Karl-Anthony Towns

Western Notes: Russell, Suns, Beverley, Kings, Rivers, Blazers

The Timberwolves, led by D’Angelo Russell‘s close friend Karl-Anthony Towns, were confident about their ability to get a commitment from Russell in free agency and went into their Sunday meeting with him ready to make the trades necessary to make a deal work, sources tell Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Minnesota was just waiting for the green light from D-Lo to move forward on those trades, but the All-Star point guard instead opted to join the Warriors.

The Suns were viewed as a team that might try to get into the mix for Russell, who has another good friend – Devin Booker – in Phoenix. However, despite Booker’s campaign, Phoenix chose not to pursue the RFA guard, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. According to Rankin, the Suns “apparently felt Russell wouldn’t have been a good influence on Booker off the court.”

The Warriors, with their veteran leaders, apparently had no such qualms about D-Lo, who – by all accounts – matured considerably during his time in Brooklyn.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • After agreeing to sign a three-year, $40MM deal with the Clippers, Patrick Beverley tells Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times that he turned down a more lucrative offer from the Kings to return to L.A. “I got a bigger offer from Sacramento and I took $9-10 million less to come here,” Beverley said. “… It was the right decision. Of course, the human part of you wants to take as much money as you see, but all money isn’t good money. I did what was best for me and my family and I did what was best to stay on a winning team, and I feel like I made the right decision.”
  • Despite Beverley’s comments, Sam Amick of USA Today (Twitter link) hears that the Kings offered the veteran guard a guaranteed total of $35MM over three years, with a partial guarantee in year three. Theoretically, it’s possible that Beverley’s claim could still be accurate if that third-year partial guarantee was very small and he’s including the non-guaranteed money as part of Sacramento’s bid.
  • Before he agreed to return to the Rockets for the veteran’s minimum, Austin Rivers had offers in the range of the $5.7MM taxpayer mid-level exception, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com. “Now that the league is wide open, I just saw an opportunity,” Rivers said. “You can’t really put a price on happiness. The goal was to come back to Houston all along. I think we have the team to beat.”
  • The Trail Blazers have announced Terry Stotts‘ coaching staff for the upcoming season, with Nate Tibbetts replacing David Vanterpool as the team’s associate head coach. Portland has also promoted Jim Moran to the front of the bench and hired former NBA guard Jannero Pargo as an assistant.

Warriors Agree To Acquire D’Angelo Russell Via Sign-And-Trade

JULY 1: The Warriors will send a future protected first-round pick to the Nets as part of the deal to help incentivize them to acquire Durant via sign-and-trade, tweets Wojnarowski.

JUNE 30: The Warriors are trading for D’Angelo Russell, Treveon Graham, and Shabazz Napier from the Nets, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (Twitter link). The move would be made via sign-and-trade in exchange for Kevin Durant.

Russell will receive a four-year, $117MM maximum salary contract, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link).

It was reported earlier today that the Warriors may have an interest in turning Durant’s departure into a sign-and-trade with the Nets. If they hadn’t taken back any salary in the deal, the Dubs could have created a $30MM trade exception. Instead, they’ll land one of the top restricted free agents on the market.

Brooklyn replaced Russell with Kyrie Irving at the point guard position and the franchise was said to be open to helping Russell find a new home of his choosing, even if it meant committing to a sign-and-trade. The Nets wouldn’t look to take salary back in most scenarios, but since they are getting Durant from Golden State, sending Russell there wouldn’t hinder their ability to sign their new stars.

Russell was said to be eyeing a possible move to Minnesota to team up with his close friend Karl-Anthony Towns. Perhaps that was before a deal in Golden State seemed like a feasible option.

The Warriors must stay below the tax apron, which is set at approximately $138.9MM, to remain eligible to accept a sign-and-trade. Doing so with Russell and Klay Thompson receiving maximum-salary deals will be extremely difficult, so another move or two is likely coming for Golden State. As Wojnarowski tweets, Andre Iguodala may have to be moved. Shaun Livingston also appears unlikely to be back.

[UPDATE: Warriors trading Iguodala to Grizzlies]

With Thompson expected to miss most or all of the 2019/20 season with a torn ACL, Russell figures to share the backcourt with Stephen Curry next season in a revamped Warriors lineup. It will be fascinating to see if the club plans to move forward and build around all three guards long-term once Thompson is healthy.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

D’Angelo Russell Has T-Wolves Atop Wish List

Marc Stein of The New York Times is reporting that Nets’ restricted free agent point guard D’Angelo Russell has the Timberwolves at the top of his free-agent wish list. Stein adds that while the Lakers still have undeniable interest in Russell, Minnesota is increasingly confident they can make the necessary salary-cap moves to land the 23-year-old All-Star.

