Karl-Anthony Towns excitedly waited for D’Angelo Russell at the airport last February after the longtime friends were finally NBA teammates.
The jubilant scene ended with a hug between new teammates and a Timberwolves jersey for Russell after he was dealt from the Warriors to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins and protected draft picks.
There has been little to celebrate since, though.
It was announced on Tuesday night that Russell would need arthroscopic knee surgery and is out the next four-to-six weeks for the 7-21 Timberwolves — owners of the NBA’s worst record.
Towns and Russell — the top two picks in the 2015 NBA Draft — have now just played five games together since that trade. One of those was in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season and four this year. According to ESPN.com, the Timberwolves are 2-3 in those games.
“Five games, that’s not enough,” Towns, who missed 13 games battling COVID-19, told reporters. “That’s not enough of a sample for us. We want to play every game possible with each other. It’s just unfair we keep having setbacks.”
At the time of the trade, there were rumblings that Towns was considering a move to force his way out of Minnesota, even though he was in the first season of a five-year extension. The move not only put a talented point guard around Towns, it seemed to quiet any dissatisfaction.
“I think with D-Lo here, it’s always going to be a big incentive for me to want to stay,” Towns told The Athletic in the days after the trade. “D-Lo is a big part of everything the vision is. D-Lo always knows he’s going to be wanted because his brother is here with him and he always knows he’s going to have his back covered because I’m always going to be there for him.”
It has not worked out that way yet, though.
And Towns’ year has been far more devastating than anything that has happened on the basketball court. He lost his mother, Jacqueline, and six other family members to COVID-19. He had his own “serious” battle with coronavirus that kept him off the court till last week.
Towns said he was “spooked” when three Hornets players were pulled for health and safety protocols before their game against the Timberwolves last week.
“We’re kind of going in there hoping that everyone’s healthy and safe and has followed the protocols and the rules,” Towns said. “Even if they do, this virus, this disease doesn’t have a place where it doesn’t work, where it doesn’t affect anybody. You could get it anywhere, any time. You just hope. You go in there and you just hope. Even for a person like me who had the antibodies and I guess you could say is immune to it now, it still registers differently in my mind.”