As the Timberwolves sit at 7-29 at the All-Star break — no other team in the NBA has fewer than 10 wins — they are surely pondering internal improvements.
Head coach Chris Finch, hired just two weeks ago from Toronto's staff to replace Ryan Saunders, has overseen five losses — four of them blowouts — and vowed to install more of his influence over style, rotation and other facets of the Wolves roster when play resumes Thursday.
But it's also clear that the Wolves are discussing more external changes as well. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported last week that Minnesota is exploring the power forward market, with two names at the forefront: Orlando's Aaron Gordon and Atlanta's John Collins.
Per his report: Both players have significant asking prices in the marketplace. The Timberwolves had substantive conversations with the Magic on Gordon prior to his severe ankle sprain last month, sources said, and those talks are expected to resume as he nears his return to the floor.
I talked about the big-picture ramifications of such a move during Tuesday's Daily Delivery podcast.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
The Wolves need an upgrade at that spot, as they have been woefully undersized at that spot — contributing to a deficiency in both defensive rebounding (second-worst rate in the league) and layups allowed (second-most in the league).
Beggars can't be choosers, as they say, but I'm going to do it anyway. While both players would be an upgrade — coming at a cost, of course, as noted — Collins seems like the better target and better overall fit.
Collins turned down a $90 million extension last offseason and is said to be seeking a max deal. The market might tell him otherwise, but as a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason the Wolves would control their destiny in keeping him — a factor they liked when acquiring Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez at last year's trade deadline before resigning both in the offseason.
Collins will turn 24 right before next season starts, so he more or less matches the timeline of the other two players the Wolves have committed to building around — Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. He's a capable three-point shooter (38.8% this season, 37.4% for his career), plus he's a good finisher and free throw shooter — the kind of player who oozes offensive efficiency.
Collins also ranks in the top 10 among forwards/centers in defensive real plus-minus this season. He blocked 66 shots in just 41 games a season ago, when he also averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. Those numbers have dipped to 18 points, 7.6 rebounds and a block per game this season for the Hawks, who have disappointed at 16-20 overall.
Again, I'm not sure he's a max player. But a 23-year-old who can do all those things has value. If his long-term future is in doubt in Atlanta, he could be a very valuable piece in Minnesota.
Gordon is a solid but less spectacular option and therefore might be more "gettable" in a trade.
Indeed, in trading text messages with ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks he said he thinks the Wolves would struggle to come up with enough assets to make a run at Collins.
But I went ahead and tried anyway — with three possibilities where, thanks to the ESPN "Trade Machine" that Wolves executive Sachin Gupta helped invent, at least the salaries match up.
Let's take a look at each of them:
Trade 1: Atlanta goes all in on the future while the Wolves trade No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards as a centerpiece of a deal to get Collins. Edwards, an Atlanta native, gets a chance to go become a star in his hometown. The Wolves get more of a sure thing with a high ceiling in Collins, though they gamble on Edwards breaking out in 2-3 years. Atlanta also gets a capable veteran in Jake Layman and a value-added big man to help replace Collins in Naz Reid. The Wolves have to take back Tony Snell to make the salaries match (a theme in all these deals since Collins is still on the final season of a lower-cost rookie deal).
I'm not sure this is enough to satisfy Atlanta, which should give you an idea of where the starting point is.
Trade 2: The Wolves send Malik Beasley, promising rookie Jaden McDaniels and a 2024 first-round pick to the Hawks in exchange for Collins and Snell. Atlanta gets another scoring option in Beasley — who just became eligible to be traded last week and will come off of his suspension after seven more games — who could flourish in an offense next to Trae Young. And they get two more enticing assets in McDaniels and a future No. 1 pick — the first year in which the Wolves can trade a No. 1 pick since the pick owed to Golden State could convey as late as 2022 and you can't trade future first round picks in consecutive years.
This might get a little closer to what the Hawks want, but I still think another team could beat that. The problem in not being able to offer a future pick in the next three drafts is one that could hinder the Wolves.
Trade 3: The Wolves surrender Beasley, one of their best three-point threats and a player under team control on a reasonable contract. They give up Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft after just 36 games. And they relinquish an intriguing prospect in Reid. They get back Collins and Snell, plus Cam Reddish to even out the money and the deal.
Would that be too much of a "shortcut" for Wolves President Gersson Rosas to stomach — trading Edwards so soon for a more established player, much like the much-discussed Jimmy Butler trade of a few years ago? Perhaps, though Collins is still hopefully an ascending player and less of an established star. Before the draft, would you have considered a trade of the No. 1 overall pick for a player coming off a 21/10 season to be a good one?
Does that improve the Wolves in a meaningful way both short-term and long-term? Would the Hawks do it? The answer is a firm "maybe" in each case, which means it seems at least possible.
With a March 25 trade deadline looming just a couple weeks from now, it might be the only thing — outside of exhibiting more patience — the Wolves can do to improve their future in a meaningful way.