The T-Wolves are expected to meet with Russell in Los Angeles this evening at the beginning of free agency. The meeting will reportedly feature new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, head coach Ryan Saunders, and Russell’s good friend, Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Wolves currently project to be an over-the-cap team, but the Nets have already indicated that they’d be willing to entertain a sign-and-trade arrangement that would enable Russell to reach a destination of his choosing. The most likely salary-matching pieces, however, are Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, both of whom the Nets have no interest in whatsoever. As such, Minnesota would likely need to throw in some other assets to make the deal worthwhile to Brooklyn.

Minnesota could also attempt to trade some combination of Wiggins, Teague, Gorgui Dieng, and Robert Covington to open up cap space, but it’s unclear at this point what teams, if any, are interested in acquiring one or more of those players.

Timberwolves To Make Sweeping Staff Changes

The Timberwolves will be making extensive changes to their coaching staff, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic reports.

Every assistant with an expiring contract — Ed Pinckney, Jerry Sichting, Larry Greer, John Lucas III and Dice Yoshimoto — will not return on Ryan Saunders’ staff as the organization distances itself from the Tom Thibodeau era. Saunders had the interim tag removed on Monday. The only assistant with a year left on his contract, Malik Allen, will be retained.

New president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas wants to split up duties more like a football staff. “We’re going to get the best offensive coordinator. We’re going to get the best defensive coordinator. We’re going to get the best player development coordinator,” Rosas said. “They’re going to execute our vision together. And Ryan will manage that program as a whole.”

We have more on the Timberwolves:

  • Adding players with a defensive mentality is a priority, Krawczynski adds in the same story. The team wants to utilize a more switch-heavy scheme to defend 3-point shooters. “I’ve got to help (Saunders),” Rosas said. “We’ve got to surround our team, our best players with personnel that will be complementary to them and we need more defenders.”
  • The team’s most notable players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, attended Saunders’ press conference and gave him ringing endorsements. “I think this is a very positive change,” Wiggins told Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and other media members. “You can see the fresh air, you can see the faces and the positive energy in the air. Everyone is happy for Ryan — you don’t see negative faces, everyone is happy and we’re supportive.”
  • The decision to retain Saunders was a bow to Towns and his importance to the franchise’s long-term future, Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune writes. Towns respects and trusts Saunders and feels rejuvenated about the franchise’s direction, Scoggins notes. That’s crucial, because the Timberwolves can’t afford to alienate their best player to the point where an ugly divorce becomes inevitable, Scoggins adds.

Wolves Have No Plans To Shut Down Towns, Wiggins

Even after winning their last two contests, the Timberwolves remain 5.5 games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with just 15 left to play, meaning their hopes of making a postseason push are minuscule. Nonetheless, the club has no plans to shut down its two highest-paid young players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, both of whom are dealing with injuries.

“We’re a competitive basketball team,” head coach Ryan Saunders said today, reiterating that the Wolves don’t intend to tank down the stretch, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Towns, who missed Sunday’s game against the Knicks, is battling right knee inflammation, while Wiggins has been sidelined for Minnesota’s last two games with a left quad contusion. Saunders said today that both players will go through shootaround and warmups before the team determines their availability for Tuesday’s game vs. Denver (Twitter link via Krawczynski).

As we noted on Monday when we discussed Zach LaVine‘s injury, this is typically the time of year when lottery-bound teams take an extra-cautious approach with minor injuries, both to preserve the health of their most valuable players and to potentially improve their draft standing. However, Towns in particular has plenty of incentive to remain in the Wolves’ lineup for the season’s final four weeks.

Towns’ new five-year, maximum-salary extension, which goes into effect for the 2019/20 season, currently projects to be worth about $158MM. However, its projected value would increase to nearly $190MM if KAT earns a spot on an All-NBA team. The big man would have virtually no chance of earning All-NBA honors if he sits out the season’s final month.

We pointed out in February that the Anthony Davis saga in New Orleans could create a clearer path for Towns to snag a spot on an All-NBA team, and his recent numbers suggest he’s motivated to do so — he has posted an impressive 35.1 PPG, 14.1 RPG, and 3.4 APG on .597/.489/.776 shooting in his last seven games (34.1 MPG).

Wolves Optimistic Karl-Anthony Towns Avoided Serious Injury

The Timberwolves are optimistic that star center Karl-Anthony Towns avoided a serious knee injury in the team’s game against Washington on Saturday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

Towns underwent additional testing that included an MRI on Sunday, with all indications pointing toward him escaping significant injury, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic adds.

