Last June, rumors of discontent between Kristaps Porzingis and former general manager Phil Jackson almost led to an unceremonious split on draft night. However, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently let us know on The Woj Pod, the Phoenix Suns had a chance at snagging Porzingis, but once they knew Josh Jackson was on the board at No. 4, they passed on the opportunity due to pressure from Porzingis’ camp about his long term future in the Valley.
A few months passed and we saw the Suns get involved in the Kyrie Irving melodrama in Cleveland, but they backed out after refusing to include Jackson in the deal alongside Eric Bledsoe, which would have sent Paul George to Cleveland as well.
Now, fast forward 8 months and Karl-Anthony Towns is the latest young superstar to not see eye to eye with his original franchise.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast, there is some actual friction between Towns and Timberwolves head coach / general manager Tom Thibodeau.
“I don’t think Anthony Davis is going anywhere anytime soon,” Windhorst said. “Karl Towns, that might be a different story.”
Lowe also alluded to how he had a gut feeling something crazy is about to happen in Minnesota. And when you look at their roster makeup, Lowe is probably spot on there.
Minnesota signing Andrew Wiggins last summer to his max extension and then seeing no further developments out of him might be a crippling blow to their future, unless they are able to ship him off sometime over the next year.
On top of that, Thibodeau gave Jeff Teague a massive contract that will pay him $19 million annually over for another two seasons.
There needs to be some moving and shaking in this roster because Minnesota is on a collision course once more towards mediocrity after quickly rising, if they are unable to get ahold of their flexibility while retaining Towns and Jimmy Butler.
When Minnesota acquired Butler, they expected to take a bigger leap but they squeaked into the playoffs on the final night against Denver. Now, with Butler entering the final year of his deal, there is some urgency to take an even bigger leap.
With little to no cap space to work with over the next two offseasons, Minnesota will have to be forward-thinking in maneuvers trying to somehow luck into someone buying into Wiggins’ gigantic high school hype hoping the switch finally flips.
However, with Thibodeau running the show, who knows how this ends up. We easily could see these Towns rumors intensify a few weeks from now if tensions haven’t been subsided.
Minnesota can’t let this happen, though.
There’s no way you let your transcendent talent, best in Minnesota since Kevin Garnett, get traded again. That’s how you ruin the trust of the fanbase, but they could also buy into Deandre Ayton’s potential while also creating some long term flexibility, albeit controversially.
I would place 300/1 odds against this even happening a month from now, but if Minnesota actually does the unthinkable placing Towns on the trading block, Phoenix has to pull the trigger. Whatever it takes outside of Towns’ friend and former college teammate, Devin Booker.
From owner Robert Sarver to general manager Ryan McDonough to Vice President of Basketball Operations James Jones to Booker himself, they expect the switch to be flipped here very soon towards winning basketball.
Trading the first ever No. 1 pick in franchise history would have some initial sting to some fans, but Towns is the exception to this rule alongside Anthony Davis. These are the only two who really fit the billing of trade targets outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s untouchable like Davis, but they fit the long term plan of acquiring that final big fish trade piece.
On the surface, some might ask why would you do this when Ayton would be four times cheaper than Towns over the next arch of their careers? Well, I think this is how Phoenix can skip ahead on #TheTimeline.
Towns is already a more rounded to form player, even with his defensive deficiencies, who can provide incredible offensive value. There are not many bigs outside of Davis and Joel Embiid who can possibly provide 25 points and 12 rebounds a night all while shooting +40% on 3s.
During his first three seasons, Towns has career averages of 21.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 blocks while also hitting 3s at a 38.7% clip. No doubt about it that is a building block any team would try to snatch up, if made available.
Again, that’s why Towns is the exception because he is arguably a top 15 player in the NBA already. Paying his contract, which now can be $188 million over 5 years ($37 million annually) by making the All-NBA Third Team, should not be a tough pill to swallow when you think of what Booker and Towns immediately bring.
