5 Blockbuster Trade Ideas for Minnesota Timberwolves' No. 1 Pick
Disinformation campaigns are strong during NBA draft season. Teams are reportedly interested in, roughly, every player. Any pick is available for the right price. Your favorite squad is looking to move down. Or deal up. Or trade into the first round.
Loosely considered and deliberately leaked possibilities end up framing discussions for those a few steps and more removed from the rumor-mill machine. Trades scenarios in particular are given special attention, because people so dearly love the theoretical and this idea that seismic moves are always possible, from top to bottom.
Brainpower devoted to these conversations is usually expended in futility. Specifically, picks near the top of the draft are never as likely to move or include a surprise selection as the news cycle suggests.
This year feels different. It is different. The Golden State Warriors are coming off a gap year and hold the No. 2 pick. They're the subjects of the spiciest conjecture. But the Minnesota Timberwolves, owners of the first overall selection, loom as aggressors. They are very much in win-now mode after acquiring D'Angelo Russell at the trade deadline and with next year's first-rounder owed to Golden State under top-three protection.
Bake in the absence of a consensus No. 1 prospect, and the Timberwolves should be more motivated to wheel and deal than most top-spot holders. League executives believe they actually "prefer to trade down or out of this pick to bring in a win-now player," according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.
Assuming this is true, the Timberwolves have their work cut out for them. Any deal that involves the No. 1 pick is a blockbuster, but no obvious partners exist. The uncertainty at the top of the draft doesn't warrant star-power returns for the first overall selection alone, and many of the biggest potentially available names aren't worth full-tilt all-in plays from a team not yet on the precipice of contention.
These made-up packages seek to juggle that reality. They aim to significantly improve the Timberwolves' place in the league next season but won't all bring back a marquee star and will include varying returns. The blockbuster nature of each deal lies first and foremost in the risk Minnesota assumes by moving the top pick at all.
Note: We're using next year's player salaries.
Trading Down with Charlotte
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: PJ Washington, No. 3
Charlotte Hornets Receive: No. 1, No. 17, Jake Layman, 2022 second-round pick (more favorable from Denver and Philadelphia)
The Hornets for now have the easiest job of the teams in the top three: select whoever the Timberwolves and Warriors do not. Their deck is shallow enough that they needn't have a strong preference to LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards or James Wiseman.
Surrendering value to trade up only makes sense if they're smitten by one player and certain said name won't fall to them. It doesn't bode well for the Timberwolves' bargaining power if Wiseman is the Hornets' guy. No one's about to believe they'll pair he and Karl-Anthony Towns up front. They'd need Charlotte to be worried about Golden State scooping him up at No. 2.
Miles Bridges plus the No. 3 pick for the top selection is the framework floated most frequently. That's not an unattractive package to the Timberwolves. Bridges remains something of a mystery box at both ends, but he's shiftable on defense and explosive in the open floor. His 35.3 percent clip on catch-and-shoot threes as a sophomore suggests he has room to build upon his overall outside efficiency alongside a better crop of talent.
Pursuing PJ Washington is a bigger swing for Minnesota. He's not anchoring a top-tier defense from the 4 spot, but Bridges isn't either. Washington canned 38.5 percent of his spot-up treys last year and has a more polished floor game. He's a dream fit next to Towns and D'Angelo Russell.
Charlotte isn't unloading him just to move up two spots. He is the team's second-best long-term building block behind Devonte' Graham. The Timberwolves need to sweeten the pot even if the Hornets are pining desperately for the chance to select at No. 1.
Including Jake Layman and the No. 17 selection is a start. Minnesota has Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman to consider, too. Throwing in Josh Okogie goes too far. Some might be opposed to giving up a first while moving out of No. 1, but this package still leaves Minnesota with one of the top three prospects while netting a seamless offensive fit who stands to provide more immediate combined value than Layman and whoever goes at No. 17.
