Timberwolves

Are KAT, Edwards Part of Minnesota’s End Goal?

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The Minnesota Timberwolves won’t be a title contender this year. At 6-18, Minnesota faces a crossroads with star Karl-Anthony Towns. Is Gersson Rosas, President of Basketball Operations, willing to go all-in on maximizing KAT’s timeline – and is it worth it?

Gersson’s End Goal

No one knows what Gersson plans for his new role. Wolves fans have a general idea of how he tends to think, how he evaluates players. We know that he will be as active in pursuing opportunities to make the team better as any POBO in the league. It’s well-known that he took this job primarily due to KAT and his incredibly unique skill set.

But how far along are we? At last year’s trade deadline, he overhauled the team despite strong play by his franchise. How far ahead is he in implementing his plan?

He constructed a roster that fits his desired play, but they still lack defensive consistency, a presence at the four, and overall talent to compete in the Western Conference eventually. If he finds a solution at the four, does the priority turn to development? Is top pick Anthony Edwards a part of the end goal or a means to the end goal?

If the KAT timeline is sooner than Edwards’, isn’t it reasonable to assume KAT’s likely a substantial trade piece? How many players on the current roster is that trade scenario possible? Then, is there a reason for this transition period other than to build trade value?

Rosas noted he would rework the roster the day he took the job. He acknowledged the beginning of last season as a time to see which players fit a longer-term plan. If he had the foresight to understand which players he would likely trade, isn’t it likely to assume he has the same understanding about the current roster?

Who Will Stick Around

KAT is a generational talent, so it is sensical for Rosas to tailor his tenure to the unicorn big-man. D’Angelo Russell is a player they hope to unlock, considering his projected strength as a pick-and-roll partner with Towns.

After that, there’s a case to be made for why player x won’t be on the roster at the end of Gersson’s plan. Edwards displayed flashes of legitimate fit between Towns and Russell. Unfortunately, he’s 19, five years behind an age that seems to be of great importance to the front office.

Players like Josh Okogie, Jarrett Culver, Jarred Vanderbilt, Naz Reid, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez all are (arguably) solid, young pieces. That’s the difference between this year and last. Last year, all players the Wolves traded were going to get moved. In the future, the players that do get traded might or might not have been part of the management’s trading plans.

The Case for the KAT

It’s no debate that Towns is the franchise’s all-time best player aside from Kevin Garnett. His ability to score outside at a high volume and substantial efficiency at center is largely uncontested around the league. His game fits a modern NBA built around floor-spacing and tempo. Karl-Anthony’s offensive abilities would complement nearly any player in the NBA.

The Timberwolves in Gersson’s tenure made it clear that they intend to cater to KAT in nearly every regard. They designed: an offense and a roster built around him. A coach he wanted. The point guard he wanted.

And they should cater to him to that extent. It’s rare to build a roster around someone of his talents and not do everything to ensure he sticks around– players of his caliber change teams exceptionally often. He has weathered multiple regimes and coaches with significant roster turnover without success (aside from the year with Jimmy Butler that ended negatively). It’s probably a matter of time before he asks to be traded, and all the Wolves can offer is their best attempt at keeping him. That scenario comes with catering to him and winning.

Situations Look Bleak

Minnesota is off to a disappointing start. Injuries and COVID-19 derailed the start of KAT’s, as well as the Timberwolves’ season. Ryan Saunders has shown a propensity to stick with failing gameplans and a general ineptitude to serve as a head coach. He’s eluding a firing, solely due to the small sample size he has had with a healthy KAT and DLo.

For every offseason move that has fared well (Beasley’s extension, drafting Jaden McDaniels), there have been those that fared equally as poorly (Juancho extension, Rubio as a fit with Russell). The slight hope that remains for a push to be the ten seed slips away with each double-digit loss. As the end-season approaches, we need to ask the question: what is the next step in this progression? And is it worth it?

What’s the Plan?

In all likelihood, the current roster construction, even if maximized as-is, would be a fringe playoff team. It’s no secret that Gersson’s intentions go beyond reaching the climax of this success-window. If the current roster doesn’t warrant the intended and final returns and KAT’s patience for losing continues to grow thinner, one outcome is likely on the horizon: a much bigger trade.

Rosas comes from a front office that is keen on acquiring stars. The NBA is a stars’ league. A third star to fit between KAT and Russell is the most appealing and probable path to maximizing KAT’s window.

We have seen what the cost is for players of Jrue Holiday and James Harden‘s caliber. It is safe to assume the Wolves trading for a third star could cost multiple first-round picks, along with young players/assets.

Take Bradley Beal as an example: a trade for him would likely cost Anthony Edwards, salary-fillers (Rubio/subsidiary pieces), and at least three unprotected firsts. He is a fantastic player, and he’d fit the “mold” of the sort of star to fit best with Russell and Towns. Is he worth destroying the future, though?

The Tempting Alternative

If the Holiday and Harden deals are suggestive of anything, it’s that a superstar would net a franchise a massive return. Karl-Anthony Towns has multiple years left on his contract, is still relatively young, and his game would fit seamlessly in nearly any style of offense. Harden is a higher-caliber player than Towns, but KAT’s longer remaining contract and age should warrant a similar return.

We know KAT may ask his way out eventually and consider his ceiling. Wouldn’t it be logical to cash in on his current value in a trade? Edwards shows promise as a potential future star. Is that opportunity worth removing in the pursuit of a third star, as Minnesota would likely include him in any deal?

Building around Edwards, McDaniels, Naz, other young players, along with what’s included in a KAT trade — other young players and potentially multiple first-round picks — tempts. The most plausible scenario for the Timberwolves to compete for a championship would entail a core of numerous drafted stars.

The Verdict, for Now

Karl-Anthony Towns is a star worth building around for a small market. The duration of repeated turmoil for the Timberwolves franchise can’t sustain another rebuild, even if it would result in the best value-play. A KAT trade in the context of over a decade and change of “rebuilding” seasons, a sale of the franchise looming, and talks of potential relocation would diminish an already depleted fanbase.

Trading Towns with three years left on his deal rather than two arguably wouldn’t offer much of an increased return. Rosas catered to KAT to acquire his costar at the cost of a coveted first-round pick, select his preferred coach, and implement a system that plays primarily to his strengths. The Wolves are too invested in this current plan to cut their losses now and start over. As bleak as this season has been, it is an important one in understanding the best course of action in the future.

Hopefully, there will be an ample opportunity to see what there is in a Towns-Russell pairing. Hopefully, Saunders gets an unexcused ruling of his coaching fit for this roster. With luck, they can define which players are expendable and a part of the end goal.

Follow us on Twitter @TWolvesLead for the latest Timberwolves news and insight. 

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