Towns exited Saturday’s game early with clear pain in his right knee, limping to the locker room and missing the overtime period. Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said the big man was able to walk around after the game after undergoing initial evaluations.

“He’s just had initial evaluations, but he was walking around so there’s really no info at the moment,” Saunders said postgame, according to NBA.com.

While the MRI results have yet to be released, Minnesota is listing Towns as questionable to play on Sunday against the Knicks — a sigh of relief for Timberwolves fans and the entire organization.

Towns has averaged 24.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on 52 percent shooting with Minnesota in his fourth NBA season.

Karl-Anthony Towns Hurts Knee, Will Have MRI Today

Karl-Anthony Towns will undergo an MRI today to determine the severity of a right knee injury he suffered last night, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

The Timberwolves‘ star center left Saturday’s win over the Wizards in the fourth quarter, appearing to tell trainers, “It just popped.” There was no contact on the play, which happened as Towns took an awkward step on an inbounds pass.

Interim coach Ryan Saunders said he doesn’t believe it’s a major injury such as an ACL tear, and sources told Krawczynski that Towns assured a couple of Washington players that he was all right. He was able to walk around the locker room after the game.

A serious injury to Towns would doom any flickering playoff hopes the Wolves still have and might wipe out next season as well. It would also continue a terrible run of luck for the franchise, as Krawczynski points out. Ricky Rubio, Al Jefferson and Zach LaVine all suffered similar non-contact injuries at critical times, and LaVine’s may have affected Minnesota’s decision to send him to Chicago rather than Andrew Wiggins.

Towns posted his second straight All-Star appearance this season and accepted a five-year extension that could pay him up to $190MM. He has been playing at a higher level since Jimmy Butler was traded in November and reached 40 points last night for the third time in five games.

The Wolves were already finishing out the season short-handed before Towns limped off. Robert Covington may not be able to return from a bone bruise, Luol Deng is sidelined with an aching Achilles tendon and Wiggins is sitting out with a quad contusion.

How The AD Saga Could Impact Wolves, Towns

The trajectory of Karl-Anthony Towns‘ 2018/19 season significantly changed when the Timberwolves finally found a taker for Jimmy Butler, sending him to Philadelphia in November. Prior to that trade, Towns had been just okay by his standards, averaging 19.9 PPG and 10.8 RPG on 45.9% shooting in 13 contests. Since Butler’s departure, the former No. 1 overall pick has boosted those averages to 24.6 PPG, 12.7 RPG, and a 53.3 FG% in 46 games.

While Butler’s departure helped boost Towns’ numbers, it may be another player’s trade request that ultimately has a greater impact on the 23-year-old and his team, as Dane Moore of 1500 ESPN observed this week (via Twitter).

When Towns signed a five-year, maximum-salary contract extension with Minnesota last fall, a decision Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic recently revisited and explored in more detail, the two sides agreed to a condition that will determine how much the deal is actually worth. If Towns earns a spot on an All-NBA team this spring, his new contract will have a starting salary worth 30% of the cap. If he doesn’t, his 2019/20 salary will be just 25% of the cap.

As our early maximum salary projections for 2019/20 show, that difference projects to represent a gap of more than $5MM next season. Over the course of the five-year contract, Towns would earn a projected $189.66MM on a 30% max, as opposed to $158.05MM on a 25% max. For a Minnesota team that’s also on the hook to a long-term max contract for Andrew Wiggins, that difference isn’t insignificant — it could help determine whether or not the Wolves can make certain moves in the coming years.

So what are the odds of Towns making an All-NBA team this season? Well, he’ll be considered a center, and there are two centers who look like locks to be named to All-NBA squads — Nikola Jokic has been an MVP candidate in Denver, and Joel Embiid has been the best player on a Sixers club that looks like a legit contender in the East. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Towns beats out either player for a spot on the First or Second All-NBA Team.

Of course, there’s one more big man who would typically be a perennial lock for an All-NBA slot: Anthony Davis. That brings us back to AD’s trade request. Davis believes he should be considered the “best player in the league,” as he said on Wednesday night (link via Martin Rogers of USA Today), but the extent to which his public trade request has devastated the Pelicans won’t be lost on voters.

Based on his pure numbers (27.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 2.5 BPG), Davis obviously has a strong All-NBA case, but he’ll likely be blamed for the dysfunction in New Orleans and penalized accordingly for it. His minute restrictions down the stretch will reduce his overall numbers, and he’s unlikely to play more than 65 games. Plus, the Pelicans are on track to be a bottom-four team in the West. And on top of all that, some All-NBA voters may consider Davis a forward, which would split his votes between two positions. There are a lot of factors working against him earning one of the three center spots.