Partnering KAT with Aaron Gordon
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Aaron Gordon, Chuma Okeke, No. 15
Orlando Magic Receive: James Johnson (player option), No. 1
Aaron Gordon's market value has officially confused me. He's just 25 and owed $34.6 million over the next two years on a declining scale. His offensive game wants for a niche, but he improved his playmaking this season and hit 36.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples after Jan. 1, though that included a steep drop-off post-All-Star break.
Combine this with defensive range that encompasses wing and big-man assignments, and he feels like a value get for any team that lands him. That's my read on him, anyway. Others disagree.
I polled a bunch of people about offering Gordon and No. 15 for the first pick and salary filler. The overwhelming majority insisted that wasn't enough, even when comparing this year's No. 1 selection to more like a top-five or -seven choice in other years.
From that response was borne Chuma Okeke's inclusion. And that didn't sway everyone. He missed all of what would have been his rookie season recovering from a torn left ACL. There can be no guarantee he lives up to his three-and-D billing.
The Timberwolves can defend trying. They need those exact players—defensive worker bees who complement D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns at the other end.
Valuing Gordon this highly might be the bigger gamble. He is a perfect frontline partner for Towns on defense, but he's not a comparable offensive asset unless he hits his threes at a higher clip and warms up to more floor-running and lob-catching. Playing in Minnesota should help. Russell and Towns decidedly consign him to the third wheel. He might even be a No. 4 in lineups with Malik Beasley (restricted).
Orlando may be more interested in hovering around the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but Jonathan Isaac's torn left ACL is expected to sideline him for all of next season. Now's a good time to aim higher over the long haul. Even with Markelle Fultz on the come-up, the Magic want for a primary offensive engine. Investing in, say, LaMelo Ball would allow for loftier big-picture aspirations.
All-In for Jrue Holiday
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Jrue Holiday
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: James Johnson (player option), Jake Layman, Josh Okogie, No. 1
Turning the No. 1 pick and other stuff into Jrue Holiday on an expiring contract (player option) would typically constitute an overpay. The Timberwolves might still view it that way.
But the impressions of this draft class are weird. The upside ascribed to the top prospects doesn't suggest any one of them is worth an entrenched star on his own. Holiday or Victor Oladipo is the closest Minnesota will come, in all likelihood, without mortgaging the rest of its future. And the former is clearly a better choice.
Maybe Holiday and the Timberwolves have an understanding that he'll sign an extension to stick around. That renders this much less of a risk, but it doesn't diminish the pending financial commitment. They're effectively giving up the No. 1 pick—not to mention Josh Okogie—for the right to pay him what will be nine figures over the next four years.
Holiday's fit with D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns makes the opportunity worth at least a discussion. He can be the backbone of the perimeter defense, and they, collectively, ensure he seldom has to be the primary scorer or playmaker—which in turn should give him more energy to expend on the less glamorous end, most notably when guarding away from the ball.
New Orleans' side of this proposal is less exact. The No. 1 pick has ambiguous value relative to the rest of the roster. James Wiseman doesn't profile as the wrinkle-free fit next to Zion Williamson and instantly renders Jaxson Hayes redundant. The Pelicans would have to be in love with Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball. Can the world handle two Balls on one NBA roster?
Bagging the No. 1 pick is nevertheless excellent value if New Orleans is entering asset-acquisition mode rather than pursuing a playoff bid. Hiring Stan Van Gundy to be the next head coach suggests otherwise, but a fondness for an immediate postseason chase doesn't erase the steep financial decisions facing the Pelicans. Brandon Ingram (restricted) will most likely get max money this summer, and Holiday, Lonzo (extension-eligible) and Josh Hart (extension-eligible) all require reinvestments by 2021-22.
Targeting Depth from San Antonio
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Rudy Gay, Keldon Johnson, Derrick White, No. 11
San Antonio Spurs Receive: James Johnson (player option), No. 1, No. 17
This could maybe, possibly, potentially be the offseason in which the Spurs actually, genuinely, legitimately steer into...something that resembles a rebuild. And what better way to enter that phase than with the No. 1 pick?
