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The Optics Behind a Karl-Anthony Towns Trade: Exploring the Why and the Why Not

The Minnesota Timberwolves star is in trade rumors this offseason, but should the Wolves attempt to move the former All-NBA center?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns flexing after a made basket
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

In what is clockwork during the offseason for the Minnesota Timberwolves over the last few years, big man Karl Anthony-Towns is circling in trade rumors again. Instead of focusing on if the Wolves can make a deal to move on from him, let’s explore the why and the why nots of any potential deals centered around the former All-NBA center.

There are a lot of reasons as to why making a move would make sense for the Wolves. The first talking point is not one to be taken lightly regarding the financial aspects that are in place with the new collective bargaining agreement for the league that goes into effect on July 1st.

With the waiving of Taurean Prince and not extending a qualifying offer to Nickeil Alexander Walker, it appears the Wolves will be operating under the luxury tax line for the 2023-2024 season, but will certainly be operating in the tax (likely below the second apron but above the first apron) during the 2024-2025 season if they keep Towns and Rudy Gobert on the roster, and knowing that Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels are both going to get a huge payday with their incoming extensions that are rightfully deserved.

The new CBA has implemented a second apron which could make roster building difficult for the Wolves if they do decide to retain all of the talent they have on the roster. Teams operating in the second apron can extend and sign their own players and take on a harsher tax penalty, but bringing outside players in free agency would be extremely difficult. Teams operating in the second apron have the mid-level exception stripped from them entirely and can not use as an offer for any player in free agency. This can make finding players to fit with the current core hard.

Minnesota was also able to re-sign rising big man Naz Reid to a three-year, $42 million dollar deal with a third-year player option, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski back on June 25th. This moves gives Minnesota some flexibility if they still want to run a two-big lineup. They can trade Gobert and run the floor with Towns and Reid. They can trade Towns and run Reid and Gobert, or they could trade Reid and run Towns and Gobert.

The Timberwolves have some options on what they can do, and with the recent moves mentioned earlier, it appears to be looking that they will operate under the tax for this season, but will need to make the decision on what to do next season:

1) Believe this core is good enough to win a championship that doesn’t need outside help because it has enough talent in-house and operate within the restrictions of the new CBA, or 2) come to the harsh realization that the former statement isn’t true and they need to bring in new pieces that balance out both the current roster construction and cap sheet.

Perhaps the simplest answer for the Wolves to avoid the potential headaches of the new CBA and roster construction may be to move off Towns and the payroll allocation that comes with him. The Timberwolves’ front office understands their franchise corner stone resides in Edwards, who will be entering his fourth year in the league, and that the roster will be constructed around him moving forward. President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly made this absolutely clear earlier this offseason.

The first question that needs to be answered: What does Edwards want? The NBA is a star-driven league and keeping stars happy on a roster is key. With Edwards being the cornerstone, and decisions revolving around him, he will have some say in the roster construction. What would keep Edwards happy? Would he support KAT trade for other pieces that the front office tries to sell him on thinking will be more conducive to winning? Does he want the big man to stay in Minnesota? Getting an answer to those questions are critical and needs to be established with the front office before they make any moves involving Towns.

Towns is a generational player with his shooting touch and scoring versatility at his size. He is a highly efficient player averaging a career double double with 23 points and 11 boards on 52/39/83 shooting splits. A player at his size that can shoot the ball that well, carries his scoring gravity, and also comes down with double-digit rebounds is not easy to come by. If the Wolves did decide to make a move, I don’t think they can find another player that can space the floor as much as Towns does that fits alongside Edwards. How much that spacing has helped Ant’s evolution as a scorer cannot be overlooked. If looking at the talent in the league and with all decisions being centered around Edwards, it does not make sense for the Wolves to trade Towns this season because there isn’t a move that very clearly makes the roster better and elevates them to a higher level than what they are right now.

Roster continuity is also something to consider. Players can and more likely will be able to thrive when they have the same players and system around them. With Edwards being young, it does not make sense to have a revolving door of players on the roster that he needs to find ways to win with, and replacing a player of Towns stature will be hard to do.

Towns also suffered a Grade 3 calf strain in a November 28 game against the Washington Wizards this past season and it sidelined him for 52 games. KAT did not really get a chance to gel with the core on the court for an extended stretch. This lack of playing time on top of Towns coming into training camp late with an illness that had him hospitalized and lost a significant amount of weight, it is hard to establish your identity with a new roster after the Wolves traded for Gobert to be alongside him on the court.

With how last season looked for the ‘Twin Towers’ experiment, the Timberwolves never got to see it actualized due to the external factors regarding the Towns illness and injury. With the Wolves looking like they are going to operate under the luxury tax, it truly makes sense to run it back with Towns getting a full training camp and a full season alongside Gobert barring no injuries.

The topic is a double-edged sword. For this upcoming year, I think it makes the most sense to keep Towns and run it back and see what a healthy roster can do now that they have had a full, albeit a bit broken, year under their belt together. Jaden McDaniels has established himself as top wing defender, Edwards took another step towards superstar ascension, Kyle Anderson looks to be a prime play maker off the bench, and with other pieces plugged in, moving Towns doesn’t elevate the roster to another spot they can’t get to with what they have now.

The only clear reasons for moving Towns are to ease financial implications and to balance a roster whose depth is likely to get thinner as contracts come on the books. If the Wolves can, and it looks like they will, avoid those penalties with the CBA this year, why not give it another shot and have the tough conversation later when the penalties will be real and not a hypothetical like they are now?