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With $32M on the line and Timberwolves needing him more than ever, Karl-Anthony Towns coming into his own

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DETROIT – Karl-Anthony Towns unknowingly walked up on Anthony Tolliver getting interviewed about Towns in the Timberwolves’ locker room.

“Hey, what’s up, man,” Tolliver said. “I’m not talking about you or nothing.”

Towns laughed. Then, as Tolliver returned to complimenting him, Towns realized Tolliver made more than a random joke.

“Wait,” Towns said. “Were you talking about me?”

Towns urged Tolliver to change topics – to Towns’ flaws, to Tolliver’s own 3-point shooting, to anything else. Towns even jokingly threatened to throw fruit at Tolliver.

This is the Towns who earlier this season resisted being labeled of one of Minnesota’s most important players. He’s prone to just trying to fit in.

But Towns has special talent. The Timberwolves need him to assert himself.

Hope of Towns co-starring with Andrew Wiggins, the reigning Rookie of Year and previous No. 1 pick when Towns got drafted No. 1, has nearly completely faded. Wiggins has stagnated (at best) since signing a max contract extension two years ago.

Jimmy Butler temporarily commandeered the scene in Minnesota. While Butler was carrying the Timberwolves to their first playoff appearance in 14 years last season, it made sense for Towns to defer. But Butler is gone, reportedly at Towns’ request (and definitely at Butler’s).

This team is now clearly Towns’ and Towns’ alone. He might finally be embracing it.

“There’s a lot on my shoulders, but good thing I’ve got broad shoulders,” Towns said.

In six games since a car crash he said could have killed him, Towns is averaging 34 points, 14 rebounds and four assists per game. Even for someone who has already established himself as a star, Towns might be turning the corner into superstardom.

The timing could be lucrative.

If Towns makes an All-NBA team this season, his upcoming extension will project to be worth $190 million over the next five years. If he misses the All-NBA teams and super-max eligibility, the extension projects to be worth $158 million – $32 million less.

Will Towns get one of three All-NBA center spots?

He appears to be in a six-man race with the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, 76ers’ Joel Embiid, Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Magic’s Nikola Vucevic. Here’s how they compare in points, rebounds assists, blocks and steals per game and PER, win shares and real plus-minus:

Player PPG RPG APG BPG SPG PER WS RPM
Nikola Jokic 20.5 10.8 7.7 0.6 1.4 26.9 9.9 6.5
Anthony Davis 26.8 12.3 4.0 2.5 1.6 30.5 9.4 6.1
Joel Embiid 27.3 13.5 3.5 1.9 0.6 25.4 7.2 4.3
Rudy Gobert 15.5 12.9 2.1 2.2 0.8 24.3 11.0 4.6
Karl-Anthony Towns 24.2 12.2 3.3 1.7 0.9 26.6 9.2 4.3
Nikola Vucevic 20.6 12.0 3.9 1.2 1.0 26.0 8.3 5.5

Towns will have a tough time catching Jokic, who will get onto many MVP ballots.

Davis has already missed 16 games and will receive only limited minutes the rest of the season. The negative effects of his trade request on New Orleans should count against him. But his incredible production while on the court should also matter.

Embiid has missed 11 games and counting. How quickly and how well he returns from his knee injury will swing his candidacy.

Gobert wasn’t even an All-Star, but that was determined by Western Conference coaches, not the media who’ll pick All-NBA. Gobert’s All-Star snub generated a lot of publicity that might even help his All-NBA case. Defensive-minded players like him also tend to fare better with All-NBA than All-Star, because voters are also considering Defensive Player of the Year at the end of the season. Gobert is a leading candidate for that award.

Vucevic is in his first season playing on this level. If nothing else, there will be no voter fatigue with him.

Other players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Brook Lopez, Al Horford and Andre Drummond could also get All-NBA votes. In a close race, those could determine who actually lands on the All-NBA teams.

At minimum, Towns’ All-NBA window is open.

Towns earning the pay bump would further squeeze a team with at least a couple players on undesirable contracts – Wiggins (four years, $122,242,800 remaining), Gorgui Dieng (two years, $33,516,853 remaining) and arguably Jeff Teague (one year, $19 million player option remaining). But Towns playing well down the stretch would carry its own value.

“Karl deserves to be an All-NBA player,” Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said.

By traditional big-man standards, Towns – averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds per game – looks like a lock. But he knows better.

In the previous 40 years, 25 players averaged 24-12 (minimum: 50 games). Only one didn’t make an All-NBA team – Towns in 2017.

