Potential Trade Packages and Landing Spots for 'Wolves Star Karl-Anthony Towns
The Minnesota Timberwolves shouldn't consider making a Karl-Anthony Towns move.
He's the rarest of NBA birds, both as an All-Star who hasn't completed his rookie contract and as one of only three players to average at least one three on 40 percent shooting and one block this past season.
That said, something has reportedly soured his relationship with the franchise. ESPN's Zach Lowe said Towns and the Timberwolves are "not in a good place internally" on The Lowe Post. Then, Brian Windhorst offered this: "I don't think Anthony Davis is going anywhere anytime soon. But Karl Towns...now that might be a different story."
Again, this should not lead Minnesota to move its cornerstone piece. If Towns isn't happy, the Timberwolves should focus on fixing the source of his displeasure.
But maybe Minnesota views this differently. After all, something—his defensive struggles? the fact he's eligible for a max extension?—made Windhorst opine that a Towns trade could be in the works at some point.
And if a plugged-in reporter like Windhorst thinks it could happen, we shouldn't dismiss the possibility outright. Instead, let's examine which teams might be major players in the Towns market, and what they could part with to potentially get a blockbuster done.
Boston Celtics: Option No. 1
Boston Celtics receive: Karl-Anthony Towns
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Jaylen Brown, 2019 first-round pick (top-one protected, via Kings or 76ers), 2019 first-round pick (lottery protected, via Clippers)
The Boston Celtics have been described as "vigilant" in their pursuit of the seemingly untouchable Anthony Davis, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Would the Celtics, who are somehow both Eastern Conference finalists and armed to the teeth in trade chips, have similar interest in a different Kentucky frontcourt product?
Towns would be the third 20-point-scoring All-Star acquisition for Boston since last summer. Deploy him alongside Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford, and that's an incredible amount of offensive firepower for a club with the Association's best defense and arguably its sharpest coaching mind.
Towns, by the way, wouldn't necessarily drag down Boston's defense. While he's had his share of struggles at that end (65th among centers in ESPN.com's defensive real plus-minus), defense was billed as a strength in his pre-draft scouting reports. If the Celtics can improve his awareness and get him to be less jumpy, they'd benefit from his mobility on the perimeter and length around the basket.
So, about the price—Celtics fans will probably think it's an overpay, 'Wolves fans will probably feel it's a rip-off. The Goldilocks principle, then, pegs it as just right.
Minnesota will ask for Tatum, who'd be an easier fit alongside Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins than Brown. Boston's concession, then, would be to tack on that lottery-protected pick coming from the Los Angeles Clippers in addition to Brown and the selection likely coming from Sacramento. That's three pretty-good-to-really-good assets in exchange for a great one.
Brown gives the 'Wolves another two-way wing and perhaps a cheap replacement if Wiggins is moved next. Boston, meanwhile, potentially has more incentive to bring back Marcus Smart and stay well-stocked in the backcourt. It also still has another future first-rounder to play with (from Memphis) in addition to its own, meaning the Celtics would get another star without emptying their treasure chest.
Boston Celtics: Option No. 2
Boston Celtics receive: Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones, Cole Aldrich
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Kyrie Irving, 2019 first-round pick (lottery protected, via Clippers)
The conversation that got the ball rolling on Towns trade theories, included this nugget.
"If Minnesota called and said, 'Hey would you take Towns for Kyrie Irving?' That's an interesting conversation," Windhorst said.
This would be a fascinating exchange for both sides, perhaps too loaded with star power to ever come to fruition. Even Windhorst conceded, "I just don't think it's a realistic conversation."
It's a fun thinking exercise, though.
By moving Irving, Boston opens a starting gig for playoff breakout star Terry Rozier. This also extends the Celtics' title window a little longer—potentially critical given that Golden State shows no signs of slowing down—by jettisoning the 26-year-old Irving, promoting the 24-year-old Rozier and acquiring the 22-year-old Towns. It even gives Rozier a capable understudy in the 22-year-old Jones.
This also removes any defensive concerns of playing Towns and Irving together. It might make it easier to designate offensive roles, since there shouldn't be a dueling-alphas dilemma like you might get with Towns and Irving. Hayward and Horford have always worked best as overqualified glue guys, and Tatum and Brown aren't as decorated as Towns.
Attaching a pick to Irving might seem extravagant, but it's a calculated gamble on Boston's side. If the Clippers aren't a playoff team in the next two seasons, that first becomes two seconds. Besides, Irving doesn't have the cleanest health history—he just had knee surgeries in March and April—while Towns has yet to miss an NBA game.
Irving, meanwhile, would give Minnesota one of the league's top isolation scorers, which would lessen Butler's need to create shots. The two won a gold medal together at the 2016 Olympics, and Butler has said he'd like to play alongside Irving. This would probably set a Jeff Teague trade in motion, but maybe that allows Minnesota to cover another one of its needs.
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Karl-Anthony Towns, Cole Aldrich
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Markelle Fultz, Richaun Holmes, Furkan Korkmaz, 2018 No. 10 pick
Every seemingly available star will be connected to the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers this offseason, given both their asset collections and proximity to contention. That's why Towns to Philly is worth exploring, even if the on-paper fit is less than snug.