San Antonio might not be keen on moving up in a vacuum. None of the top-three selections feel particularly Spursy. The shot selections of LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards alone might force head coach Gregg Popovich into retirement.
Still, the collateral damage here is pretty digestible.
Above all, the Spurs aren't giving up Dejounte Murray—who, for the record, would be a mega-interesting fit in Minnesota's backcourt next to D'Angelo Russell. Giving up Derrick White is tough, but he's one year out from what should be a fairly significant payday. It feels too soon for San Antonio to double down on its core after missing the playoffs last season for the first time in 22 years.
Rudy Gay's departure shouldn't sting. He is 34 and on an expiring contract. The next iteration of the Spurs doesn't include him. Keldon Johnson may be the most painful loss, if only because he has three years left on his rookie-scale deal and went supernova at Disney, averaging 14.1 points while banging in 64.7 percent of his triples and playing fair-weather defense.
Sending Johnson and No. 11 to the Timberwolves may go a notch too far for the Spurs if they weren't also getting back No. 17. They can roll the dice on a complementary wing in that range, and it is not unreasonable to believe whoever they get at No. 1 has a better chance of broaching cornerstone stardom than either Johnson or White.
Minnesota has more of an incentive to balk at this framework. It is extremely win-now without a return that perfectly encapsulates it. Gay is a neat fit up front next to Karl-Anthony Towns but is an aging rental. Johnson and the No. 11 pick are tantalizing, but whether they offer immediate help in the aggregate will be a matter of course. White is worth the question marks elsewhere. He is the go-to outside defender Minny doesn't yet employ and has shown he can be a secondary offensive initiator.
3-Team Brain-Bender with Philly and Washington
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Ben Simmons
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Bradley Beal, No. 17
Washington Wizards Receive: Jarrett Culver, James Johnson (player option), Josh Okogie, Jarred Vanderbilt, No. 1, Minnesota's 2023 first-round pick (unprotected, conditional upon 2021 obligation to Golden State)
This idea has nothing to do with the Sixers hiring Daryl Morey to be their team president. It was penciled in before that news broke. The idea that he'll be itching to break up the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons duo is overblown anyway. You try to salvage that partnership by fudging together more shooting and ball-handling around it before pulling the ripcord.
And yet: Bradley Beal is the archetype of star Philly's roster needs. He is both a top-shelf creator and shot-maker, and the Sixers have the size and length, even without Simmons, to sustain a quality defense with him on the floor.
Beal's contract poses some concern. He has a player option for 2022-23, whereas Simmons is under team control through 2024-25, not to mention roughly three years younger. But that's not a large enough drawback for Philly to brush this aside. If it's confident Beal isn't going anywhere, pairing him with Embiid elevates the functional synergy and, by extension, immediate ceiling of the roster. Snagging a mid-end first in the process doesn't hurt, either.
Washington may have no intention of moving Beal, but this is the kind of ransom that should at least coax a reevaluation. Jarrett Culver perked up offensively toward the end of this past season and will be more at home in a situation that can funnel him more touches, even with John Wall's return to consider. Between him and the No. 1 pick, the Wizards have a viable springboard for a rebuild.
Everything else isn't quite gravy, but it collectively amounts to a caps-lock haul. Josh Okogie is a stout defender and forceful finisher, and Jarred Vanderbilt can cover serious ground at both ends. Both are up for new deals after next season, but together they're equal to or greater than a late first-rounder.
Minnesota's 2023 first, meanwhile, is an actual first-rounder. Its unprotection is key. The Timberwolves won't project as a terrible team three years down the line, but the Western Conference swallows mediocrity whole, and all three of their max-contract investments would have major holes: Simmons' shooting, and the defense of both D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Not that Minnesota should second-guess this grand of an all-in gesture. Russell and Towns are quintessential running mates for Simmons. Towns doesn't need to occupy the same space as him in the half court, and Russell makes it so he won't be the primary ball-handler on every possession. Simmons alone also gives the Timberwolves a crack at defensive competence—and, therefore, a visible line to championship contention.