Long-time Minnesota Timberwolves fans will remember when they dealt Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in 2007. Now new Wolves fans have a blockbuster of their own. By now, everyone knows the details of the Rudy Gobert trade.
Some are in favor; some aren’t. But no matter what side you’re on, there’s no denying the large return the Utah Jazz got for Gobert. Four first-round picks and five players is one of the largest trade packages ever assembled. It was only two players short of the most players traded in exchange for one, which was the KG trade in ‘07. It was also only two picks short of the most 1st round picks exchanged in one trade, which was the James Harden trade in 2021.
Big trades like this are always franchise-shifting. Whether it is for better or worse, it is up to the franchise’s decisions after the blockbuster deal. In the Wolves case, it’s still unknown. But there are two teams that Wolves fans can use as examples: The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. They are two teams who share a stadium in the same city and made similar trades at around the same time. However, the Lakers and Clippers couldn’t be more different.
Let’s start with the Paul George trade. Although Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has turned into an elite talent, I want to focus on the first-round picks the Oklahoma City Thunder got in exchange for George.
The 2021 Miami Heat pick is the first selection the Thunder made from this trade. They selected Tre Mann out of Florida at 18th overall. Mann has the high upside to fit alongside SGA and Josh Giddey, the franchise centerpieces. In this year’s draft, they benefited from the Clippers’ first-round pick falling inside the lottery. With the 12th pick, they selected Jalen Williams out of Santa Clara.
Any pick 14th overall and lower statistically have a 7.8% chance of becoming an All-Star. That’s how the Wolves win this trade. If they keep themselves out of the lottery until 2029, the Jazz’s chances of receiving any All-Stars in return for Gobert is low.
That’s what the Clippers have done to the Thunder so far. With two picks received from the Clippers, the Thunder have selected once inside the lottery (12th) and one outside (18th). This leaves the Thunder’s chances of selecting an All-Star extremely low, especially considering that the Thunder’s 1st round pick received this year (12th) was due to both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard missing significant time. As the Clippers return to full strength with Kawhi Leonard’s return, the OKC’s picks should only get increasingly lower.
Although the Clippers gave up a lot of assets, it’s working for them so far. They haven’t won a championship yet, But they are one of the favorites to win it this year and have a roster that could easily compete for the next 3 or 4 years. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers have already won a championship after the Anthony Davis trade. But now they have a low shot at winning the Finals this year, and their chances are dropping by the year.
So, on the one hand, the Los Angeles Lakers did win a championship in Anthony Davis’ second year there. But the Lakers have already given up:
- The fourth overall pick in 2019
- The 8th overall pick in the 2022 draft
- An all-star and MIP in Brandon Ingram
- A solid defensive guard in Lonzo Ball.
And as the Lakers roster starts to diminish, New Orleans’ return gets bigger and bigger.
The Pelicans own the right to swap first-round picks with the Lakers this season. The Pelicans could easily have a lower draft pick than the Lakers. Zion Williamson may return at full strength, and the promising young roster that took the Phoenix Suns to six games last year continues to flourish. That would leave the Lakers with a low draft pick on a roster that continues to age.
But how have the Lakers collapsed so quickly while the Clippers stayed afloat?
The Lakers’ main fault was trading away all of their young talents instead of including more first-round picks. In a hypothetical world, we’ll say the Lakers kept Lonzo Ball in the Anthony Davis trade and included one more first-round pick. Now the Lakers have a young defensive-minded guard to bolster their abysmal defense.
Conversely, the Clippers opted to trade away more first-round picks and only include one young piece in the trade, Gilegous-Alexander. Therefore, they had the necessary depth when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard got injured. Players like Amir Coffey, Ivica Zubac, and Terance Mann were all there to step up.
However, there was no one to step up when the Lakers suffered injuries. After trading away three players from their young core, only Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma remained. Caruso eventually signed with the Chicago Bulls in free agency, and they traded Kuzma for a 33-year-old Russell Westbrook.
Like the Clippers, the Wolves have already done this part right. They kept Jaden McDaniels and Wendell Moore Jr. instead of throwing them in the trade to save 1st round picks – a huge win. McDaniels is on a legit all-NBA defense trajectory, and Moore looks like a pro-ready player ready to help now. McDaniels and Moore should be prepared to step up when Rudy Gobert is declining four years from now.
That’s the main difference between the Clippers and the Lakers, and there’s a valuable lesson the Wolves can learn from it. With a trade that has implications until 2029, there is no winner on Day 1, Week 1, or even Year 1. Every decision the Wolves make until 2029 will directly impact the Jazz trade and who will be seen as the winner seven years from now.
The Lakers made poor decisions on who to keep, trade for, and sign. And have failed to surround AD and LeBron James with the right talent since their championship run. Conversely, the Clippers have brought in great free agency additions and still have promising young pieces to complement Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
We won’t know if the Wolves won this trade until 2029. But their ability to avoid sending high draft choices to Utah isn’t only about wins and losses. It’s also on the front office’s ability to build around their three max contract players.