It’s still possible that voters will name Davis to an All-NBA team, but I’m somewhat skeptical. And if AD doesn’t make it, that opens the door for another center to grab a Third Team spot. Towns would be a prime candidate for that slot, though he’d face stiff competition from Rudy Gobert and Nikola Vucevic, both of whom are having excellent seasons.

Gobert’s impact on the defensive end of the court could give him a leg up on Towns, but only if All-NBA voters weigh his defensive contributions much more heavily than All-Star voters did — Gobert didn’t earn a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team this month.

As for Vucevic, he isn’t scoring quite as much as Towns this season, but his numbers across the rest of the board match up pretty favorably with the Wolves’ young star. If Vucevic helps push the Magic into the postseason, perhaps he’d get the edge over Towns. If not, I could see voters being swayed by KAT’s more impressive scoring numbers.

It remains to be seen whether Towns will ultimately be named an All-NBA player, but it’s a subplot worth watching the rest of the way, since voters will be making a $30MM+ decision. If KAT does earn a spot on an All-NBA roster, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Davis’ trade request indirectly helped get him there.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Towns Says He’s “Lucky To Be Alive” After Car Accident

Karl-Anthony Towns, who was involved in a car accident last Thursday that sidelined him for the Timberwolves‘ last two games, has passed all the necessary tests and been removed from the concussion protocol, the team announced today (via Twitter). As a result, he’s expected to play in Minnesota’s game against Sacramento on Monday night.

Speaking today to reporters, Towns said the accident could have been a lot worse than it was, suggesting that he was “lucky to be alive” (link via ESPN.com). In KAT’s estimation, he beat long odds to survive the crash.

“The accident could have went — I’d say I had a five percent chance of making it out alive,” Towns said. “I hit the five percent mark. I’d say four percent was to be seriously injured, and one percent was to be minorly injured — and I came out in the one percent.”

As Towns explained, the car he was traveling in had to suddenly come to a full stop to avoid a separate accident in front of them. His car was then hit by a semi-truck, which Towns estimated was traveling at about 35-45 miles per hour.

“It could have been much worse,” Towns said. “In all honesty, I probably should not have made it out like I did.”

At 28-31, the Timberwolves are probably a long shot to make the postseason this year, but the team has to be relieved that its franchise player didn’t suffer a more serious injury as a result of Thursday’s accident. The two-time All-Star signed a maximum-salary contract extension last fall that will go into effect this July and keep him under contract for five more years.

Northwest Notes: Exum, Wolves’ Search, Middleton, Towns

Jazz reserve guard Dante Exum will miss at least two more weeks due to a bone bruise on his left ankle, Tony Jones of The Athletic tweets. Exum hasn’t played since January 5. He was averaging 7.4 PPG and 2.7 APG with the second unit in 39 games. Exum signed a three-year contract with an annual base salary of $9.6MM over the summer.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves have yet to contact any potential executives or coaches as possible replacements for GM Scott Layden and interim head coach Ryan Saunders, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Saunders, son of former Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, was elevated when owner Glen Taylor fired Tom Thibodeau. Taylor is expected to use the rest of the regular season to evaluate Layden and Saunders, Krawczynski adds.
  • The Thunder showed a lot of interest in Bucks swingman Khris Middleton prior to the 2012 draft, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Middleton tore the meniscus in his right knee in early November of his final college season with Texas A&M and it affected his play, causing his draft stock to tumble. He was selected in the second round by Detroit with the 39 overall pick.
  • The Trail Blazers are in a better spot than they were last season entering the stretch run, an Associated Press story notes. They were sixth in the West a year ago at the All-Star break but held the fourth spot this season. Moreover, the Blazers picked up some reinforcements this winter by signing center Enes Kanter and trading for guard Rodney Hood.
  • It wouldn’t be surprising if Nuggets forward Trey Lyles signs his $3.7MM qualifying offer, Mike Singer of the Denver Post opines. Lyles’ production has fallen off recently and he may not even stay in the playoff rotation, Singer continues. The Nuggets are thin at the power forward spot, which would increase the odds of them extending the qualifying offer and making Lyles a restricted free agent. However, he’s a poor 3-point shooter and will probably have a tough time attracting an offer sheet, Singer adds.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns has entered the league’s concussion protocol after being involved in a car accident on Thursday, Michael Scotto of The Athletic tweets. The Timberwolves’ star big man will not play against the Knicks on Friday. That will end his streak of 303 straight starts.