that they play.

Ever since the Butler fiasco, it seems like Towns has focused on creating a positive aura around the Timberwolves organization. Until this season, he has failed to do so. Two seasons ago, he came close, but the team fell short of expectations. That was the “Bahama Wolves.” This season, the “Pajama Wolves” are not only vibing; they’re winning.

When Towns took the whole team on a trip to the Bahamas, it came after a tumultuous season in which Butler and the Wolves went through a messy divorce. After it was all said and done, the Wolves had fired Tom Thibodeau, and Ryan Saunders took the helm as interim head coach. The Wolves finished the season with 36 wins and a lot of questions.

What better way to get your mind off your ex than a luxurious trip to the Bahamas? Who doesn’t want to cleanse the soul in the crystalline waters of the Atlantic Ocean? The trip was a cleanse, yes. But when KAT planned the trip, he had other ideas about the importance of taking a team vacation.

“Bahamas was not a joke,” he said after the opening-night victory over the Brooklyn Nets to kick off the 2019-20 season. “This is something that was real. You wanna do great things, winning things, be a winning team, you gotta do great things. You gotta do winning-team stuff. We bonded, and you saw, when the game got close, no matter how close and how rough it was getting, we stayed very unified, and we kept to each other, and we trusted in each other, and that’s how we got this W tonight.”

The Bahamas trip was paired with the arrival of Gersson Rosas in Minnesota. It was a springboard into what was to be the new Minnesota Timberwolves, created in Rosas’ vision. He wanted the Wolves to be a family. Like a bulldozer with a smile painted on the front, Rosas began his work. However, after the trade deadline, only a handful of players left on the roster had been to the Bahamas.

We all know the story with Rosas. He built Minnesota’s current roster, hired Finch, and it is finding success. But his totalitarian approach to team building, personnel management, and culture setting proved not to be conducive to creating a cohesive team. The Wolves are left with a team crafted in Rosas’ vision and living out Towns’ dream.

All the good vibes the Wolves have are being met with continuity and talent. They also have a level of real, genuine love and care that completely bucks the hollow promise of “family” that Rosas preached. Indeed, the Timberwolves have found that creating a culture founded on unity and togetherness takes far more than preaching. It takes the right mentality.

On Thursday, Towns talked about his teammates as “willing to sacrifice, willing to be selfless.”

It seems like he is seeing something in this team that has eluded him through his seven years in the league.

“The more experience we’re getting together,” he said, “the unity we’re building, the chemistry we’re getting every single day, from every single pass, every single practice — it’s helping us tremendously.

“I love that everyone is just bought into being the best basketball player they can be. It’s just contagious, and it’s going around the team, and it’s a great thing.”

You see, it’s not about grandiose gestures or hyperbolic statements. It’s about the little things. It’s high-fives and fist bumps. And it’s the extra passes and giving your all on defense. The key to creating culture isn’t about one person saying that the vibes are good. It’s about every single person believing it. The relationships the Wolves have cultivated off the court have seeped into the fibers of the teams’ identity on the court. It didn’t take a trip to a picturesque beach or the president of basketball operations pushing an agenda. Turns out, what this team needed was some matching pajamas.

Of course, there’s a lot more going on here than pajamas. I would hazard a guess that no one has put those on since the photo-op. But what better symbol for the culture shift than pajamas? Pajamas remind me of home. They remind me of comfort. They remind me of Christmases with my mom’s family.

We wear our pajamas around the people with whom we are most comfortable. Starting the year with a team flight in matching PJs was a message. This team is family, and it’s showing up on the court.

Above all, this team is competitive. After the win on Sunday against the Pistons, the Wolves sit three games above .500 and just a game back from the sixth-place Denver Nuggets. As we know, all the good vibes in the world can’t withstand the dredge of losing. Losing is a plague that has infected Minnesota’s culture for a long time. With this group, the Wolves may have just found the antidote.

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