Based on President Tim Connelly's comments Thursday, the Timberwolves are unlikely to make significant changes to their starting lineup next season as they proceed to Year 2 of the Karl-Anthony Towns/Rudy Gobert double-big lineup.
"I think we really, really like our starting five," Connelly said. "We think we can compete with any team in the Western Conference, and how we continue to complement that group and augment that group is going to be a challenge we have this offseason. But we think those five guys are pretty exciting and pretty fun to build around."
But a time will come when the Wolves must make tough decisions related to the starting lineup, and who will be here and who won't, and it will come sooner than later. That's why there is a reasonable case to be made that the Wolves should explore trading Towns this offseason. Here is a look at both sides of the argument:
The financial case
A good portion of the reasoning to consider a Towns trade involves what the Wolves' salary-cap situation will look like a year from now as the 2024-25 season comes into view. The Wolves already have Gobert on a supermax contract. He will be making nearly $44 million in that 2024-25 season.
This offseason, the Wolves are likely to sign Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels to large contract extensions that would kick in for the 2024-25 season. Edwards is likely to command a max contract that would pay at least $35 million that season, while McDaniels could be making about $25 million per season. Mike Conley's $24 million salary will be coming off the books, as will Kyle Anderson's $9 million. But Towns' supermax will kick in, and his salary will jump from around $36 million next season to around $50 million in 2024-25.
Add it all up, and between Towns, Edwards, Gobert and McDaniels the Wolves could have around $150 million committed that season to just four players.
It's hard to project where the luxury tax will land, but it figures to be not much higher than whatever the Wolves would pay those four players.
The team likely will face a decision to either go into the luxury tax in the first full season of Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez's controlling ownership of the team (owners are forced to pay into a league pot if they are over the luxury tax), or shed someone's contract and turn it into depth pieces to stay under the tax.
The NBA requires teams over the salary cap, like the Wolves, to match salaries of up to 125% of the value of a contract in a trade. Because of that, it would be more financially prudent for the Wolves to trade Towns now or at next season's trade deadline, before his salary jumps to $50 million.
The Wolves could deal Towns and receive players making up to Towns' current $36 million salary now or next season and pocket the savings. If some of the players they receive back are on expiring contracts, they could pocket even more money and create more room to fit the Edwards and McDaniels extensions under the luxury tax.
They could also go into the luxury tax, if ownership is willing to pay it to keep a competitive team together. The Wolves would likely have to show they're able to contend for a title next season for this to happen. Asked by the Star Tribune before last season about the prospect of going into the luxury tax, both Lore and Rodriguez said they would have to look at the team's situation at the time that issue arises.
Another option for the Wolves is to cut their losses with Gobert and trade him, likely for a fraction of what they sent to get him from Utah. Gobert, 30, has a player option for 2025-26. But if the Wolves want to make a deal that could save money and get a decent return, Towns likely would command more than Gobert.
Timeline, fit concerns
For a long time, the Wolves have tried to gear their timeline of contention around Towns, who is 27 and in the peak age range. The trade for Gobert was a sign the Wolves were trying to maximize Towns' window of contention. But in sacrificing significant draft assets through 2029 to bring in Gobert, the Wolves cost themselves resources to maximize their next timeline, which is around Edwards, 21, and McDaniels, 22. At some point, the Wolves must decide if they are getting enough on the investment in Gobert to justify moving forward with this roster.
If they decide they aren't, then the Wolves likely must pivot to decisions that best benefit the core of Edwards and McDaniels. This is not to say they should tank. Playoff experience, even just two rounds of it, has shown what Edwards is capable of and made the case that he needs to be the franchise's cornerstone.
That leads to another bullet point in the case for trading Towns: Is there room for growth?
Will Towns become more reliable in postseason play? He has had three postseasons of experience, and he wasn't consistent in the Denver series, just as he wasn't consistent last season against Memphis. He hasn't learned how to stay out of foul trouble, and he often lets emotions get the better of him.
Towns has been a model representative of the franchise through several down years. He has professed his devotion to building a winner here, and despite several rumors that he has wanted out, he has remained steadfast in his commitment to Minnesota.
"I'm gonna do whatever I can do whatever I can do to help this team and this organization win since I got drafted," Towns said last week. "And I meant that."
But perhaps Towns is miscast here as the 1A or 1B option alongside Edwards. Perhaps Towns is better suited as a team's clear No. 2, or even a No. 3 on a contending team. This reduction in role and expectations did wonders for Andrew Wiggins in Golden State. He became a vital part of the Warriors' championship last season with his steady scoring and tenacious defense. A fresh start might enable Towns to stop feeling the burden of expectations he has carried since he entered the league in 2015. It also might allow the Wolves to focus on the core of Edwards and McDaniels moving forward.
If the Wolves manage to re-sign unrestricted free agent Naz Reid, they would have an offensively skilled center who could likely slide into a starting role in the event of a Towns trade. Reid would command significantly less money, in the low to mid-$10 millions, and is a great system fit with the pace and movement-oriented offense coach Chris Finch likes to run. At 23, he is also a timeline fit for Edwards and McDaniels.
Reid is not the player Towns is, especially when it comes to three-point shooting (Towns is 39.5% for his career; Reid is 34.4%), but for the cost, Reid could slide into Towns' minutes while keeping the Wolves competitive.
Or don't trade him
The Wolves have one more year to properly evaluate how Edwards, Gobert, Towns and McDaniels fit together while staying under the luxury tax. Then they can make more pointed decisions regarding the team's future next offseason, or perhaps by next season's trade deadline in February if things aren't clicking.
The comments by Connelly and Finch indicate this is the direction the Wolves likely are headed. The Wolves seem committed to seeing this trade through and giving their core enough time to develop cohesion, something this franchise has not always allowed during Towns' tenure. The hope is with a healthy season and more time on the court together, Towns, Gobert and Edwards figure out a better way to coexist and improve the offense, which ranked 23rd, while maintaining a top-10 defense.
"Now we get the whole summer now to really lock in and jell and continue to build that unity and have it show next year on the floor," Towns said.
Trading Towns could be a misguided mistake, especially if money is the main driver. The Wolves would have made the large investment in Gobert without seeing whether they could truly maximize the Towns-Gobert pairing.
But lurking in the background is the financial reckoning the Wolves will face next offseason, and if that's weighing on the minds of ownership and front office, one potential way out is to deal Towns before the bills start piling up.