Timberwolves

KAT’s 2023-24 Season Should Solidify His Future In Minnesota

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After the Minnesota Timberwolves’ season-ending loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, a reporter asked Karl-Anthony Towns what his expectations are going into the offseason amid uncertainty surrounding his future in Minnesota.

“I’m confident that I’m going to be here with my brothers and continue to do what I love here at home,” Towns said. “That’s the plan, nothing’s ever changed on my side.”

With the way Towns performed this season, it should also be Minnesota’s plan to keep him around. Although it ended on a sour note with his poor all-around showing in the conference finals, we can’t forget that the 28-year-old played a crucial role in progressing this franchise to an elite level this season. Considering his postseason woes in prior years, this has to be considered the best playoff run of his career.

Towns grew as a leader this season. Entering the season, there was uncertainty over whose team it was: Towns or Anthony Edwards. But it didn’t necessarily happen that way. The two would coexist and contribute greatly to the Wolves’ No. 1 defensive rating. It was never about Towns having to take a backseat. Instead, the Wolves needed Towns to be a leader.

He sacrificed shot attempts and eye-popping statistics, a sign of maturity. Good teams consistently win by sacrificing for the team’s greater good, and Towns excelled at it. Edwards is the face of the Wolves and potentially the league itself, but Towns’ contributions were just as necessary to the team’s improvements this year.

After a calf injury kept him out of 53 games in 2022, Towns returned to All-Star status this year. It wasn’t just his scoring that got him there. His partnership with Rudy Gobert also improved on both ends. Gobert believed that he should’ve received an All-Star nod as well. Last year, Towns didn’t get enough time to gel with Gobert, and it led to clunky basketball from the Wolves when they were on the court together.

This year was much different as Towns became an improved complementary player next to Gobert, a role he hasn’t found himself in often since his arrival to the team in 2015. His willingness to buy into this role was massive in the Wolves taking that next step as an organization.

Towns’ defense also leaped this season. While it hasn’t been his strong suit since entering the league, that wasn’t the case this season. He finished the regular season with a 108.7 defensive rating, his best mark since 2018. Towns’ defense was on full display in the Wolves’ second-round matchup against the defending champions. The Wolves tasked him with guarding the three-time MVP Nikola Jokic, and he held his own. Jokic found it tougher to score on Towns than on Gobert, so the Wolves preferred the four-time Defensive Player of the Year to be a roamer against Denver.

His two-way performance in Game 7 was a major reason the Wolves advanced to their first conference finals since 2004. Towns’ defensive improvements, while also being a scoring threat, took his game to a new level in 2023. He’s now becoming the complete player scouts projected him to be coming out of the University of Kentucky. Entering Year 10, Towns can improve by committing fewer defensive fouls, which has plagued him for much of his career. Overall, though, he became a more disciplined defensive player this year.

Towns has done a tremendous job at handling the criticism he’s received over his nine-year NBA career. Whether it was the Jimmy Butler drama or personal critiques regarding his character, Towns remained even-keeled and professional in how he carried himself. He seems to understand his responsibility as a leader of this franchise. Outside of a few incidents, Towns has not disappointed. It’s hard to believe that all of the criticism has been fair, and there seems to be a narrative that’s followed him since the fallout with Butler.

Seeing how Towns has led by example on and off the floor is commendable and indicates the work his family did to raise a man of such class and integrity. Towns was recently recognized as the 2023-24 NBA Social Justice Champion, an award that exemplifies his work to improve communities. It shows the selfless nature of Towns and why he’s been more than capable of being that same person on the basketball court. Towns is the type of person who should lead the Timberwolves franchise because he’s an example on and off the court.

There are financial implications to consider as the Wolves are projected to be a second-apron team, limiting their flexibility to make roster changes. With Towns set to earn nearly $50 million in 2024, the Wolves must decide what they want to do going forward. In his exit interview, Chris Finch expressed his desire to keep Towns in Minnesota.

“The playoffs are two months long. Everybody’s going to go through some sort of period where they don’t play particularly well,” Finch said. “100% believe that KAT can take us to where we’re ultimately trying to go.”

The Wolves are also experiencing an ownership dilemma. With the organization finally in a championship window, will ownership pay the tax penalties necessary to keep the team together? And if so, for how long? Still, Towns’ impressive 2023 campaign seems to have been enough to keep him around for at least another year.

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Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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