TORONTO – After the Timberwolves' loss to the Raptors on Wednesday, the locker room only had a few people remaining before the buses whisked them away to the airport. In one corner sat Anthony Edwards, who donned four ice packs, one on each knee and ankle.
Karl-Anthony Towns spotted Edwards and approached him with a wide smile. He reminded Edwards that Edwards used to make fun of Towns for carrying a freezer's worth of ice on his legs after games.
"Tables turned. Lessons learned," Towns said with a laugh.
Edwards fell over laughing in his locker stall as if he'd been caught red-handed.
"I was getting your rebounds, that's why," Edwards shot back after leading the team with 14 boards. The two both laughed, then commiserated about a different kind of ice-cold — how badly they shot in that season opener.
For the last several months, a debate has simmered among casual fans both in and out of Minnesota related to the Wolves. It will be bantered about Saturday night in the Target Center stands during the team's home opener. It's the kind of discussion that makes perfect fodder for message boards, social media threads, talk radio and podcasts:
Whose team is it, really?
Is it KAT's team? Or Ant's team?
It's a question that has come up plenty even before Edwards signed a maximum contract extension this summer.
If you have been paying close attention to the Wolves, this trite debate seems to have an answer. President Tim Connelly had this to say about Edwards following the Wolves' postseason loss to the Nuggets in April: "Pretty much every decision we're going to make moving forward is going to be with Ant paramount."
Given his age (22) and unlimited potential, Edwards appears to be the ultimate No. 1 on the franchise's pecking order. But that is not to discredit what Towns (27) has meant, still means and can mean to the franchise.
Towns and Edwards co-existing as franchise players on and off the court is the easiest path to the Wolves having playoff success this season and the next few years.
Wednesday's postgame scene in the locker room was just one piece of evidence a bond is there, despite outside talk trying to drive a wedge between them.
This season will go a long way toward showing if this partnership can last on the court beyond this season. If it can, maybe the Wolves are contending for the foreseeable future. If it can't, the team may be looking at a reset with a looming luxury-tax crunch following this season and may have to jettison one of its high-salaried players, with Towns a potential trade candidate.
Until that hypothetical plays out, both recognize they need each other to be successful now.
At media day last month, Edwards lit up when he was asked about him and Towns fully rekindling their partnership over a full season after a right calf injury caused Towns to miss 53 games last season.
"We're going to see it this year, man. KAT, he's super healthy. He's feeling good," Edwards said. "I'm feeling good, so I think it should be fun. As long as we stay healthy, I think it should be super fun to see how we start to jell, try to get back to where we was probably two years ago."
That's been a priority for coach Chris Finch, figuring out how to re-create what Edwards and Towns had two seasons ago with the addition of Rudy Gobert to the mix. It got off to a clunky start in Wednesday's game, when the Wolves' starting lineup struggled to score. In their locker room chat, both shook off the night quickly by saying they figured it was rare when both of them would shoot like that in the same game (Towns was 8-for-25, Edwards 8-for-27).
Finch said they haven't had issues meshing on offense all training camp.
"We lost that a little bit last year with the injury and Ant playing in a slightly different rhythm," Finch said. "But it was a point of emphasis coming into this season to re-establish that chemistry. I thought we'd have to work on it a little bit more, forcing them into two-man actions, but it hasn't been the case. They've been finding each other."
Towns has been vocal in his praise of Edwards and where he thinks Edwards can go in his career. After last season, Towns was asked if he wanted to be the face of the franchise. He demurred.
"I just want to be a winner," Towns said. "Since I came here, I want to win. I want to bring this organization back to winning, and I just want to be a winner. All that other stuff is, I leave that up to y'all to speculate and write about and stuff. I'm here to win."
For Edwards' part, those around him have said he pays the talk of "whose team is it" no mind. He's always understood he can't do it alone, and that nobody can in the modern NBA, especially when stars tend to team up with each other.
"He doesn't listen to that at all," Edwards' longtime manager Justin Holland said. "I was listening to a Kevin Garnett interview and he said in today's NBA you can't win with one player. [Edwards] understands that. His whole mindset is how can we put team first and put everything else on the back burner. If everybody has that motto we'll get everything we want for this team."
Even though Towns and Edwards are the two top scorers, they aren't necessarily the outright leaders on the team. That dynamic is more involved. There are multiple veterans in the starting lineup like Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, with Kyle Anderson having a strong vocal presence off the bench. Conley, who is 36, said the team often looks to him for guidance as the veteran point guard.
"Honestly, I think a lot of them look to me. When stuff kind of gets muddied up, it's always like, 'Mike, what do we do?' " he said. "I've been more vocal even early this season just from being familiar with guys and chemistry levels. I've taken that role a lot easier this year."
Towns has never been one to grab the leadership reins of a team by himself, while Edwards is still searching for his voice at 22. That aspect of his personality is growing, Finch and his teammates have said.
"Ant has done a tremendous job this year of stepping into that leadership role," Anderson said. "Being more vocal, not in a way of being malicious, but just corrective or letting us know it's time to turn it up."
It all leads to a mixture of voices within the team. That boiled over in a very public way when Gobert took a swing at Anderson in a huddle on the last day of the regular season. But overall, the Wolves have a culture where they can say how they feel to each other. Edwards has taken to that.
"We weren't sugarcoating anything," Conley said. "That's ultimately what I think will make us tougher mentally. We don't back down. Ant tells you what he feels right away."
And how does Edwards feel about Towns? Pretty good. The feeling is mutual. The franchise needs both of them this season if the Wolves are going to finally make a playoff push.
"I just want to win, man — want all my teammates to be the best at whatever they need to do," Edwards said. "Me and KAT need to be competing for who's going to be the best player in the league."