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Timberwolves are positioned for further success but know nothing is guaranteed

Twin Cities Pioneer Press logo Twin Cities Pioneer Press 9/27/2022 Jace Frederick, Pioneer Press

Leaves are changing, the temperature is dropping. In Minnesota, that’s known as fall. For new Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, those environmental shifts mean something different altogether.

“You know basketball is right around the corner,” he said.

That hasn’t necessarily been something to celebrate in Minnesota over the past 18 years. But it is now. The start of Timberwolves training camp is an event. The anticipation for season is palpable, both from the team and the public.

That’s what happens when a team with a budding superstar and a strong core responds to a surprising 46-win season by adding a top-tier basketball executive and an all-star center, who might just be the best defensive player in the world.

“It just seemed like one big move after another this summer,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said.

Each won causing its own seismic shift within the NBA landscape, further announcing Minnesota’s arrival to the stage of relevance. The Timberwolves are stocked with the right mix of talent, experience and a now proven coach.

Last season, they achieved. Now, they plan to ascend.

Just how high is the only remaining question. The West will be better this season, as a number of previously injured star players in the conference return to action. But the Timberwolves have improved, as well. And they are now a year farther along in the building process under Finch, who Connelly called “one of the best and brightest coaches in the NBA” — which he believes will become an accepted truth on a national scale as Minnesota continues to win at even higher levels.

Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns are now armed with another year of experience and playoff battle scars upon which they can rely. Add Rudy Gobert to the mix, and the Wolves should match up well with most teams on any given night.

“Super excited to see what our team is going to look like,” Connelly said. “We have a really strong core – a core that’s gotten better this summer, a core that’s excited about what we could potentially accomplish this season.”

Gobert is among the most enthused. He couldn’t wait to get back from playing in Euro Basket — Europe’s premier international tournament this summer, where France netted a silver medal — to connect with his new teammates in Minnesota. Connelly noted how rare it is for a 30-year-old veteran to possess this type of eagerness heading into the season.

When asked about the team’s ceiling this season, Gobert suggested one doesn’t exist.

“When you look at the roster and the talent that we have in this group, it’s pretty incredible,” he said. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by a group of guys that can really accomplish anything. It’s about building the right habits and just keep learning, keep getting better every day. I think the sky’s the limit for this group.”

That habit building is a critical piece in all of this. Taurean Prince carries similar vibes into this season as he had last fall — that the Wolves can be really good. Yes, even “better than last year.” He noted Minnesota has made roster upgrades that should address the team’s shortcomings on the glass and the defensive end. But there is a caveat to all of this.

“At the end of the day you have to put it together and make it work,” Prince said. “You can have as many names, as many superstars as you want. But if you don’t make it work it doesn’t matter.”

The excitement is building, Finch noted. But Tuesday — the start of training camp practices — is indeed just day one. Minnesota must start the climb from Ground Zero, just like every other team. Last year’s accomplishments do not guarantee any victories, nor do the offseason acquisitions.

“It’s very cliche, but we’ve got to build it all over. We’ve got half a new roster again. It’s going to be a little bit different, for sure, but I know we’re really, really excited to get going again here,” Finch said. “Dealing with the weighted expectation season that’s ahead starts with how high of a standard you hold yourself to at the very beginning, and that’s our challenge as a coaching staff.”

“I don’t think we can just show up to the season and think we’re supposed to be whatever expectations are around us,” D’Angelo Russell said. “There’s a process to getting there. So just keeping that mentality, understanding that it’s a process and attacking it one day at a time.”

NOTES

— Karl-Anthony Towns missed media day with a non-COVID illness that Connelly doesn’t believe will cause the 7-foot center to miss time in training camp.

— Regarding Taurean Prince’s current legal situation — he was arrested in August for an incident in May in which he allegedly carried a gun while also possessing marijuana, a criminal offense in Texas — the veteran wing said “everything will be fine. Everything will be 100 percent OK.”

Prince  is confident he’ll be available for action this season. “I’m not worried about it being a distraction or having to do anything during the season,” he said.

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