The Minnesota Timberwolves front office has a decision to make this summer about star big man Karl-Anthony Towns ahead of the 2024-25 season, when major regulatory changes in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement taking effect.
Towns this fall will enter the final year of his five-year, $158.3 million rookie maximum extension, before his four-year, $224.2 million supermax extension comes on the books in 2024 at 35% of the team’s salary cap. Beginning in 2024-25, the Target Centers earn roughly $94 million combined (about 65.6% of the salary cap, per Spotrac). When you factor in an extension Anthony Edwards signs this summer that will start at 25% of the cap in 2024, another for McDaniels in the 18% range, keeping 2022 draftees Wendell Moore Jr. and Josh Minott, and signing a first-round draft selection in 2024, the Timberwolves would have seven players on the books, yet be $19 million over the cap, and have just north of $25 million to play with before hitting the second luxury tax apron, which will likely function as a hard cap for NBA teams moving forward.
If you add in an extension for Naz Reid at roughly three years, $34 million and another for Nickeil Alexander-Walker at about three years, $20 million, the Wolves would have just $12.2 million below the second apron and still have to fill out six roster spots. Even if they signed all minimum players, which is unlikely to begin with, the Wolves would still most likely be over that second apron.
There are severe penalties for teams that push up against the new second apron above the luxury tax line, per ESPN:
- Unable to use a taxpayer mid-level exception
- Unable to sign a player bought out of a contract north of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (~$11 million or so),
- Incoming salary matching exception is reduced from 125% to 110%
- Cannot aggregate salaries to land a single player with more incoming money than outgoing money and cannot use cash in trades
- Cannot trade a pick more than six drafts away
- Increased financial per-dollar-over-the-tax penalties for repeater teams
So while yes, the Wolves could technically keep this core together and fill out the roster around them, while paying a tax bill north of $40 million, something I do not see incoming owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez doing in their first season as controlling partners.
The most logical path to the Timberwolves easing the financial pressure they are facing is to trade one of Towns or Gobert. Given that KAT has higher trade value, it is logical that he would be the player sent out. Moving him this summer on a much smaller cap hit is much easier than it will be a year from now once his supermax kicks in, too. If Minnesota was to trade Towns, trying to add a player on the Edwards/McDaniels timeline makes a lot of sense.
Luckily for the Wolves, the lottery created a potentially advantageous trade environment. Both the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, want to be competitive and will explore moving their selections for a win-now player. The Charlotte Hornets hold the No. 2 pick, but already have an All-Star point guard in LaMelo Ball, so they could pick Brandon Miller and allow big-time point guard prospect Scoot Henderson to fall to No. 3. Given that Minnesota does not have a point guard of the future, it’s easy to see why Wolves fans get excited at the prospect of acquiring Henderson.
Outside of Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, Towns could be the best player available on the market. But the tricky part is that KAT cannot be moved until July 7 (due to a one-year trade restriction that came with signing his supermax) and the draft is on June 22, so the parties in the deal would have to agree in principle and make a selection for each other.
So, what could a deal look like? No matter how you slice it, it’s messy and imperfect, which makes a Towns trade unlikely.
Here are a couple potential options, via Fanspo:
The simplest option, which Portland may shoot down if they want a wing instead:
The following deal would likely happen after any moves Portland makes in free agency:
Why Should Minnesota Go After Scoot Henderson?
The 2023 NBA Draft is loaded with talent, highlighted by a prospect we’ve never really seen before in presumptive No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama. The uniqueness of this draft class has somehow diminished the otherworldly talent that is Scoot Henderson. In almost any other draft, Henderson would be the clear first overall pick. He is the exact type of player that teams dream about building their franchise around, which is exactly why the Minnesota Timberwolves should make a franchise altering trade to get him.
Obviously, this is all conjecture and hypothetical, but the Wolves should aggressively explore trading Karl-Anthony Towns to move up and select Henderson to pair with Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels. Last year’s Rudy Gobert trade clearly changed everything about this team, and Towns is unfortunately the remaining piece that would garner the highest return and isn’t completely untouchable. Obviously, both sides would have to be in on the trade, but from Minnesota’s perspective, it immediately resets the team to Edwards’s timeline while also bringing in a player who could be a franchise cornerstone.
