Jan. 12--MINNEAPOLIS -- When Kristaps Porzingis lines up against Karl-Anthony Towns on Friday, he should take a moment to look at the players surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves star center. He wouldn't be wrong to wonder why the Knicks front office couldn't do the same for him.
Porzingis should also gaze at the Minnesota bench and legitimately ask why Phil Jackson didn't even bother to interview Tom Thibodeau when the Knicks head coaching job was available two years ago. And he would be well in his right to wonder -- as if he hasn't already -- when and if the Knicks will take that next step from lottery team to fourth place in the conference.
On Friday, Porzingis and Towns, two of the league's top big men, will meet at Target Center for the first time this season and with their teams heading in opposite directions. The Knicks, coming off Wednesday's double overtime loss to Chicago, are 19-22 overall and have dropped eight of their last 10 games.
The Timberwolves, fresh off home wins against Cleveland and Oklahoma City, have won 10 of their last 13 and currently reside in first place in the Northwest Division with a 27-16 record.
Barring a minor catastrophe, the Timberwolves will end their 13-year playoff drought. That is a run of futility that only a few organizations -- the Knicks, for example -- can truly appreciate. Minnesota's drought is going to end because a couple of guys with Knicks connections -- Thibodeau and Scott Layden -- made the necessary roster moves to surround their 22-year-old budding stars, Towns and Andrew Wiggins, with talented and proven veterans.
Thibodeau, who serves as both Minnesota's president and head coach, revamped the roster last June by acquiring Jimmy Butler in a trade with Chicago. Butler is having his best season and should be in the MVP conversation. They also signed Taj Gibson, who provides experience and toughness, and point guard Jeff Teague, who helped Atlanta win 60 games and reach the conference finals two years ago.
The rebuilding process for the Knicks has been slower, especially with Tim Hardaway Jr., Steve Mills' first major signing, sidelined the last six weeks with a stress injury. The Knicks are encouraged by rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina but not enough to promote him into the starting lineup. Not yet anyway. The decision to bury Willy Hernangomez on the bench is a peculiar one, but Jeff Hornacek has a log jam at center and power forward that needs to be worked out.
The Knicks do have a first-round pick in this draft, and selecting the right player would accelerate things. That was certainly the case in 2015 when the Knicks, picking fourth overall, had Porzingis fall into their laps. It remains far and away Jackson's best decision as Knicks president. The first overall pick that year was Towns, which is why he and Porzingis have been linked ever since.
Their career trajectories are similar and both Towns and Porzingis could make the All Star team for the first time. The one noticeable difference is that Towns is almost assured of experiencing playoff basketball this spring. Porzingis? That one is a little tricky.
Coaches and executives often refer to establishing the right culture that ultimately becomes a winning culture. The San Antonio Spurs have it down to a science. The Boston Celtics have that as well. Same with Golden State.
Mills and general manager Scott Perry are hoping to reverse nearly two decades of losing in New York. The Knicks have enjoyed just one playoff series victory since 2000 while cornering the market on losing and dysfunction.
It's why Porzingis skipped out of his exit meeting last April with Jackson, Mills and Hornacek. It doesn't make him a working class hero for refusing to meet with his bosses, but Porzingis' actions shed light on a franchise that constantly struggles to get things right.
Minnesota knows what it has in Towns and is acting accordingly. When Thibodeau assumed control, his goal was to hold Towns accountable to become a more complete player. Towns has embraced that challenge.
In the loaded Western Conference, Towns deserves to be an All Star this year, especially with the Timberwolves holding steady in the West right behind Golden State, Houston and San Antonio. Porzingis has also done enough to merit consideration. He's currently fourth among forwards in the fan voting, although it's hard to imagine he'll get more votes than Joel Embiid, who is third.
Porzingis, like Towns, will likely have to rely on the coaches' vote to earn an All Star trip to Los Angeles in February, and coaches usually give a slight edge to players on winning teams, as they should. Winning is all that matters, and right now that's what separates Towns from Porzingis.
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