In a system that awards five points for a first-team vote, three points for a second-team vote and one point for a third-team vote, Towns landed just four voting points behind DeAndre Jordan for third-team center. If Towns had made All-NBA that season, he would have already clinched super-max eligibility. Nothing would have been on the line this season.

Towns said he thought he’d make All-NBA in 2017.

“It was a learning experience,” said Towns, who declined to elaborate on what he learned.

So many learning experiences lie ahead for Towns, who’s just 23. He has looked sharper on defense – by far his biggest deficiency – and improved passing out of double-teams. But there’s so much more room to grow. A reason Minnesota is just 30-35 is Towns’ defensive shortcomings.

Still, he brings so much offensively. Towns is the only player making 70% of his shots at the rim and 40% of his 3-pointers (minimum: 100 attempts each). He makes it look easy.

“He’s so talented,” Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson said. “There’s nothing in this league, in the game of basketball, that I doubt him in.”

Towns has 44.1 career win shares. Since Towns entered the NBA in 2015, only four players – James Harden (54.9), Stephen Curry (47.3), LeBron James (46.9) and Kevin Durant (46.0) – have produced more win shares. But Towns is way younger than those four.

Here’s everyone who played in the NBA the last four seasons, sorted by age this season and win shares over the last four seasons. Harden, Curry, LeBron, Durant (who’s hiding behind Curry) and Towns are pictured:

image

Russell Westbrook recently trash-talked Towns during a game: “Get to the f—ing playoffs before you speak to me.” The diss was particularly cruel because the Timberwolves made the playoffs last year. But they got rolled by the Rockets in five games in the first round, Towns fading into the background of the series. It was quite forgettable.

There’s still plenty of time for Towns to make a bigger impact. Though further advancement might require roster upgrades around him, he has the tools to eventually lead the Timberwolves back into the playoffs and make a lasting impression.

Will he embrace that challenge and the accompanying spotlight or shirk the responsibility?

“He wants it,” Tolliver said. “And you can’t really say that about everybody. Some guys, they might say they want it, but their actions don’t say it. So, I think that he’s kind of a rare breed.”

Brooklyn Nets going gray with stylish newly redesigned court

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The Brooklyn Nets already had one of the sharpest court designs in the NBA.

However, they felt it was time for an upgrade — and they went gray.

It’s bold, not traditional, I’m curious how it looks on a broadcast, but the new look kind of works. It feels very Brooklyn.

Zach Lowe of ESPN had a story on how this all came together.

But [General Manager Sean] Marks wanted change, to put his artistic imprint on the franchise he has helped reinvent, and he had a radical idea: a gray floor meant to evoke blacktop courts, the streets of Brooklyn, and the borough’s “industrial vibe,” he says. Gray has been on the fringes of the team’s Brooklyn-era palette, including on the alternate Brooklyn Dodgers-themed uniforms they wore in past seasons.

Everything Marks and the Nets’ creative team toyed with from there centered around gray. It was a risk — an unknown. The NBA says it has never had an all-gray court, though a few teams — the New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, and others — have shaded enlarged logos and landscapes into sections of their floors…

There was no pushback. The league liked the idea right away, Marks says.

With Kyrie Irving trying to lead an intriguing young core — and Kevin Durant maybe coming back before the playoffs — the Nets are going to be a team to watch this season. We’re going to see a lot of that gray floor, we’ll see how it grows on us.

Nets reportedly not likely to sign Carmelo Anthony, who still waits for his shot

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NBA training camps open next week, and Carmelo Anthony will be… on a couch somewhere.

Actually, probably in a private gym in New York working out and staying ready for the day the phone rings. However, he will not be in an NBA gym with an NBA team.

One place he had been rumored to go was Brooklyn, where Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were reportedly pushing for him. That, however, is not happening, reports Shams Charania at The Athletic.

After losing Wilson Chandler to a 25-game suspension, Anthony and players such as Dante Cunningham, Lance Thomas and Luol Deng emerged as viable options to sign. There’s been a sense around the Nets that players are hopeful to bring in Anthony, but the trust belongs with the front office.

However, the Nets are very unlikely to sign Anthony as of now, league sources told The Athletic.

It appears more likely that the team will decide to sign players it has worked out over the past few weeks, such as Thomas and former Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers forward CJ Williams, sources said. The Nets have two roster spots left.

