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NBA Trade Deadline 2023: What to Expect From the Timberwolves

Wolves President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly came to Minnesota and assembled a talented front office to navigate situations like these.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

You can keep up with the latest trade deadline reporting from around the league involving the Timberwolves at our trade rumor tracker. It is also pinned to the top of the Canis Hoopus homepage.

The 2023 NBA Trade Deadline is one week from tomorrow — February 9 at 2 PM CT — and the Minnesota Timberwolves have two key questions they need to answer in between now and then:

1) Is trading D’Angelo Russell an option with the way he’s playing?

2) What return makes sense in a Naz Reid trade?

Before I provide my answers, it’s important to understand the context of the Wolves’ current position.

  • Minnesota is 27-26, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain) or Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain) do not have timetables to return, making a return prior to the All-Star Break (Feb. 17 through Feb. 22) unlikely
  • The Timberwolves cannot trade a first-round pick, but has three second-round picks to use (2023 via New York, and their own in 2028 and 2029)
  • All 15 roster spots and both two-way slots are filled, so the team has no available spot to accept more players than they send out unless they waive a player first
  • Towns cannot be traded until July 7, 2023 and has a 10% trade kicker
  • Minnesota has an estimated $3,069,493 in space below the luxury tax line, per Spotrac. I’d expect them to avoid paying the luxury tax this year.
  • The Wolves have a $4.4 million trade exception to use, but it cannot be combined with a player in a trade. It’s unlikely they use it unless they trade Russell and have more than $4.4 million in luxury tax space after the trade.
  • Wolves President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly has made a trade leading up to the deadline in every year he’s been a lead executive except for in 2019, when his Denver Nuggets team finished 54-28.
  • Here’s a look at the salary cap table:

DraftKings Odds

Our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook have plenty of ways to get in on the action before they make any moves at the deadline.

The Timberwolves are...

  • +7500 to win the Northwest Division
  • +10000 to win the Western Conference
  • +20000 to win the NBA Finals

Because of the injury to Towns, DraftKings does not have a listed win total prop or a “to make the playoffs” prop available.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Is trading D’Angelo Russell an option with the way he’s playing?

The Wolves pushed all their future chips into the middle when they traded for Rudy Gobert. As a result, they are now in a place where making any type of “seller” trade that can move them down in the standings is off the table. That’s what makes the Russell conversation so interesting.

In the 27 games since December 1, Russell is averaging 20.1 points on 48.6/42.9/90.4 shooting splits, 5.9 assists to 2.7 turnovers, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals across 34.6 minutes per game, in what has unquestionably been the best extended stretch of his NBA career. His 46.1% field goal percentage, 85.4% free throw percentage, 60.0% true shooting percentage, shooting percentage at the rim (68%) and 33.1 minutes per game are all by far career highs in what has been the most efficient offensive season of his eight-year career.

Beyond that, D-Lo is driving winning perhaps better than he ever has during his four-season stint in Minneapolis. He is continually coming up clutch in the second halves of games and developing a much better chemistry with both Anthony Edwards and Gobert.

While some may make the argument that his trade value is higher now than it was before Towns got injured (a fair point, by the way), I’d counter by asking which acquirable point guard on the market gives the Wolves a better chance to go deeper in the playoffs this season?

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who is likely to opt-out of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, is likely out of the Timberwolves’ price range both via trade right now and financially via extension given that Edwards and Jaden McDaniels are up for contract extensions after the season.

While Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley would fit nicely alongside Gobert and Edwards because of

his experience next to Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Jazz CEO Danny Ainge has no incentive to make a deal that could help the Wolves consdering Utah owns Minnesota’s 2023 first-round pick.

With the Miami Heat going on a bit of a run here, the team is “not trying to deal” Kyle Lowry.

Enabling flexibility is going to be important for Minnesota no matter how this plays out.

Chris Paul may be in his last year with the Phoenix Suns, and the same goes for Draymond Green and lead executive Bob Myers with the Golden State Warriors. LeBron James could request a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers if they don’t make another win-now move at the deadline. The Portland Trail Blazers may sell and try again in their perpetual retooling around Damian Lillard. Not to mention, we don’t know how many more years the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George pairing has with the Los Angeles Clippers, and that the Dallas Mavericks roster around Luka Dončić remains questionable at best.

They are in a good position for the next three-to-five years if Edwards and McDaniels continue to develop, and Towns’ prime is what we think it could be. With that in mind, Connelly and Co.’s best course of action may be to keep him for the rest of the season. From there, they can evaluate what salary makes sense to offer him in free agency or facilitate a sign-and-trade — a likely course of action if Russell does not return to Minnesota considering which teams have cap space.

Sign-and-trading Russell could be the best for both parties. D-Lo continuing to play well would give the Timberwolves their best chance to succeed in the playoffs this season and enable his agent to command a salary more commensurate with what Russell feels he’s worth. It would also allow the Wolves to maintain his salary slot beyond this season.

The reality may simply be that there isn’t a move out there that gives this team a shot to improve its +10000 shot to win the West or +20000 odds to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy. And if that’s the case, making a trade just for the sake of making a trade while Russell is playing the best basketball of his career is extremely risky.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

What return makes sense in a Naz Reid trade?

