One of the defining moments of the Timberwolves' 2022-23 season was the one-two punch that happened in the final regular season game against New Orleans: Rudy Gobert taking a swing at teammate Kyle Anderson, a move that resulted in the team suspending Gobert for the subsequent play-in game loss against the Lakers.
Around the same time that day, forward Jaden McDaniels punched a wall in a tunnel near the Wolves bench and broke his hand, ending his season. Maybe the Wolves' playoff path would have been different if Gobert had been around for the play-in game or the team's best perimeter defender had been available for any of the postseason.
Emotions ran high that day because the Wolves needed to win that particular game because of the position they put themselves in the rest of the season; namely by losing games they should have won against teams near the bottom of the standings (they went 6-12 against the bottom seven teams in the league).
The common theme in all this? Maturity. As the Wolves open training camp on a new season this weekend, that is top of mind for the organization from President Tim Connelly on down to the end of the roster.
"Our lack of organizational success is very evident and clear," Connelly said. "So until we take ourselves more seriously, more, no one else will take us more seriously. There's been a very loud mandate and risen bar about how we handle ourselves."
There have been offseason comments from the Wolves that they will stop complaining as much to officials and to take those teams near the bottom of the standings more seriously, to do all the little things that teams with deep playoff aspirations do. But the Wolves will have to win over a skeptical fan base with more than pledges.
Connelly said this season will be a success for the Wolves if they can at least win a playoff series, and that is paramount in a pivotal season that might require some tough decisions next summer with a looming salary-cap crunch. The Wolves cost themselves better positioning to do that a season ago, and that's something not just the younger players on the team said they have pondered this offseason.
"It's just looking in the mirror first and foremost," Anderson said. "The fact I got into it with one of my teammates last year, that just didn't sit well with me this summer. Getting five technicals last year, looking back, that's not who I am. Maybe I can look at it as a rough year. But … being a better teammate, not costing my team points with technicals — that stuff shouldn't happen."
Anderson's blowup with Gobert was an example of when communication can go haywire between teammates. That's something center Naz Reid has said the Wolves have learned from and won't take personally. He also said fans should expect to see a more consistent effort regardless of an opponent's quality.
"We're able to speak to each other with a manner of respect. … I think that was a big thing for us last year," Reid said. "Then the way we handle ourselves, on and off the court. We're going out there to win games, fans paid to see that, and the game of basketball has to mean a lot to us. We're here to win, not just here to go out there and lollygag."
That last point falls to some of the younger players on the team to remain engaged even on the most difficult nights. Coach Chris Finch said Anthony Edwards and McDaniels, among others, have to find that consistency to prevent losses like the ones the Wolves had a season ago from happening.
"By nature, young players tend to be inconsistent," Finch said. "Both those guys have shown the willingness and the ability to play in big moments, but it's sometimes the nights when you're not feeling it 100 percent, or you're not playing on national TV or you're not playing a marquee matchup, those are the teams and those are the games that you have to go and find a way to win, and it's all about your habits and your approach."
The Wolves have about a month of training camp to improve in those areas. Then the NBA world will see if they can back up their words.