That duo brings stability, which is something that hasn’t been around Phoenix in awhile. Knowing both would be around for five plus years, that signals to free agents that they are ready for that final piece to be added sometime over the next few offseasons.
Nearly 60% of their salary cap could be tied up into Towns and Booker, but it leaves the door open for quicker success in Phoenix via many win-now avenues. It’s hard to doubt Phoenix would be seriously in the playoff race, or maybe comfortably in, next season if McDonough pulled off the right moves to surround them with top tier defensive talent.
All of the sudden, Phoenix could become a dark horse in the Paul George chase this summer with offensive dynamos in place already. There’s no denying that George would actually be a very good scheme fit next to Towns and Booker, and many other top tier talent in the 2018 class would now give Phoenix more serious consideration.
Lets say traction actually were to pick up with Towns and Minnesota not seeing eye to eye closer to June 21, what would a proposed deal look like? Well, Towns is someone who takes emptying nearly all of the asset war chest for, but his immediate and long term value outweighs what’s going out.
Acquiring Towns will take way more than the No. 1 pick, as big man who are only 22 years old rarely, if ever, hit the trade market before their rookie extension. (Porzingis was an interesting case study last summer, but we are also talking about Phil Jackson here so it’s probably a moot point.)
Not only will the No. 1 pick head out, but also picks that were brought in from shipping out Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Also, it will be a very tough pill to swallow, but Josh Jackson likely would have to be included in any Towns deal. Minnesota could easily see the Milwaukee and Miami selections not in the same light as Phoenix and ask for way more compensation, which definitely would involve Jackson.
Minnesota receives: No. 1, Milwaukee 1st likely to convey in 2020, Miami 1st unprotected in 2021, Josh Jackson
Phoenix receives: Karl-Anthony Towns
Even then, the Timberwolves likely ask for even more but for a franchise game-changer like Towns, how far would Phoenix go?
Outside of the max contracts that would immediately head Towns and Booker’s way this July, only T.J. Warren is on the books alongside them until 2022. Even after dealing for Towns, the Suns still surprisingly have plenty of flexibility left when looking towards the 2020s.
I will leave this here, but Giannis has the opportunity to leave Milwaukee as an unrestricted free agent in 2021. As Woj said back last summer, the clock has already started as teams are vulturing around Milwaukee when it’s perfect timing. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Phoenix was one of those teams thinking way ahead.
If Phoenix were to have their deadly pick-and-roll duo of former Kentucky Wildcats gel into something special over the next few years, that is a very, very attractive destination for someone like Antetokounmpo.
The idea should be simple for the Suns this summer. If word comes up that Towns and Minnesota are nearing an end, do whatever it takes to land him. Having an immediate stabilizer alongside Booker changes the fortunes of Phoenix’s championship aspirations.
Ayton and Luka Doncic have the chance to be superstars, but Towns is already there.
At the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie had a great quote about capitalizing on these opportunities. His forward-thinking motives involved lots of luck, but it landed them two, possibly three, superstars to build around.
When deals for proven commodities, especially ones of Towns’ caliber come along, that’s when you empty out your asset artillery.
“What are the two to three levers (free agency + trades) and pull like hell on those, right?” Hinkie said. “In Philadelphia, that was a lot of what we were trying to do on all three of those. Obviously the draft is important and people think about that but how do you save your resources in a place that someday if two players want to team and join up with another guy you already have in house you’ve got enough resources to do it. You have enough young, interesting players and picks to be able to make a big, blockbuster trade, if one comes along if you find a disgruntled superstar or find someone who fits into your team wonderfully how do you do that? So, how do you invest in things that really appreciate over time and how do you save some of your powder to be when it’s your turn to strike.”
That sounds awfully familiar to what McDonough has been doing in Phoenix since 2015, hasn’t it?
McDonough has boatloads of gunpowder saved up to strike on any superstar deal that arises over not only this summer, but likely until 2020 with how young this roster actually is.
Karl-Anthony Towns is the one you put all the powder in the cannon and shoot for the moon with alongside Booker. Whatever it takes.