One of the biggest rumors currently swirling around the New York Knicks is their potential pursuit of a trade to land Minnesota Timberwolves star big man Karl-Anthony Towns. That rumor was only strengthened when the New Jersey native, and supposedly avid New York Yankees fan, threw out the first pitch on Tuesday night when the Yankees took on the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.
With the Knicks having a plethora of first-round draft picks and some promising young talent, they continue to be at the center of almost every rumor surrounding potential NBA stars on the move, but is trading for Towns a realistic possibility?
According to Sean Deveney of Heavy Sports, one Eastern Conference executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity believes so.
“The interest in making that happen would be mutual, for sure,” the source said. “KAT and the Knicks are intertwined. To some people, it is more a matter of when they go after him, not if.”
The intertwined nature that the source is referencing is most likely the fact that Towns played for Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota and his former agent with Creative Arts Agency is Leon Rose, who is now the president of the Knicks.
Thibodeau was hired by Minnesota in the middle of Towns’ rookie year and lasted a little over two years in Minnesota before he was fired in what was a pretty ugly split. His demise in Minnesota was exacerbated by Jimmy Butler forcing his way out via trade just 27 games before Thibodeau was let go.
However, there is no known beef between Thibodeau and Towns, and the young star enjoyed two strong years under his old coach. In fact, Thibodeau perhaps relied on Towns too much, playing the big man a career-high 37 minutes in the 82 games during the 2016-17 season and then 35.6 minutes in the 82 games the following year.
It may have partially been that workload that led to Towns only playing 35 games in 2019-2020 (although COVID played a part in that as well), and just 50 games in 2020-2021. Then, this season, Towns played only 29 games, mostly because of a severe calf injury, and averaged just 20.8 points, which was his fewest since his rookie season.
With the Timberwolves now having Rudy Gobert in the fold and needing to potentially make a move in the hopes of making that trade pay off, there is a possibility that Towns could be on the move.
“There would be some smoke,” the Eastern Conference executive said. “I don’t know if that will become fire. But it would be out there.”
The next question is: should there be fire? Is Towns actually a good fit for the Knicks?
One of the most obvious ways he’d help the Knicks is with his three-point shooting. Towns is a career 39.5% three-point shooter and would give New York a stretch five to help to space the floor, which is absolutely a priority this offseason.
He’s also only 27 years old, so he falls within the age range of a team led by Jalen Brunson and when their window to compete will be open.
However, that might be where the benefits to the Knicks end.
For starters, Towns is signed to a four-year, $225 million supermax extension that is set to kick in next season and would cripple the Knicks’ financial flexibility. He’ll make $36 million next season but will make $50 million, $54 million, and $58 million in subsequent seasons and then have his $62 million player option for the final year. There is no way the Knicks can accommodate that without making wholesale changes to their roster.
One of which would obviously be replacing Mitchell Robinson, which will cost the Knicks a lot when it comes to interior defense and rebounding.
Robinson ranked as the 14th-best defensive center in the NBA based on FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric. Towns was 30th. Robinson also finished with a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 5.5, which was 13th best among centers, while Towns had a 1.5 WAR that ranked him 39th.
Mitchell Robinson is also an elite rebounder. He had a 17.2% rebounding rate this season, which was 20th among starting centers in the NBA but also posted a 16.6% offensive rebounding rate, which ranked him 6th. Robinson also averaged 9.4 rebounds a game (4.5 offensive rebounds), while Towns averaged just 8.1 rebounds per game (1.7 offensive rebounds). Even in his fully healthy year without Rudy Gobert last year, Towns pulled down just 2.6 offensive rebounds per game.
Yet another factor working against the deal is what the Knicks would have to give up.
Since the Timberwolves gave up so many picks to acquire Gobert, they would likely have some interest in adding back draft picks; yet, they also dealt for Gobert with the intention to compete and are not going to enter a rebuild, so they will want starting-caliber pieces back as well.
The Eastern Conference executive speculated on what a possible deal could look like.
“You can send (Obi) Toppin, you can send (Quentin) Grimes, (Miles) McBride. The [Knicks] do not want to trade (Immanuel) Quickley but if the target is Towns, maybe they would change that. You’d play Towns at the 5 if you were New York, so they’d probably have Mitchell Robinson in the deal, and he could go to a third team.”
Picks and Obi Toppin are always going to be likely trade assets discussed for the Knicks. Trading one or both of their two best perimeter defenders in Grimes and McBride, while also losing Robinson, would make this defense unquestionably worse, and the simple idea of trading Quickley after his breakout season would be tough for Knicks fans to stomach.
At the end of the day, this seems like a situation where New York fans would hope to throw water on that smoke to make sure it never becomes a fire.