It’s NBA draft season, and for the first time in a generation, this isn’t the most important month on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ calendar. As things stand, 2023 will be the third straight draft that the Wolves won’t have a lottery pick. They attached what became the 7th pick in 2021 to Andrew Wiggins in the D’Angelo Russell trade with Golden State, and last year they were good enough to avoid the lottery. This year, they threw the future away for Rudy Gobert. Without a first-round pick and no chance of winning the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, Minnesota’s offseason looks pretty tame. Their big uncertainties are how fast Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels can write their signatures on their rookie extensions, and how much money it will take to re-sign Naz Reid.
But just because the Timberwolves only have the 53rd pick in next month’s draft, doesn’t mean they should dismiss the process entirely. Rumor has it that a few teams that didn’t tank hard enough for Wembanyama are open to the idea of trading their picks for established star players. If that’s the case, it might be time for the Wolves to get out in front of the summer trade rumor news cycle and strongly consider taking another big swing this offseason.
Only days after the draft lottery, Chris Haynes reports that the Portland Trail Blazers will make the third pick available for a trade in an effort to build a contender around Damian Lillard. From the outside looking in, a big trade seems inevitable for the Blazers. They have been stuck in neutral for the last few years after a surprise run to the conference finals in 2019. Their options are:
- Trade the third pick for one last chance to win with Lillard.
- Trade Lillard and build around the third pick and whoever you get back in the trade.
- Or stand pat and win 32 games next season and close your eyes and cross your fingers and hope that Lillard doesn’t demand a trade.
It might not be the most sporting thing to say, but it’s nice to see another franchise in desperate times for once. And this time the Wolves should be the hunter instead of the prey. The theme of Tim Connelly’s exit interview was “whatever we can do to build around Anthony Edwards,” and boy would trading for the third pick be a hard left turn in that direction.
With still more than a month until the NBA Draft, it’s unclear who will be left on the board in the wake of Wembanyama being all but guaranteed to go first overall to the San Antonio Spurs. The two players that seem to be the consensus No. 2 and 3 prospects are G-League Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson and Alabama forward Brandon Miller. Let me preface the rest of this article about a hypothetical trade by saying the only way the Wolves should even think about making a deal with the Blazers is if the player coming back is Henderson.
I’m no draft expert, and this is no slight to Miller, who many people who know a hell of a lot more than me have ahead of Scoot in their rankings. However, I can’t get the thought of Scoot Henderson sharing a backcourt with Anthony Edwards out of my head. Sign me the hell up for watching two of the most explosive athletes and dynamic, confident players in the NBA on the same team for the next decade. Scoot may be a generational talent hiding in plain sight while in Wembanyama’s lengthy shadow, but infusing the Wolves with exciting young talent of that caliber comes with a price tag.
The whole point of the Blazers leaking that they want to trade the pick is to get a top player in return to contend for a championship immediately to maximize Damian Lillard’s window. They aren’t trading it for some promising young players and depth they can put around Lillard. They want a star. For the Timberwolves to pull this off, that can only mean one thing, finally trade Karl-Anthony Towns.
The offseason trade rumors around Towns are already starting with most “sources” saying he’d look awfully good in a New York Knicks uniform. KAT is coming off one of his most frustrating seasons in the NBA. He missed 52 games with a calf injury, and again lost his poise in a quick playoff exit. The Wolves have to take a long hard look at moving one of Towns or Gobert this offseason. They will be hard-pressed to pay Ant, KAT, Rudy, and Jaden once Ant and Jaden’s extensions kick in. It’s almost always better to be a year early than a year late on these moves. Trading him to Portland could be the perfect opportunity for the Wolves to give Edwards everything he needs to take them deep into the playoffs as soon as next season.
The Blazers would have to add some sweetener (and salary match) to coax the Timberwolves to move on from Towns. Throwing Anfernee Simons into the trade should make the money work, and let’s add Shaedon Sharpe to the trade to entice the Wolves with even more young players brimming with potential.
Is a promise to take Scoot Henderson with the third pick, Anfernee Simons, and Shaedon Sharpe enough for the Wolves to send out the second-best player in their franchise’s history? Does Portland need to attach another future first? Two future firsts to make this a viable trade for a star player and recoup some draft assets lost in the Gobert trade? Is it simultaneously too much for the Blazers to give up for a fringe top-30 player coming off his worst season? Do they think they could contend with Lillard, Towns, and whoever they sign around them in free agency?
That’s the thing about trading for a high draft pick, it’s like trading for a mystery box. It could be anything; it could even be a boat. If you’re projecting Scoot Henderson to already be prime Derrick Rose, then of course you’re not giving that up for a guy that averaged 18 and 10 in the first round of the playoffs. Conversely, if you’re being a realist and see that Scoot is only 19 and needs some work to do, won’t contribute to winning for 3-5 years, and maybe doesn’t quite live up to the hype, you could see going all in for a proven, albeit flawed talent in Towns.
There are some real-life obstacles standing in the way of this hypothetical trade. Towns can’t be traded until July 7th as a result of signing his super-max contract last summer. The Blazers would have to select Scoot and sit on him for more than two weeks before agreeing to send him to the Timberwolves. Anything could happen in those two weeks. There are plenty of other teams who would do almost anything to put their name in the Scoot Henderson sweepstakes and plenty of other Towns-level players out there ready to be traded. Mikal Bridges and Pascal Siakam are just two of the players with a third-team All-NBA ceiling who are already being thrown out for a potential target in return for Portland’s pick.
The other glaring issue lies with the Charlotte Hornets. What if they just take Scoot with the second pick? It’s easy to see the Hornets passing on Henderson as they already employ a dynamic point guard, LaMelo Ball, and selecting Brandon Miller to replace the scumbag who is suspended by the league for the first ten games next season and might never play in the NBA again. But they could easily say roster building be damned and pair Scoot and LaMelo in the backcourt. If that happens would the Hornets be open to trading Scoot and assets for Towns? Who the hell knows?
But if Tim Connelly wants to stick to his “build around Ant” narrative, he’ll at least call Blazers GM Joe Cronin to knock the idea around and see what comes up. It will be tough to give up Karl-Anthony Towns, but the vision of Scoot and Ant dunking on everyone for the next decade is too beautiful for nostalgia and loyalty to get in the way. Towns might say he’s still the present, but the future is Scoot.