Executives around the league think there is a place for Anthony in the NBA. As has been written here previously, people I’ve spoken to about him say something along the lines of “he absolutely could still play in the league, he’s just not a fit with us.” After how things ended in Oklahoma City, and then went last season in Houston, they question if he will accept and off-the-bench scoring role. Anthony has said he would, his people have pushed that he would, but people are not sold.

Anthony’s going to get his shot, and maybe still in Brooklyn. It will be somewhere. But like Dwight Howard with the Lakers this season, this is his last shot — play a role, play hard, get it right or nobody is taking a chance on him again.

 

Report: Andre Iguodala, Grizzlies reach agreement, he will not report to training camp

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Andre Iguodala was traded to Memphis in a cost-saving move during the Warriors’ wild offseason. The franchise was upfront about the possibility, Iguodala is a smart man who understands the business of the league, there are no hard feelings.

However, he doesn’t want to play for Memphis. The Grizzlies don’t just want to buy him out — unless he’s leaving a lot of money on the table, which he will not do — they want to trade him for picks or a young player coming back to help their rebuild.

That left the sides at an impasse, but they have reached an agreement that allows Iguodala to not report to training camp and instead keep working out on his own, reports Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian.

Andre Iguodala will not attend Grizzlies’ Media Day on Monday nor report to the team’s training camp under an arrangement reached between the two sides, according to team and league sources.

Iguodala will remain on the Grizzlies roster, likely well into the season. However, the team agreed the veteran can continue private workouts at a location of his choosing while Memphis pursues trades involving the former Golden State Warrior and NBA Finals MVP.

This almost certainly drags out into December, and likely much closer to the Feb. 6 trade deadline. On Dec. 15 the players who signed contracts this summer can be traded, opening up the trade pool. By then, contending teams — or, teams that fancy themselves contenders — will have a better sense if they could use Iguodala off the bench to boost a playoff run. And if they have the players and picks to get a trade done.

Iguodala talked about his situation in Memphis with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole over the weekend.

“We’re trying to figure out things on both sides. They’re trying to figure out some things, and I’m trying to figure out some things. As of today, we’re on the same page. Camp opens the next week. We’ll see. We’re on the same page, though.”

“At this point, the only buyout that makes sense — if I’m speaking on someone else’s behalf, thinking as an agent — is you don’t leave money on the table,” he says. “Especially in this league. Because you’ll never get it back, no matter what people say. Negotiations are a tactic, so you’ve got to be careful how you approach it, or how you verbalize what you would do going forward. But you can’t leave anything on the table.”

Iguodala is in the final year of his contract, worth $17.2 million this season, and he wants to get paid. The Grizzlies want to jumpstart their rebuild. The best option for both sides is just to wait it all out, which is what they have decided to do.

For now. Expect Iguodala rumors to start ramping up around Christmas.

Andre Iguodala tells the story of how he knew he would get traded this summer

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Andre Iguodala is a smart man, a veteran who gets the business side of basketball.

Which is why he knew he was likely getting traded this summer, especially if Kevin Durant left.

Iguodala told Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area how he knew it would go down, and the inside joke he had with his wife that came true.

“But I have a sense that something is going down; Bob Myers and I are pretty cool. We have our conversations, so we’re on the same page. It was, ‘It might happen, but it might not. Most likely, it will. So, we’ll see.’

“So, I’m texting my wife, telling her I’ll probably get traded because I think it’s 100 percent sure, even though everyone else is saying, it’s only a chance. Then, once KD (Kevin Durant) left, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll probably get traded. They’re probably going to do a sign-and-trade, so they can get something back, to at least get assets for him.’ No one was thinking that. But I was thinking they’ll want to get assets back because they can’t just let him go. And they’ll probably move me as well. So, she asked me where I thought I would go. I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll probably end up in Memphis or some s–t.’

“She says, ‘For real?’ I was like, ‘Maybe. But probably not. I don’t know.’

“The next day, I got the message. It was Memphis. I fell out laughing.”

Iguodala remains a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, for now. Iguodala would like a buyout and to get to another contender, but he doesn’t want to leave a lot of money on the table because, as he told Poole, he would never get that money back. Memphis, on the other hand, would rather trade Iguodala in an effort to get a pick or player back that can help their rebuild. The Grizzlies are not going to be down with a buyout unless there are significant savings. Iguodala says that both sides are “on the same page.” We’ll see if the good vibes continue once training camps open next week.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be weird not seeing Iguodala in a Warriors uniform next season. He was the glue that helped hold the Warriors together and win three titles, seeing him in Grizzlies’ blue will just look strange and out of place.