The NBA has become a league known for its star movement, so much so that the offseason has overshadowed the regular season and, recently, even the playoffs. That was especially the case this past summer as the futures of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant were heavily debated even as their teams squared off in the NBA Finals.
This past summer was on a different level. There were so many trades and big free agent signings that it left a void in the rumor mill. Which star will leave their team next has become a fascinating question.
Many thought it would be Bradley Beal, but then he signed a contract extension with the Washington Wizards. That put everyone back to square one, though it didn't take long for another star to come into focus.
That would be Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who despite being under contract through the 2023-24 season is the subject of trade speculation because his team is a disappointing 12-21. Usually these matters heat up when players are much closer to free agency, but this is the world we live in now.
Matters got semi-interesting in recent days with stories about teams monitoring Towns' situation. The Knicks and Warriors have been mentioned specifically.
That has led to some fans asking whether the Wizards are among those paying attention. And those questions can easily be answered with another: would they be doing their jobs if they weren't?
Towns is, after all, arguably a top-15 NBA player and maybe even top-10. He's 24 years old and well-suited for the league's future. It would only be prudent if the Wizards (and every other team) paid attention to him, and close attention at that.
The Towns reports were enough to warrant a response through back channels by the Timberwolves, reassuring he is not available and there is nothing to see here. That seems like enough to put the rumors on the backburner, but these types of situations can change and sometimes abruptly. Just look at Paul George's exit from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
So, if the Towns dynamic does shift and he becomes available for whatever reason it would require, who could make the best offer?
Certainly, the Warriors would be tough to beat if they were willing to part with D'Angelo Russell, a 23-year-old All-Star signed through 2022-23, and what will likely be a top-5 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Those are two major assets and Golden State would probably be fine giving them up, knowing they could pair Towns with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. That group would put them right back into title contention.
The Knicks have a treasure chest of first round picks they could send. They are likely to have a high first in 2020 and they hold two in 2021 and in 2023 thanks to the Kristaps Porzingis trade with Dallas. The Knicks also have some intriguing young players like R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. If Towns wants to win now, however, that isn't the place to go.
The Wizards, if they wanted to, could definitely field a competitive offer. Their current franchise reset is all about developing young players and stockpiling assets for the future. In NBA terms, that means preparing for the possibility of a major trade.
Aggressive trades are the best way to turn your team into a contender. Take just about every top team in today's NBA for example. The Raptors won a title last year with that practice. This year the Lakers, Clippers, Heat and Mavericks all made huge leaps thanks to trades.
The Wizards will have a top draft pick themselves. Right now they have the fourth-worst record in the NBA. If that held, they would go into the lottery with a 12.5 percent chance at the first overall pick, a 48.1 percent shot at a top-four selection and 81 percent odds to pick in the top six.
If they have some luck in the lottery and land, say, in the top three or so, they would hold a major trade chip. They could then put together a collection of young players with upside to sweeten the deal. Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura would top that list with Moe Wagner and Troy Brown Jr. in a second tier.
Bryant could stand out as a 22-year-old big man with All-Star potential. You could do worse than a trade package of, for example, the third overall pick plus Bryant, Wagner and Brown.
Whether it's Towns or some other star, the Wizards will have to think in those terms at some point, especially if they want to be back in the playoffs sooner than later. Developing draft picks takes time and Beal only has so much of it as a 26-year-old at his athletic peak. John Wall's contract will also limit what they can do in free agency, not that they have had a ton of luck with that avenue in the past.
What will be interesting when the next player of Towns' ilk becomes available is how aggressive the Wizards will be in trade talks. Under former general manager Ernie Grunfeld, they were often linked to players like Leonard and George, but never pulled the trigger on a big trade. Perhaps it was due to a lack of trade ammo, but it made the front office appear risk-averse.
Now they are led by GM Tommy Sheppard, who will chart his own course over time. Perhaps bigger swings, the types other executives like Masai Ujiri of the Raptors and Danny Ainge of the Celtics like to take, become part of his reputation.
Time will tell on that. But the Wizards are certainly laying the groundwork to give themselves options. The next time a star does become available, they could be competitive in trade talks if they choose to.
And, man, would Beal, Towns and Wall be a scary combination.
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