It’s officially speculation season (Szn?) in the NBA, with the finals wrapped up and the condensed offseason primed to deliver the draft in a few weeks as well as free agency and a number of trades.
Nobody loves speculation quite like people who talk about sports for a living (unless it’s the people who listen to the people who talk about sports for a living), and since I guess I fit into BOTH categories I listened with interest to Zach Lowe’s recent ESPN podcast on which Bill Simmons was a guest.
These are two guys who could probably take up permanent residence inside ESPN’s Trade Machine, and their offseason podcast was full of dueling banjos style deals.
Naturally, a few of them involved the Wolves since 1) They have the No. 1 pick and could very well trade it and 2) President Gersson Rosas hasn’t been shy about making moves already in his tenure.
None of the deals they suggested should be treated as news — they weren’t reported via sources but rather conjured up as deals that might make sense.
Nevertheless: I thought three trades they constructed involving the Timberwolves were interesting because they illustrate three realistic trade types for the Wolves. That is to say: they are illustrative of directions the Wolves could go while holding a significant asset in the No. 1 overall pick even in a year where there isn’t a sure-fire star at the top of the draft.
So let’s take a look at all three deals — and deal types:
*A somewhat “boring” deal with an eye toward the future: Simmons suggested that the Wolves could swap picks with the Warriors (who have the No. 2 pick), and that in exchange for that move they could get Golden State to change the protection on the 2021 first-round pick Minnesota owes as part of the Andrew Wiggins/D’Angelo Russell swap.
That pick is protected — meaning it won’t be traded — if the Wolves wind up with one of the top 3 picks in 2021. It would nudge down the road to 2022, when it is unprotected.
If the Wolves are worried that they might wind up with a high lottery pick again next season, they could try to get the protection changed to, say, a top-10 pick and/or add a layer of protection to the 2022 pick as well.
Boring, right? But maybe it’s win-win. Golden State gets an improved asset that it can use to either take whatever player it wants or repackage in a deal for a win-now veteran … and the Wolves get some future value and still get a player in a draft that seems to drop off at least in terms of star potential after the top three picks (Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball).
*A move that adds a good player while still keeping a high pick: An example floated on the podcast was the Wolves trade James Johnson’s expiring contract and the No. 1 pick to Charlotte for Terry Rozier and the No. 3 pick.
Rozier has two years left on his contract at about $18 million per season. He’s a point guard, which also happens to be D’Angelo Russell’s position, but he earned a strong defensive reputation in Boston and became a better scorer/shooter with Charlotte last season (18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists per game on 40% from deep).
Rozier could play in the same lineup as Russell since they can both score, though I’m not sure what that move would mean for re-signing Malik Beasley unless the Wolves went VERY small and tried him at the three (or split the 96 guard minutes between Russell, Beasley and Rozier, which is reasonable). He’s 26, which somewhat aligns with the timeline of Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell (both 24 and soon to be 25).
Charlotte gets a prime asset, while the Wolves still get a top 3 pick to add to their roster.
It makes some sense, but again I don’t want to get bogged down by this specific trade. You could do numerous iterations with teams in the lottery with young established players. I like this type of trade in a draft without a clear-cut top pick — unless the Wolves happen to love a player at the top of the draft.
*A move to try to compete in 2020-21: Ready for a big swing? Simmons gave this one a spin: The Wolves trade Johnson, Jake Layman and the No. 1 overall pick to Utah for Rudy Gobert and the No. 23 pick.
Phew. That would change Minnesota instantly. There are plenty of trade rumblings involving Gobert — a limited but efficient offensive player and one of the very best defensive players in the NBA. The problem is it would essentially necessitate a position switch for Towns, who would be a power forward while Gobert was a center. I actually think Towns is better suited as a 4, but it might not be the Wolves’ idea alignment.
“I think if I’m Minnesota, I say Towns is a center. Full stop. I don’t want to pair him with Rudy Gobert,” Lowe said in explaining why he didn’t think the Wolves would do such a deal.
Gobert is also 28 years old, is due to make $26 million in the final year of his contract and will then be due for a huge extension. You probably don’t make this move unless an extension is worked out beforehand, but that would be very pricey.
This is probably a deal you only make if you’re worried Towns (and to a lesser extent Russell) will grow weary of losing sooner rather than later and feel the need to jump into relevance.
If you are looking for clues about how Rosas might view such a move, though, look no further than this quote from colleague Chris Hine’s story in August: “For this organization, patience is probably more important than anything because as the Jimmy Butler-Tom Thibodeau experiment showed, the benefit of being all in and getting in the playoffs one year set this organization back,” Rosas said.
But it would give the Wolves instant credibility and a much-needed interior defensive presence.
Again, though, this specific deal isn’t the big question. Rather, it’s this: Would the Wolves try to flip the No. 1 pick for an expensive player who immediately becomes the third piece of the Towns-Russell-Player X puzzle, which is definitely going to need another addition to be relevant in the West?
I could see it happening for the right fit — someone a little younger and a little less expensive than Gobert.
Then again, the simplest thing would be this: Identify the player you think has the highest ceiling, pick him No. 1 overall, and trust that a mix of development and correct initial evaluation yields results within the next two years.
That in itself would be exciting enough.