LOS ANGELES – Less than 24 hours before he took a swing at Kyle Anderson, Rudy Gobert discussed the unvarnished way Anderson communicates with his Timberwolves teammates.
Gobert, in a timeout huddle during the Wolves' victory over New Orleans on Sunday at Target Center, took issue with Anderson and punched at him, eventually getting sent home by the team and suspended for Tuesday's play-in game against the Lakers.
“Effective communication is important, because we don't have time, particularly in the game to flower things up and worry about hurt feelings. Sometimes he barks at me and I don't take it personally.”
On Saturday, the Wolves center talked about Anderson's leadership with a quote that contained just a seed of what could happen if someone were to take something Anderson said the wrong way.
"Kyle wants to win, and sometimes he's a little aggressive in the way he talks, but I don't take it personally," Gobert said while the Wolves were in Austin to play the Spurs. "I receive it in a positive way because it comes from a place of wanting me to be the best Rudy I can be and wanting us to win. I love his competitiveness, love the way he plays the game, the way he makes others around him better. He's been a huge part of this year."
Then came Sunday. Not only did Gobert swing at Anderson, but starting forward Jaden McDaniels punched a wall in a tunnel near the bench and broke his right hand.
For as bad as the incident looked Sunday, that is the price the Wolves paid to have the kind of voice Anderson brings — and they might not be where they are now without his brand of honesty.
"I don't even try to be a leader or anything like that. I'm just big on communicating while out on the floor really and talking," Anderson said last week. "I hate something wrong to happen and both guys are quiet. I just always feel the one to be the need to talk, speak up and take initiative."
There's no getting around how bad the optics were Sunday. Wolves President Tim Connelly said Gobert's behavior was "unacceptable," and the team suspended him Monday.
But the sight of Anderson calling out a teammate is nothing new to those who watch games regularly. He is one of the drivers of what coach Chris Finch calls a culture of "brutal truth."
"Let's cut right to the truth and sometimes the truth isn't what you want to hear," Finch said. "But it also takes away any kind of miscommunication issues where you say, 'I thought you meant this, but you actually meant that,' because you were trying to couch the message in a way that you weren't going to offend anybody."
Finch himself isn't immune to Anderson calling him out in the middle of a game. He laughed last week as he said Anderson will get on him for things like making interesting substitutions or not taking timeouts.
"Effective communication is important, because we don't have time, particularly in the game to flower things up and worry about hurt feelings," Finch said. "Sometimes he barks at me and I don't take it personally. He's in the middle of the battle, so I think everybody sees it as such."
Anderson's signing last summer might have been the move that saved the Wolves' season. He has been one of the most dependable players each night thanks to his playmaking ability on offense, his hustle, and his ability to guard multiple positions on defense. He has notched three triple-doubles while averaging 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
Guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker is relatively new to the Wolves after coming to the team at February's trade deadline. He said after a recent game in Brooklyn that he and Anderson had a discussion about how hard Anderson could be on him, and Alexander-Walker left with a better understanding of Anderson's style.
"He's not going to tell you what you want to hear sometimes," Alexander-Walker said. "You're not going to like how he says it. But you have to be mature to actually take in what he's saying because he cares about winning so much. … Toughen up and let's get this win together. He's saying 'I need you. I want you to play to this standard because I know you can.' "
Finding his voice
While Alexander-Walker may be one of Anderson's newest teammates, guard Mike Conley is one of his oldest. The two overlapped for one season in Memphis, and Conley said earlier this season the Anderson that's with the Wolves now is different from the one in Memphis.
"He was a little more reserved," Conley said. "Kind of let a lot of other vets talk and speak up, and now hearing his voice every night, every practice is a sight to see. I'm glad he's taken that job."
Conley, the 16-year veteran, said Anderson's voice can be a needed one.
"Everybody has to be able to accept constructive criticism, hard truths sometimes and not get angry and be solution-based," Conley said. "That's something Kyle has worked on, and I know Coach has worked on with him. It helps everybody when everybody can be that open."
After Sunday's game, Conley said Anderson and Gobert are "two of the biggest competitors you'll meet" and that the team had to be more mature. He also added, "Kyle challenges everybody. We know how that works. We have to be able to accept it and move forward."
That voice may not have been there at the start of Anderson's NBA career, but it was just waiting to come out. For instance, Anderson said he never used to talk back to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich the way he might with Finch, but one time when he did, "He kind of respected that," Anderson said.
He developed his voice from his father, also named Kyle, who is a longtime basketball coach in New Jersey.
"You just have to know how to maneuver relationships," Anderson said. "My dad … was really good at that and keeping a good relationship with his players, knowing who to get on, when to get on, when to say something to, when to be honest with and when to build guys up."
In the heat of the biggest game of the Wolves' season, Anderson and Gobert got away from the delicate balance of truth-telling without hurting feelings that has helped this team get to where it is despite several injuries to key players. They must repair it quickly, and Gobert began the overtures almost immediately. Conley mentioned after the game Gobert had already sent a message to the team's group chat and then Gobert tweeted a public apology to the team and Anderson.
“Kyle wants to win, and sometimes he's a little aggressive in the way he talks, but I don't take it personally. I receive it in a positive way because it comes from a place of wanting me to be the best Rudy I can be and wanting us to win.”
In his apology, Gobert mentioned Anderson was "is someone that i truly love and respect as a teammate."
"We'll speak about it and move on," Anderson said. "We're grown men."
Everyone on the Wolves knows why Anderson is the way he is. Conley mentioned how you will see Anderson react to almost every play, good or bad, that happens during a game when he's on the bench.
"His emotion is one of his attributes that really helps our team," Conley said. "It keeps us all awake. You can't fall asleep at any point in the game. He's constantly on it."
Why is Anderson this way? His reasoning is simple.
"I really just want to win," Anderson said.