Best Potential Trade Packages to Get Karl-Anthony Towns Some Help
The island of Minneapolis gets awfully lonely this time of year.
OK, so maybe it's a landlocked city. But it might feel like an island for Minnesota Timberwolves solo superstar Karl-Anthony Towns.
The 23-year-old has already established himself as an NBA elite, but he's far too often lacked proper support. He has the 10th-most points through his first four seasons of any player in the three-point era and only one playoff appearance—a five-game first-round loss—to his name. That appearance came in 2018, and nearly the entire roster (plus the head coach) has since been turned over.
With Towns nearing his prime and starting his supermax extension, Minnesota must put a better squad around him. We'll get the ball rolling by forming five potential trade packages that either upgrade this roster now or brighten its outlook for the future.
Creating Future Flexibility
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Nicolas Batum, 2020 second-round pick (via Cleveland Cavaliers)
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Andrew Wiggins
One of two things must happen for Minnesota to turn things around. Either Andrew Wiggins rights the ship—he has a bottom-20 box plus/minus since arriving as 2014's top pick—or the Wolves ditch the $122.2 million owed to him over the next four seasons.
Before assuming the latter is a lost cause, think again. One executive predicted to ESPN's Zach Lowe "that not only will Minnesota succeed at dealing Wiggins at some point, but that they will get at least net-neutral value for him."
In other words, the Wolves might be able to move this money without sacrificing assets to do so.
Minnesota, of course, must take back another bloated contract—in this case, the two years and $52.7 million owed to Nicolas Batum, a 30-year-old who posted a single-digit scoring average last season. But if the Wolves can look beyond his lack of assertiveness, they could see value in his two-way versatility.
The major motivation is contract length, as the Wolves would erase their massive overpay two years earlier and have enough flexibility to join the 2021 free-agent race. That class is loaded, and while the Gopher State has never been a major destination, maybe two more dominant seasons from Towns could convince a second star to join him.
As for the Hornets, they gain a clearer post-Kemba Walker direction. The 24-year-old is young and toolsy enough that a down-on-its-luck franchise might still view him as a possible building block. The four years left on his contract would give Charlotte ample time to see what it might have in him, Terry Rozier, Malik Monk, PJ Washington and Miles Bridges.
Focusing on the Future
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Dante Exum, Tony Bradley, 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
Utah Jazz Receive: Robert Covington
Barring rapid development from Jarrett Culver or Josh Okogie, Robert Covington arguably holds the title of Towns' best teammate. That's how ESPN's real plus-minus metric sees it, at least.
That says something about Covington, an undrafted player from Tennessee State who has blossomed as a modern three-and-D swingman. Unfortunately, it says even more about the state of this supporting cast, as Covington doesn't have the skills or consistency to be a leading NBA sidekick.
Minnesota doesn't have the trade chips to land that type of talent without a major transaction, so making a smaller one for multiple lottery tickets could be the best option.
While rarely healthy, Dante Exum remains a wildly intriguing player as a long-limbed, 6'6" point guard who sets the tone for ferocious defense and up-tempo offense. Tony Bradley has barely broken an NBA sweat (12 total appearances), but 2017's 28th pick sports a 7'5" wingspan and a motor that stays fully revved.
The first-round pick would sweeten the pot, although protections tied to a previously traded pick could delay its arrival.
This would mark something of an about-face for Utah, as the Jazz reportedly refused to include Exum in February trade talks for Mike Conley, per Tony Jones of The Athletic. But maybe the franchise now feels this is the time to strike in the post-Dubs Dynasty Western Conference. Utah could use better two-way balance at the forward spots, and Covington's arrival might seal this squad's place atop the defensive rankings.
The All-In Push
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Gorgui Dieng, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected)
In today's NBA, franchise fixtures can become flight risks seemingly overnight. So even though Towns' supermax is just kicking in, the Wolves might already feel pressured to expedite their return to relevance.
Would landing Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari push Minnesota to the top of the West's pecking order? Of course not. But there's a non-zero chance this club would join the discussion for a top-four seed.
All the focus on Paul's deal—it's on a shortlist of the Association's worst—has warped perception about his ability. Yes, he showed signs of decline in 2018-19 (lowest scoring average and field-goal percentage of his career), but he started from such a lofty place that even his lesser form graded as elite. He landed 12th among the RPM leaders; Towns led the Timberwolves at 23rd.
