Jimmy Butler made the Timberwolves his team. He willed himself into being their best player despite having teammates with more talent and physical skills. He took a leadership position by talking over everyone (for better or worse). He even asked for top-contract status with a renegotiation-and-extension that would have required gutting the rest of the roster.
With Butler traded to the 76ers, who takes up the mantle in Minnesota?
Karl-Anthony Towns is the logical candidate. He’s now the Timberwolves’ best player. He just signed a max contract extension that will hit super-max salaries if he makes an All-NBA team this season. He’s even already one of Minnesota’s longest-tenured players.
Karl-Anthony Towns took issue with the idea that, with Butler gone, he had to become the team’s leader.
“First of all, I’m not one of the most important [players on the team],’’ he said. “I’m just a piece on this team. Everyone is just as important as the next. So if everyone’s doing their job and everyone is working hard, doing the little things, we make a great product.
Somewhere, Butler is cackling, assured his doubts about Towns were correct.
But leading isn’t for everyone. That doesn’t make non-leaders bad people. The world needs followers, too.
That said, things generally flow much more smoothly on teams where the best player is the main leader. It creates an orderly culture. If Towns doesn’t want that role, it’ll be something for the Timberwolves to overcome.
Maybe Towns, 22, will grow into it. There’s still plenty of time left for him to develop both as a player and person.
But Butler’s exit created a natural entrance for Towns into leadership. Towns could have seamlessly seized the reigns right here. That he isn’t shows how far he is as a leader.