For the first time in franchise history, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally moved up and secured the first-overall pick in the draft lottery. For decades, the Shaquille O’Neal’s, Chris Webber’s and Kyrie Irving’s of the world had eluded the Wolves as their lottery “luck” continued to fail them; however, the Timberwolves finally appear to be on the verge of selecting first without requiring the league’s worst record.
Or so we think.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported earlier this week that the Timberwolves may look to trade the pick:
“Executives around the NBA say the Timberwolves prefer to trade down or out of this pick to bring in a win-now player to help Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. If they are at no. 1, Edwards brings a scoring skill set that would fit nicely in the backcourt next to Russell.”
While it does feel like every year we hear about teams at the top of a given draft exploring the possibility of moving their pick, this one truly sounds like the year to trade down or completely even out of the lottery. It’s not lost on any Minnesota fan how perfectly Timberwolves it is to have won the lottery in what many believe is one of the worst draft classes in recent memory.
The unfortunate side of all of this is — if the Timberwolves would prefer to not have the pick, other teams around the league may feel the same way. Other teams may also feel there’s better value elsewhere in the top-10. However, if they find a franchise enamored with a player at the top of the first round, it would be silly to talk them out of trading for the pick. Trading down or for an established star seems mutually beneficial if there’s interest in a deal.
What Trading the Top Pick Could Mean...
NBA teams rarely trade the first-overall pick in a given draft, mainly because it’s such a rare opportunity to select a possible franchise-altering superstar. That’s why there’s a lottery and lots of hand-wringing over tanking. So, the fact that a team may want to punt on this opportunity is interesting.
Trading down and picking up an extra pick or player is also interesting. But the stuff about trading the pick for a player to win-now is easily the MOST interesting. There seems to be an urgency in KOC’s reporting above — this statement doesn’t seem to be a generic team statement saying the team is “considering all options.” Clearly the Timberwolves feel there’s a window right now with Karl-Anthony Towns.
Towns seemed unhappy at times last season until the Russell trade happened. Then, Towns got injured and updates about his health were about as frequent as were victories. Then there was his absence from the recent voluntary scrimmage bubble. Sure, the emphasis here was on it being voluntary, but shouldn’t the franchise’s best player want to be there if possible?
This in no way discounts the challenges that Karl may have faced off the court this summer after the passing of his mother — there is simply no denying how truly difficult losing a parent is. But the timing of various reporting paired with Towns’ absence from the voluntary bubble creates enough smoke that forces one to start questioning a possible fire.
Are the Wolves Running Out of Time?
Talking strictly basketball, Towns seemed frustrated with his situation (at least in my opinion). We’re now heading into Karl’s sixth year in the league (whenever next season does start), which is the same amount of time the Wolves had with Kevin Love and how long Anthony Davis was in New Orleans. While nothing has surfaced of Towns officially asking for a trade, you can’t ignore this league-wide trend of small-market stars making such a request within the first couple years of their first extensions.
This awareness seemingly motivated the Wolves to make the Russell trade since the acquisition brought one of Towns’ closest friends into the fold. If Russell helps the Wolves win and keeps Karl happy, then it’s hard to really argue the price that Minnesota paid.
So back to the topic of trading the top pick — making a move like this for an already established star would seem to fit within that overall line of thinking. While we hope the first pick is valuable enough to make a seismic deal, is it enough to land Devin Booker? Not by itself and it may be even more difficult after Phoenix’s strong performance in the bubble.
What about Sacramento? Would the Kings have interest in the pick for an ever-disgruntled Buddy Hield? Where would a core of Towns-Russell-Hield get you anyway?
Keeping the Pick or Trading Down
Alternatively, keeping the pick provides some level of insurance if Towns were to leave and Russell became the team’s best player. This scenario isn’t a certainty, but it’s not the worst thing in the world to keep the pick if there’s someone they like. After all, there will be some good players in this draft even if the overall class is underwhelming.
Trading down isn’t a bad idea either. Remember, the Wolves’ 2021 first-round pick goes to the Warriors if it falls outside the top-3. In 2022, it becomes unprotected. If the Wolves can keep a first rounder this year and pick up an additional for next season, that would be a smart move. The Timberwolves are not going to have a first-round pick in one of the next two seasons and they may as well find a replacement if they can.
Where We Stand Now
To sum up everything I have written above — no one actually knows what will happen. A lot of franchises say they’re “evaluating all the options” with their draft pick(s). It’s the generic nothing-burger of a statement. Every fan knows the options for their team in the draft include 1) selecting a player, 2) trading down, or 3) trading the pick for an established player. We get it.
However, when we flash back to how aggressive the Wolves were in the previous draft and then read the latest report from the Ringer, it becomes more evident that simply “selecting a player” might be the least likely outcome of the options being evaluated. Seeing if Gersson Rosas can pull off his next mega-deal will be worth watching over the coming weeks.