These two things are currently true in the NBA: The Portland Trail Blazers will soon (ish) undergo a dramatic roster shakeup, and Anthony Edwards is becoming a superstar.
The 22-year-old Minnesota Timberwolves guard has become the alpha for the United States men’s basketball team after a five-game exhibition showcase for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Edwards led all scorers with 34 points, shooting 11-for-21 from the floor and 3 of 7 from three as the USA overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Germany in their final tune-up. Over all five contests, the former No. 1 overall pick averaged 18.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.0 steals and a block per game while shooting 50 percent from the field.
“He’s unquestionably the guy ,” USA Head Coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s clear he’s taking a leap.”
As time rolls on in Portland and a Damian Lillard trade has yet to come to fruition, Edwards’ transition from a potential franchise player to an unquestioned superstar is perhaps making things interesting, for both Portland and Minnesota, and raises the following question:
What do the Timberwolves do with their current franchise star, Karl-Anthony Towns?
The Trail Blazers now have the chance to trade for Karl-Anthony Towns
The idea of Towns coming to Portland has been floating around in the NBA ether for months, even before Lillard’s trade request. KAT’s skill set as a scoring stretch big who can provide some rim protection is at a premium in the league and would certainly fit snugly with the Blazers.
And there has already a problem brewing in Minnesota, even prior to Edwards’ breakout. The T-Wolves gave up a massive amount of assets to acquire Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz before last season, but the twin-tower thing with him and Towns didn’t go so well.
Minny then re-signed Naz Reid – another center – to a three-year, $42 million deal this offseason. Between Towns, Gobert and Reid, the Wolves have about $90 million tied up in centers next year. To make things even more financially complicated in Minnesota, Edwards’ five-year, $206 million max extension will kick in after next season.
The Timberwolves won’t trade their star guard, and Gobert has little interest, if any, across the NBA. The only tradeable piece Minnesota has if it wants to make a change is Towns.
If the Blazers choose to make a run at the 27-year-old three-time All-Star, they should do so with two different visions in mind: acquire him in a deal that sees Lillard leave Portland, or keep Dame and trade for KAT with the hopes it makes Lillard decide to stay.
Scenario No. 1: Blazers acquire Towns as part of a Lillard trade
It’s highly unlikely the Timberwolves have any desire to trade a high-usage player in Towns for another in Lillard, who would keep the ball out of Edwards’ hands. This scenario would need to be a multi-team trade in which Portland acquires Towns and Dame ends up somewhere other than Minnesota.
From the Trail Blazers’ perspective, KAT would be a perfect fit alongside Scoot Henderson, who will take the reigns as the franchise star and starting point guard once Lillard inevitably leaves.
Scoot is at his best using his strength, explosiveness and high basketball IQ in pick-and-roll situations, and Towns is a high-percentage shooter from three who could set a screen and pop, giving Henderson more room to probe and penetrate or an outlet as an open shooter if the defense collapses.
KAT can also operate in the post as a go-to option for the Blazers, should head coach Chauncey Billups decide to use him that way.
While Towns isn’t a major rim deterrent, he’s averaged more than a block a game during his eight seasons in the league. But this trade would be made to help Henderson develop and, along with Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe, has the makings of a high-level NBA offense.
Scenario No. 2: Blazers acquire Towns and keep Lillard
Portland General Manager Joe Cronin has rebuffed any offer the Miami Heat has made for Lillard, and if Dame isn’t traded before the season starts, he’ll open 2023-24 still wearing a PDX jersey. Maybe acquiring a player like Towns could quell some of Lillard’s concerns about the direction of the franchise and it’s desire to aim for a title.
KAT wouldn’t come cheap, and Minnesota would surely love to recoup some of the assets it used to trade for Gobert. At the same time, the Wolves are about to have a salary-cap crisis on their hands, and Edwards is proving that he’s ready to become a go-to superstar.
The franchise will likely have to trade Towns at some point which, as Blazers fans are finding out right now, causes you to lose a little leverage in negotiations.
Portland surely wouldn’t include Scoot in a potential deal. Sharpe may be off the table as well. That leaves pieces such as Simons, the recently re-signed Jerami Grant, Kris Murray and potential future draft picks as assets the Blazers have to offer. Portland can take a page out of the Heat playbook and start negotiations with a low-ball offer and work up from there.
Only Lillard knows whether or not landing Towns is enough to change his mind about leaving. But Dame has been clamoring for the Blazers to make a win-now move and acquire a veteran to at least give him a shot at winning in Portland. KAT would be that.
As Edwards continues to blossom, Towns becomes more available, opening the door for the Trail Blazers’ front office to make a move, whether it’s to appease Lillard or add to a Scoot-led future.