It was extremely tough to get that news out of nowhere when I wasn’t expecting it. But I remember that moment of having some tears shed, having to call my girlfriend and having to call my father and hearing the doctors say, “Let’s give him a minute. I know this must be bad.” To me, it sounded like a weakness. I got competitive. You try not to give into the problem. I remember vividly the doctors saying that and then the tears stopped and I said, “Let’s get to work.” He looked at me like he was stunned my emotions changed so quick. Since that moment, there were no more tears shed but an unwavering determination and discipline to get back on the court quicker than what they told me I could do. I approached this rehab with ferocity and mental discipline that was going to be unmatched by my contemporaries. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to show moments of emotion. But I was never going to allow those emotions to take over.

After last season, you were confident about the championship aspirations of the Wolves and your commitment to winning a ring in Minnesota. Haters laughed at that. Are you the one laughing heading into the playoffs?

This ain’t the moment to have that kind of moment. I told the world my aspirations, I told the world how I felt about my team, and how I felt about this upcoming season. I’m glad to say I was right about our team and our growth. But we have a lot more work to do. We’ve only made it out of the first round once in team history. This is the perfect time with the perfect opponent. Like I told one of our young fellas, nothing in the playoffs is easy and there are no preferred matchups. You take what’s given to you and make the most of it.

Alright, let’s dive into that. There have been a few headlines that said the Wolves ended up with a nightmare opponent in the first-round (since the Suns were 3-0 against you guys in the regular season). But from the quotes you gave after Sunday’s loss to Phoenix, you’re all about this challenge. Why?

It’s only right for a team like us that has talked about our aspirations and goals—it was never going to be easy. So it’s only right for us to even make it to the second round, it would [come against] one of our hardest opponents, an opponent we’ve struggled with all year. I’m excited. That’s what gets you up for games, when you get to go up against the best at this level. I remember leaving [Sunday’s regular-season finale] and just smiling. And my dad and girlfriend were like, What’s wrong? This is what it’s about. It’s about competing and the challenge. To do something special is going to be very difficult and it’s only right that we have to do it the Minnesota way, which is to go the toughest route.

How palpable is the pressure on you and your teammates to change the narrative around the Wolves franchise since it hasn’t won a playoff series in 20 years?

I mean, obviously the pressure is there. You want to do something special. We had an amazing season. It’s more about not wasting the work we put into the season. We couldn’t have asked for a better position. We got the home-court advantage [in the first round]. We’ve grown every single day, have a great record. And the talent that we’ve always talked about we possess in our locker room—starters to Naz Reid, the Sixth Man of the Year, Monte Morris, Kyle Anderson—for the NBA fan to see it is something that we’ve talked about and achieved. But there’s obviously pressure to break the narrative, the mold that has been set here, and beat the odds. But history is meant to be broken.

And the last Minnesota team to do it featured your boy Kevin Garnett, who is a mentor of yours and of course a Wolves legend. Has KG blessed you with any wisdom ahead of this playoff run about how to handle the pressure?

We’ve had talks all year, but I’m definitely going to make that call to lean into his experience and wisdom during this playoff run. But it doesn’t matter if we were the No. 1 seed playing the No. 8 seed, the second seed playing the seventh seed, or where we are—the third seed playing the sixth seed. Nothing is going to be given. Regardless of the opponent, we were going to be playing one of the toughest opponents in the NBA and earn our way into the second round. If there is any team better to test our mettle, test our discipline, and test all the things we said we are before the season, if we truly are that championship pedigree team, it would be against this team.

How would you describe the difference in intensity of regular-season basketball compared to playoff basketball?

It’s different. People will take away what your best thing is and make it very difficult for you to do it. But also they test your discipline. The biggest thing I’ve seen in the playoffs every year is your discipline is tested and your patience is tested. The pressure is increased and a lot of things you’re used to seeing in the regular-season are taken out. It’s a totally different intensity, it’s a different kind of defensive game plan against players, and a totally different scheme. You see the same opponent night in, night out. It’s a totally different game. And it’s fun. As fans, I know they appreciate playoff basketball because the players do, too. It’s a really fun time to play basketball. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears put into this game so we can be the best versions of ourselves.

Wow. I remember watching it. I was home, in L.A. doing rehab after surgery, and I kind of levitated, like jumped off the couch a little bit. I pushed my girlfriend so hard by complete accident because I was in such shock at what just happened. I said to her, “I may have just seen legal murder and I don’t know how I should feel about that.” I joke around with Ant and say he made me put 2K on and turn all the sliders up on the dunks and see if I can recreate that dunk and I never got close. It’ll be one of those magical dunks we talk about with Vince Carter jumping over the 7-footer in the Olympics or DeAndre Jordan’s alley-oop dunk over [Brandon] Knight for a long time.

But what was better: Ant’s dunk or his block?

The block scared me more because of how high he jumped. I was more worried he was going to get hurt. When he dunked it, I was so caught up in the energy of the dunk that when he was looking at his finger I said, “He must’ve cut it. Who cares about that? You just DUNKED that ball.” I should’ve had more concern about the dunk than the block. But the dunk had so much energy that it was unbelievable. The block was incredible, but I really thought Jaden McDaniels was going to get it.

Read the full article here


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *