Monday was a mournful day for the Timberwolves organization following the death of Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, the mother of center Karl-Anthony Towns, to complications from her battle with COVID-19.
She was the center of Towns’ world, a frequent presence at Wolves games home and away, and anyone who interacted with her could feel the love she had for her son and the passion she had in rooting for him and the Wolves.
“When it comes to her, he’s got her outspoken ways and passion,” Karl Towns Sr. told the Star Tribune during an interview in 2018. “Him and his mom both speak what’s on their minds and they let people know what direction they’re going.”
Towns showed a lot of strength in revealing his mother’s battle with the virus on March 24 via an Instagram video. Hopefully that video caused some people to take stock of what was happening around them and take the virus more seriously than they otherwise might have been. That’s nearly impossible to quantify, but perhaps that will be a small amount of good that can come from an otherwise heartbreaking couple of weeks.
Before the news broke Monday, fans sent in some questions about the future of the team. Here are some:
Q: What can we realistically expect for FA pick-ups this summer? Anything that moves the needle? And what FA’s do you expect Wolves to lose? – @speedbump25
A: I’ll preface this the way I did with an answer in the previous mailbag: because of the coronavirus, it’s hard to gauge just where the salary cap is going to land next year. Since the cap is determined by the amount of basketball revenue coming in, losing revenue for this season is going to have a big impact on the cap next season.
The other complicating factor was that the cap was already projected to take a hit as a result of the controversy with China earlier in the season. Just how much it decreases is going to have an impact on what the Wolves (and everyone else) are able to do in free agency. As far as a signing “that moves the needle” -- it’s hard to see that. The Wolves made their needle-moving deal at the trade deadline when they acquired D’Angelo Russell. In the series of moves that week, they also picked up two restricted free agents in Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. The Wolves are likely to make sure they have the room to re-sign both of them, especially Beasley. Looking at the cap situation, that’s likely not going to leave a ton of room this offseason for a splashy free-agent acquisition.
But this also gets into a discussion about organizational philosophy. President Gersson Rosas spent his career with the Rockets prior to joining the Wolves. Most of the needle-moving things the Rockets did in the last decade came via trade. They traded for James Harden. They traded for Chris Paul. Then they traded Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook. Upon taking the job in Minnesota, Rosas said the Wolves were more than likely going to make a deep-impact move via trade and not necessarily free agency. After missing on Russell in free agency, the Wolves got him via trade. So if big moves are what you’re looking for, expect them via trade and not in one singular free agent signing. I don’t think I need to remind Wolves fans of the trouble this organization has had getting big-name free agents to come here. Rosas and company are well aware of that obstacle, hence why the trade market is their preferred method of making a splash. Along those lines …
Q: [Is there a] better chance wolves keep [their] two first-round picks or trade them in a package for a veteran to play with KAT and Russell? – Weinberg_chaim
A: Another caveat before answering: The Wolves don’t have the two picks officially guaranteed just yet. If Brooklyn were to miss the playoffs, the Nets keep that pick, but given that the Nets were the No. 7 seed in the East when the season was postponed, and given that the they were six games ahead of the ninth-place Wizards, that pick is basically the Wolves’ pick. With that out of the way … it’s very possible! I wouldn’t rule much out, especially as it relates to this front office and trades. That would seem like the kind of thing this regime would do, and you can envision a scenario where the salary-cap goes down and a team is desperate to get under the tax and so offloads a veteran contract. The Wolves might be able to take advantage of that.
The move would have to make logistical sense for the Wolves, however. They won’t take a veteran just to take a veteran. Rosas has made a big deal of making sure any acquisitions align with the timeline of Towns and now Russell, who are each 24. So, if it’s a younger veteran, say more in the 26, 27-year-old range, then that’s doable. Right now, the Wolves have their one older veteran in James Johnson, 33. I don’t see the Wolves going after another player around that age. It’s important to have veteran leadership like that in a locker room, but the Wolves also want to maximize their roster spots on young talent they will try to develop. That’s also a case for why the Wolves may want to keep these picks, despite this draft having the reputation of being weaker than others. They Wolves likely won’t have a 2021 first-round pick (a top-three protected pick dealt to Golden State in the Russell trade), so they have two spins at the wheel this year to try and find a really good player on a rookie-level deal.
Q: What would it take for the Wolves to get Devin Booker? Would a package of [Jarrett] Culver and the third overall pick or higher get it done? Would the Wolves need to throw in Beasley in a sign and trade deal? (I’d like to keep Beasley.) Can the Wolves even trade their 2020 first round pick since they traded their 2021 first round pick to Golden State? Are there any bigs out there who are trapped behind starters that the Wolves could obtain similar to how they obtained Beasley from Denver? – Peter, via email
A: Let’s address that pick trade part first. You know how teams on draft night select players and the players wear that team’s hat except everyone knows that player has already been traded elsewhere? Welcome to one way teams get around the Stepien Rule that you’re referring to! Also, it appears the Stepien Rule only applies when you go into consecutive drafts without consecutive draft picks, i.e., the Wolves wouldn’t have been allowed to deal their 2020 and 2021 picks at this year’s deadline and then have zero picks looking ahead. Now that it’s passed and they’re going into the 2020 draft with at least one of their picks, they’re free to deal both of those if they choose and not make the selection. Although they most likely would still make the selections in those cases (wink wink).
The thing you have to envision in any Devin Booker trade scenario (and I got multiple versions of this question) is … how does this work for Phoenix? What would incentivize them to do such a deal. Booker is the franchise cornerstone. If you trade Booker, you better be getting a large haul in return. I’d want either Towns or Russell in return to start any talks. So if you’re the Wolves and you say, we want to put all three of those guys together, yes you have to start looking at every positive asset you have and assume that’s going out the door. Beasley, Culver (hopefully for you Phoenix’s opinion of him matches his No. 6 pick status a year ago) and pretty much every first-round pick you’re allowed to give them, so the two this year, 2023, 2025. The Russell deal was different. There were three players higher on the franchise pecking order than Russell (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green), and the Warriors had tax issues they wanted to avoid. Phoenix isn’t in that situation with Booker. I appreciate that fans want him, but like I said previously, short of Booker demanding his way out of town, and the Wolves coming up with the assets to outbid other teams, it’s hard to see a Booker trade happening anytime in the near future. Also, think about the money. You’re committing around 75% of your cap to three guys who have a combined two playoff appearances. Maybe it’s worth it. I’m just an armchair GM like everyone else, but I’d rather round out my roster with players who complement the stars I have, or find another star who might better suit Russell’s and Towns’ games. There’s only one basketball for those three to share, and they all like to have the ball in their hands.
Q: Will coach [Ryan] Saunders be back? – Ddenny43, via email
A: That’s the expectation. Saunders installed the system he and the front office envisioned for this team. Yes, there was a lot of losing, but the moves at the trade deadline showed you what Rosas thought of the roster he handed Saunders at the beginning of the season. When Rosas was asked when he realized the roster needed this kind of overhaul, he replied, “May.” Now that a roster resembling the system they want to install is in place, the real work can begin.