Henderson often gets derided for his lack of outside shooting and lack of elite positional size. The outside shooting is a real point of improvement for Henderson, but it’s also important to remember that he jumped from high school at 17 straight to NBA level competition. This includes NBA level athleticism, coaching, NBA 3-point line, and grown men trying to fight for a job. Being a lights out shooter may not be in the cards for Henderson, but the fact he improved his 3-point percentage from 22.9% in year one to 34.3% this year (per Synergy) is incredibly encouraging. Henderson has also always been a comfortable and versatile mid-range shooter. His pull-up game is effortless, and defenses have to cater their schemes to his rim pressure.
It would be preferred if the 6-foot-2 Henderson was a few inches taller, but his lack of elite positional height doesn’t really change or affect how he scores. He already has a terrific understanding of how to leverage his athleticism to generate unique scoring angles out of isolation, pick-and-rolls, off-ball movement, and cuts.
The most exciting aspect of Henderson’s game, though, is his playmaking. Henderson cut back on the frequency of his jaw-dropping assists from the previous year, but he introduced a tremendous amount of subtlety and nuance to improve his playmaking this year. Scoot constantly has full awareness of where everyone is on the court and how to counter their rotations. When he attacks the rim, he knows exactly where his teammates are on the weak side and how to make the best decision based on how the defense rotates. In the pick-and-roll, Henderson consistently extends his dribble and extra step or two to create a better angle for a pocket pass or lob. He uses subtle head fakes to influence his primary defender and manipulates help defenders with his eyes.
While acquiring Henderson is a dream move in a vacuum, he also fits perfectly on this roster. The Timberwolves primary goal right now should be to maximize the Edwards Era. Not only is Henderson a fantastic player in his own right, but he’s one of the rare prospects that makes everyone around him better while being highly malleable.
The introduction of Mike Conley did wonders for this team as they finally had a true point guard who could run the show, pick his spots, and be that calming presence of consistency. There aren’t many veterans in the league who would be better for Henderson to learn under than Conley. It would also give the Timberwolves more flexibility at this position as Conley is getting up there in age and only has so many minutes that he can effectively play.
More importantly, Henderson is a perfect fit alongside Edwards. The Timberwolves would have one of the most athletic backcourts in the league. Henderson would also be able to consistently set up Edwards for easy scores. This season proved that the ball should be in Edwards’s hands plenty, and Henderson proved for the past two years that he’s effective playing off-ball as well. Henderson not only shot 42.9% from three off the catch this year, but he also ranked in the 95th percentile in points per possession (PPP) on cuts, the 59th percentile on handoffs, and constantly set off-ball screens to free up teammates. Even though Henderson is at his best with the ball, he is far from a non-factor without it.
The biggest area of inconsistency with Henderson this year was his defense. He struggled with screen navigation, fell asleep off-ball, and wasn’t always fully engaged. If that scouting report sounds familiar, that’s because it is incredibly reminiscent of how Edwards was described as a defender in college. Like Edwards, Henderson has an absurd work ethic and is a tremendous defender when engaged. After a few years it wouldn’t be surprising to see Henderson make an eerily similar defensive leap to the one Edwards has.
If that is the case, the Timberwolves’ perimeter defense of Henderson, Edwards, and McDaniels would be terrifying. Not only would Henderson regularly set up McDaniels for exquisite spot-up jumpers and off-ball scoring opportunities, but his athleticism and length (6’9” wingspan) would be an incredible defensive compliment.
Henderson would even elevate the games of Gobert and Naz Reid. Defensively, he at least theoretically has the athleticism and length to implement a variety of pick-and-roll coverages with them. More importantly, though, he’d make their life incredibly easy on offense. Henderson ranked in the 44th percentile in pick-and-roll scoring with 0.757 PPP, but that number jumped to 0.913 PPP (60th percentile) when you include his passing. On top of that, Henderson generated 1.016 PPP when he passed to the roller. His ability to deliver timely and accurate pocket passes and lobs would allow him to carve up defenses with Gobert and Reid. Then, once the defense finally collapsed to the paint, Henderson would have no issues setting up shooters as he generated 1.117 PPP when passing to spot-up shooters this year out of the pick-and-roll.
The Timberwolves are almost in limbo right now as they are torn between two different timelines with limited future assets. Moving Towns isn’t an easy decision or something that should be taken lightly, but if it means brining back Scoot Henderson, it’s a move that needs to be done. Not only does it consolidate the timeline of the team and its bleak financial future, but it brings in a player with All-NBA upside who makes everyone on the floor with him better and can play a myriad of roles.