Not to mention, Minnesota already has at least one Paul believer in the front office.
"New president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas spent more than a decade in the Rockets' front office and was involved in the decision to trade for Paul in the first place," Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin noted. "Given their preexisting relationship, Rosas could sell Paul on the young Timberwolves as a landing spot for the final years of his career."
Gallinari could assume secondary scoring duties and potentially star with them. He could find enough touches to match last season's volume (career-best 19.8 points per game) but leverage Towns' gravitational pull into even more efficiency (if that's possible considering he slashed a spectacular 46.3/43.3/90.4 in 2018-19).
This would plunge the Thunder further into their rebuild while most importantly adding to their absurd collection of picks. It would also give them a new project in Wiggins, who fits the long and athletic wing mold favored by general manager Sam Presti, plus veteran placeholders who could become trade chips in their own right with Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng.
Win Now, Save Later
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Kyle Lowry
Toronto Raptors Receive: Andrew Wiggins, Jake Layman, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected)
Kawhi Leonard's departure was just the first of what could be a number of sweeping changes for the champs. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all on expiring deals. While TSN's Josh Lewenberg reported the Raptors "have no intention of moving them," he added the caveat of "at least not before the season."
Why wouldn't Toronto be open to change? The 30-somethings won't be around for the long haul, and the Raptors already have Lowry's replacement in Fred VanVleet.
If the Wolves can get the veteran floor general, they should. He topped their wish list in 2017, per SiriusXM NBA's Mitch Lawrence, and he might still be up there considering RPM valued him as a top-15 player and last season's No. 5 point guard.
Lowry's arrival could free the Wolves to either move Jeff Teague for additional help or plug him into the second point guard role Derrick Rose masterfully filled last season. Lowry wouldn't be a long-term solution, which would help the future budget, but he would prop up this team and position Towns for his best season yet.
The Raptors, meanwhile, have long had an affinity for Wiggins, a Toronto native and only the second Canadian selected first overall in the NBA draft. Marc Stein of the New York Times previously reported they "held exploratory discussions" about a Wiggins-DeMar DeRozan swap in 2017.
The Leonard-less Raptors could use Wiggins' scoring punch on the wings, and their perimeter group would have an incredible collection of length, athleticism and versatility on the defensive end. Tack on Jake Layman—a hustling combo forward with a smooth shooting stroke (who can't be traded before Dec. 15)—and a first-round pick, and Toronto would further its reconstruction effort.
Adding KAT's Preferred Running Mate
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: D'Angelo Russell
Golden State Warriors Receive: Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected), 2022 second-round pick (via Philadelphia 76ers or Denver Nuggets)
Towns made it clear this summer: He wanted D'Angelo Russell, the player selected directly after him atop the 2015 draft and someone he's referred to as a brother. Towns sent unsubtle hints about his interest and even vocalized it.
"D'Angelo is not getting whispers, he's getting more of a yell from a microphone," he told UPROXX's Jordan Zirm.
The Wolves secured a meeting with Russell but lost out to the Warriors—as most everyone has over the last half-decade. That shouldn't end this pursuit, only delay it until he becomes trade eligible in mid-December.
Russell's fit in Golden State is awkward. He's more ball-dominant and less defensively resistant than the ideal backcourt partner for Stephen Curry. Meanwhile, Towns still needs a capable co-star, and Minnesota must find with more staying power than Jeff Teague, a 31-year-old free-agent-to-be.
All the initial attractions between Russell and the Wolves still exist. He'd be a masterful pick-and-choose partner with Towns, as each offers three-level scoring, spot-up shooting and playmaking. Russell is also on the same timeline as Towns and signed through 2023, so Minnesota could form a two-star foundation and have time to build upon it.
The Warriors, meanwhile, could turn Russell into multiple assets.
Covington would fit like a glove both as a sniper and multipositional stopper. The first-round pick would get Golden State back into the 2020 draft—it sent a top-20-protected pick to the Brooklyn Nets in the Russell-Kevin Durant sign-and-trade—and Dieng would give size and strength to a frontcourt that doesn't have a ton of either.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.