Still, the talent level of a Towns-Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons trio is staggering. There's an element of zigging against a league-wide zag toward small-ball with a Towns-Embiid frontcourt, but this is also a wager that the two players possess enough perimeter ability to make it work. Towns is already a proven spacer (42.1 three-point percentage this season), and Embiid at least has the willingness to fire from range.
The Sixers, fresh off a 52-win campaign, could be close to doing something special. But head coach Brett Brown has opined a stud free agent is required to get them over the hump, and general manager Bryan Colangelo has widened the net for this star search.
"I'm going to agree with the sentiment that we need to add something to get better," Colangelo said, per Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com. "But with respect to adding, I'm going to say talent, not free agent, because talent comes in many forms. Talent comes in possible trades, possible free agency, and both options loom with cap space and flexibility."
Here, that All-Star talent arrives without even costing a primary rotation piece. Markelle Fultz and Richaun Holmes barely saw the floor during the postseason, and Furkan Korkmaz (the 26th pick in 2016) has only played 80 career minutes.
Why, then, would the 'Wolves be interested? Because just last summer, Fultz was seen as the top prospect in a clearly loaded rookie class. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 41.3 percent from distance during his lone season of college ball. His ceiling is several stories higher than Teague's, which might be reason enough for Minnesota to consider this.
Then, there's also the addition of Holmes (a possible shot-blocker and shooter), Korkmaz (a potential spot-up sniper and secondary playmaker) and a valuable first-round selection. This probably isn't the best Minnesota can get—maybe it would require Dario Saric's inclusion—but it's not highway robbery, either.
Phoenix Suns receive: Karl-Anthony Towns
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Marquese Chriss, Troy Daniels, 2018 No. 1 pick, 2018 No. 16 pick
The Phoenix Suns, recent winners of the draft lottery, have never made the first overall selection. It's possible they value Towns enough to bypass that opportunity.
Phoenix, which hasn't been a playoff participant since 2010, is getting antsy for a return to relevance. Devin Booker said he's "done with not making the playoffs," per AZCentral.com's Scott Bordow. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough spoke of accelerating their timeline back in January, per Bordow, and has said there "a few players" he'd consider giving up the top pick to get, per ESPN.com.
Would anyone make more sense than Towns? He was the most popular pick of general managers as a franchise centerpiece in October, per John Schuhmann of NBA.com. He's a close friend of Booker and a college teammate of Tyler Ulis. Towns has also been used as a comparison for what potential top pick Deandre Ayton might become, but Towns is already at that level.
The interest on Phoenix's side is obvious. This was the NBA's worst team by record (21-61) and net rating (minus-9.7). But the growth of Booker, Josh Jackson (in the second half) and T.J. Warren could convince the front office that it's one difference-maker away from significant progress.
Minnesota's incentives are murkier, especially if it's trying to build a winner around the 28-year-old Butler. Other than Troy Daniels (a complementary bench scorer), there doesn't appear to much that will help the 2018-19 Timberwolves.
That said, it's hard to argue with the value, especially if Towns starts to push for a change of address.
This is the top pick and a near-lottery selection in a seemingly stacked draft, plus a recent top-10 selection who's only 20 years old and has already flashed an interesting mix of athleticism and outside shooting. If the 'Wolves love Ayton (or Luka Doncic), they might have a hard time saying no, even if that means pushing back their timeline a tad.
Sacramento Kings receive: Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles, Garrett Temple, 2018 No. 2 pick
Minnesota's incoming package holds more promise for the future than the present. That said, Willie Cauley-Stein is a plug-and-play center, and Buddy Hield and Garrett Temple bring some perimeter punch to a Timberwolves team that made fewer threes than anyone (eight per game) in 2017-18.
Still, the prized piece is that No. 2 selection, which almost assuredly gets either Ayton or Doncic to the Gopher State. If Minnesota sees Ayton as a Towns clone or Doncic as the creative playmaker it lacks (tied for 26th in assist percentage), it might see this exchange as a means of raising its collective upside.
This also gets the Timberwolves out from underneath Gorgui Dieng's burdensome deal ($48.7 million for the next three seasons) and nets an intriguing wild card in Harry Giles. Last summer's 20th pick had his would-be rookie campaign wiped out by ACL rehab, but it wasn't long ago he was viewed as the top prospect in a high school class featuring Tatum, Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox.
"Before [Giles] tore his ACL at the start of his senior year, many NBA scouts said he was the best high school prospect since LeBron James," Chad Ford wrote for ESPN.com in 2017. "He has great size, athleticism and motor for his position. ... The Kevin Garnett comps are legitimate."
From Sacramento's side, Towns provides the relevance this franchise has long been without. The Kings own the league's longest playoff drought (12 years) and showed how anxious they're getting by spending big last summer on veterans George Hill (since traded), Zach Randolph and Vince Carter.
Towns is clearly in a different class and could be a foundational piece for Sacramento to build around. The Kentucky-produced Fox-Towns duo might prove dynamic sooner than later, and there are several young complementary pieces—Bogdan Bogdanovic (25 years old), Justin Jackson (23) and Skal Labissiere (22)—to support them.