Minnesota Timberwolves: Wolves must rebuild to keep Towns in Minnesota

DENVER, CO - MARCH 12: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MARCH 12: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images) /

After one of the most up-and-down seasons in franchise history, the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves rests on how long Karl-Anthony Towns is willing to stay.

Karl-Anthony Towns is on an absolute tear down the stretch this season.

His team, however, is not.

Since the All-Star break, Towns is averaging 31.4 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game, all while shooting 50 percent from three. During that same span, however, the Minnesota Timberwolves have gone 6-10 and have been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

It’s the third time in his short four-year career that Towns has missed the playoffs. His first and only playoff appearance came last year when Jimmy Butler returned from injury to propel the Wolves to the eighth seed and a quick exit in five games at the hands of the Houston Rockets.

In his first four years after being the number-one pick by the Timberwolves in the 2015 NBA Draft, Towns has won 29, 31, 47, and now just 33 games (with eight left to play), respectively.

That’s not the kind of franchise progression, outside of the Butler season, that you’d want to see from a team with an All-NBA talent like Towns.

Towns’ early career individual dominance paired with franchise frustration is eerily similar to another number-one overall draft pick from Kentucky.

Anthony Davis was the top pick out of Kentucky four years before Towns. The two big men each made their playoff debuts in their third season, with Davis only returning one more time.

Timberwolves fans would be thrilled if the individual comparisons between Towns and Davis keep going beyond this season; Davis is a perennial MVP candidate and one of the five best players in the league. But if Davis’ career arch is any indicator of what Towns could become, his franchise turmoil could indicate trouble in paradise between Towns and the Timberwolves if things don’t improve.

Davis infamously asked the New Orleans Pelicans to be traded earlier this season. While he is under contract until 2020, the six-time All-Star was seemingly fed up with the only franchise he’s ever know.

The trade request came after the Pelicans repeatedly failed to put enough talent around Davis to contend for a title. They trade for DeMarcus Cousins in 2016, but he only ended up playing 65 games in New Orleans over parts of two seasons before being sidelined with an Achilles’ injury midway through last season.

Towns has never publicly voiced frustrations with the organization, but there were reports this past offseason that he was not exactly seeing eye to eye with Timberwolves management.

He also waited deep into last offseason to sign his five-year, $190 million super-max extension with Minnesota, raising some eyebrows as to the cause of the delay.

The Timberwolves are now at a crossroads, and any decision they make going forward should begin with how to keep Karl-Anthony Towns happy enough to stay in Minnesota for as long as possible.

So far, management has actually seemingly tried very hard to bring in talent to bolster the roster alongside Towns.

Then-head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau traded for Jimmy Butler during the 2017 NBA Draft. It was a move that many thought would vault the Wolves into the upper half of the Western Conference. Then, Thibodeau added Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, two solid starters to their arsenal to try to be a contender.

While these moves didn’t ultimately help the Wolves accomplish what they had set out to do, it shows that the team is willing to do what it can to compete, which could entice Towns to stay if he knows they’re at least trying.

It is tough to try to predict what the Wolves will do in the years to come, especially since they possibly, and maybe even likely, will have a new head coach and or GM by the start of next season.

It is clear that they must do something drastic to turn the tide of the franchise and appease Towns for the long haul.

Towns himself makes the team too good to totally tank for a number-one pick in the near future, so the options are likely trying to surround him with as many solid veterans as possible, or make a big home-run swing and try to trade for a superstar.

Minnesota isn’t much of a free agent destination, so signing a superstar in free agency to pair with Towns might be a bit of a long-shot.

The Wolves’ best chance to keep Towns around is to first decide what to do with Andrew Wiggins and go from there. Wiggins has struggled in his first five years, and many believe his breakout season will never come. He makes too much money for his poor production, so the Wolves won’t be getting much back in a trade.

They have to either hope he still has star potential and will someday actually reach it, or cut their losses, trade him and start over.

Moving on from Wiggins might be what’s best for Towns’ future in Minnesota.

If Wiggins remains on the team, it will be difficult to sign another star-caliber player as the Wolves will have restricted cap space. They must keep finding talented veterans to play on cheap, short deals like what they have gotten from Derrick Rose this season.

Thirdly, Minnesota must not miss on any players that they draft in the next few years. Minnesota already has some young talent with a lot of upside in Josh Okogie.

They must find a way to keep developing him into a solid player, as well as hit on their selection this season.

Minnesota’s future with Towns relies on their scouting department’s assessment of this year’s draft class. They will likely be picking somewhere between eight and 12.

While it’s not likely that the pick will result in a future star to pair alongside Towns for the next 10 years, if the right player is taken, Minnesota could get the most out of them and have a nice complement to their two-time All-Star.

Next. Comparing the Wolves' pre- and post-Butler rosters. dark

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and if the Timberwolves have to foresight to make the right moves that will ensure that Towns is in Minnesota for the majority of his career, or if we will see another superstar on a small market team make a trade request that resets the NBA landscape for the next generation.