This is a tough one, simply because Reid’s impact is somewhat context dependent and he may not be the same type of player on another team.

The Wolves are -5.9 points per 100 possessions when the fan favorite is on the floor in 2022-23, per Cleaning the Glass, good for the 23rd percentile league-wide. But that number jumps to -1.3 when he shares the floor with Anthony Edwards and +7.3 (91st percentile) when he plays alongside both Edwards and Jaden McDaniels (626 possessions). In the 333 possessions he’s played without both of them, Minnesota is a -15.3 points per 100, ranking in the second percentile, nearly as bad as it gets.

Reid has seen increased playing time next to Gobert in an effort to get more two big lineups out there to (hopefully) prepare for Towns’ return. Even though Reid is having a tough time shooting the ball (just 23.1% from 3 in January), he has still found success in the dribble hand-off game with Edwards, Russell and Jaylen Nowell, and has created moments like this that transform the energy in the arena:

With that said, the former LSU stand-out has often struggled with foul trouble this season and can take himself out of games in which he has a favorable matchup simply because of losing focus off-ball for a split second or failing to maintain verticality when being over-aggressive to block shots. Given he is undersized at 6-9, he can have issues with bigger, bruising centers and has showings where his impact on the glass is limited.

Interested teams reportedly include the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers. Those all make sense given their lack of a consistent backup center and would strengthen their five-out units when Nic Claxton, Nikola Jokić and Ivica Zubac are all off the floor, respectively. However, finding a two-team trade that makes sense for both sides with these parties clouds the probability of a deal taking place.

Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reported that Denver is gauging the interest around the league in explosive young guard Bones Hyland, whose contract would match with Reid and costs only $2.3 million next season and $4.2 million in 2024-25. Fischer only listed one potential suitor, the Timberwolves, and mentioned that Connelly is “still considered a big supporter of Hyland.” However, a straight up swap is highly unlikely considering Hyland has two more years of team control and then hits restricted free agency, whereas Reid is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Given that the Wolves can’t send a protected first-round pick (likely close to Hyland’s value) and shouldn’t be moving veterans such as Taurean Prince or Kyle Anderson, it’s hard to find a deal that makes sense.

The same applies for Brooklyn and L.A. The Nets could offer the likes of Yuta Watanabe, who’d help the Wolves’ shooting need, but that’s about it in terms of players they’d be potentially open to parting with in a two-team deal. Similarly, Los Angeles could offer Terance Mann, but Mann’s rookie deal expires this summer and his two-year, $22 million extension kicks in. If Minnesota made that deal, they’d be over the luxury tax next season by a good $8 million, all else held constant. Not to mention the Clippers likely wouldn’t part for Mann in a 1:1 deal.

If Reid is traded, it may make the most sense that he is included in a Russell package and sent to a third team; the Clippers would make sense if they took back Reid and D’Lo, involved a team such as the Jazz to park contracts and lesser picks for salary matching purposes, and Utah sent Conley to Minnesota. But even something like that is unlikely because the Jazz have no incentive to make the Wolves better.

A huge factor in this could be Towns’ health.

Matt Moore of The Action Network reported that potential suitors are calling about Reid, but that “there’s now believe that Wolves will not trade the big man and instead look to sign him to an extension.”

That could signal that the team doesn’t feel comfortable parting with Reid — a reliable rotation presence — if Towns isn’t going to be back soon, even though they also have Nate Knight and Luka Garza. That doesn’t mean the Wolves couldn’t still trade Reid this summer or at a later date, either. He’d actually become a more valuable trade asset with a long-term extension in hand. But, Towns missing another 15-20 could drive more interest for the team to offer Reid a better contract and keep their options open. Even though Connelly told KFAN on Tuesday afternoon that the team’s “full expectation” is for Towns to return and play again this season, having insurance is important.

Time will tell, but getting fair market value for Reid in the current climate, given his contract and which teams are interested in him, is highly unlikely.

Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Final Predictions

Neither Russell or Reid is moved at or before the trade deadline and Reid is signed to an extension.

The best way for the Timberwolves to improve their odds at winning a first-round playoff series and making some noise in the second round and beyond is simply by getting healthy.

No All-NBA player from last season has missed as many games as Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns has long been one of the most consistent offensive producers in the NBA and displayed true signs of promise on the defensive end of the floor in a more aggressive scheme last season. Sure, the Wolves only went 9-10 in the 19 games that Towns and Rudy Gobert both played in to start the season. But Minnesota is slowly but surely optimizing Gobert’s impact on both ends of the floor. It’s hard to project exactly where the Timberwolves would be if KAT had played in even 85% of the team’s games this season, but I can comfortably say it’d be in a markedly better place than where they are right now.

Towns and Jordan McLaughlin can help to take this team from potentially frisky to we don’t want to see them in a playoff series. There’s no feasible trade out there on the market that can do that better than simply getting healthy can. Not to mention that the team would have only 25ish games to calibrate a new lineup post-trade that would bring its own growing pains, even before re-integrating Towns.

While the deadline could be a ton of fun around the league, it should probably be a quiet one for the Timberwolves.

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