The Minnesota Timberwolves roadmap to acquire D’Angelo Russell

With the trade deadline just over 48 hours away, the clock is ticking – both for the Wolves’ chances to acquire Warriors All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell and for Minnesota to keep Karl-Anthony Towns happy.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

The NBA trade deadline comes Thursday at 2 p.m. CT and Minnesota Timberwolves fans will likely come away unhappy.

Yesterday afternoon, a report from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Connor Letourneau was published suggesting that Minnesota was unwilling to part with its 2020 first-rounder. Additionally, he reported that Andrew Wiggins was the primary player Minnesota offered. Letourneau also wrote:

And if the Timberwolves did add it [the 2020 first-round pick] to their package, Golden State still wouldn’t necessarily be sold on trading Russell before the deadline.

Based on the wording throughout his piece, it is evident that Letourneau is referring to an unprotected first-round pick.

Then, Monday night, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor delivered what could be a final, crushing blow to Wolves fans’ hopes. KOC reported that trade talks between the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves surrounding two-time All-Star PG D’Angelo Russell have stalled:

Recently, a three-way deal was discussed that would have sent Robert Covington to Houston, Clint Capela to Atlanta, and Brooklyn’s 2020 first-round pick from Atlanta to Minnesota, according to multiple league sources. But Golden State declined Minnesota’s offer—which included the Brooklyn first and its own first-round pick in 2020—and the three-way talks were put on pause.

The only shot Gersson Rosas and the Minnesota front office has at prying Russell away from the Bay Area hinges on the protections involved in the Wolves’ 2020 first-round pick, as well as which player Minnesota centered their offer around. However, it is important to note that O’Connor does not specify whether the pick has protections on it or not.

For the sake of this article, I will assume that the pick had a top-five protection on it and will convey next summer if it is in the 1-5 range. 

Albeit unlikely at this hour, there is both a basketball and financial road map to trading for Russell if Minnesota has yet to offer an unprotected first-round pick. Let’s get right into it.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – JANUARY 24: Clint Capela #15 of the Houston Rockets dunks the ball during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 24, 2020 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Step 1: Trade Robert Covington for enticing draft capital or young assets

First, Minnesota will need some help in a primer trade, likely from Houston and Atlanta, before attempting to make a deal for Russell with Golden State. The 2020 first-round pick from Brooklyn via Atlanta is not going to cut it, as O’Connor noted.

Because the Wolves are hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal for Russell that includes an unprotected first-round pick, they need to first gather as many draft assets as they can, both to entice the Warriors and feel safer about parting with what is likely a top-five pick.

Luckily for the Wolves, Houston and Atlanta need their involvement to get what they want, while Minnesota needs help, too.

Three-team trades that are highly beneficial for all parties are pretty uncommon for a trade at this stage of the trade deadline game. Usually, two teams cannot match salaries and need to bring in a third team (usually a team with plenty of cap space in the following summer) to either eat a bad contract, or provide a salary one team can use to create a financially plausible deal in exchange for draft capital or young players.

Let’s start with some context.

During the Super Bowl, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Atlanta has interest in Rockets C Clint Capela, while Houston wants another wing.

As O’Connor reiterated yesterday, Houston has extensive interest in Covington, which brings Minnesota into the fold as the team that can help both sides get what they want.

The average NBA fan could reasonably expect that a team in the Wolves’ position would have no leverage in a situation like this, considering the Wolves need a trade to happen in order to have a real shot at Russell.

But, O’Connor has reported that the Wolves have other suitors for Covington, including the Sixers. This means that, theoretically, the Wolves have no obligation to be the third team in a potential Hawks/Rockets trade.

This enables the Minnesota front office to drive the price for Covington, which is its only path to acquiring Russell. But, ultimately, I believe a deal with the Hawks and Rockets is the only one that sets up the swing for Russell.

It should be noted that O’Connor’s report did not specify which players Atlanta would have to send out in order to make salaries match for taking in Capela, but there are only a few possibilities.

Here is the first trade Minnesota has to make:

Timberwolves Get
PF Jabari Parker (via ATL)
C Alex Len (via ATL)
2020 First-round pick (via HOU)
2020 First-round pick (via BKN through ATL)
Hawks Get
C Clint Capela
Rockets Get
SF Robert Covington

Note: the Timberwolves also receive Brooklyn’s 2020 first-round pick via Atlanta. 

Here, Minnesota acquires two first-round picks that it can use in a trade with the Warriors, to go along with Jabari Parker, who has been solid for the Hawks this season, and Alex Len, whose $4.1 million expiring contract could be either a nice salary filler or a capable backup center.

While Parker is currently nursing a shoulder injury, the trade can still go through if the Wolves waive their right to require him to pass a physical before the deal can be completed (a risk they will not want to take while pushed up against the trade deadline timer).

Houston coughs up a first-rounder as both payment to the Wolves for Covington and for the price of getting off Capela’s contract.

Finally, Atlanta is in because it allows them to create a formidable front-court duo in John Collins and Clint Capela to go with their gluttony of talented young wings.

Most importantly, Minnesota now has assets that can immediately be flipped to Golden State in exchange for Russell.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 08: D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center on November 8, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Step 2: Start five-alarm offensive fire at Target Center for Saturday Night

Rosas should have what he needs to create the most exciting night in Timberwolves basketball since they hosted the Rockets for a playoff game back in April of 2018. The Wolves host the Clippers on Saturday night and could have a huge opportunity to send a message to the rest of the NBA.

Now, for the fun part.

In our hypothetical step one, Minnesota did not use a traded player exception (TPE) in order to acquire Parker and Len, because they sent out more money ($11.3 million) than they took in ($10.7 million). This allows both Parker and Len to be aggregated (combined with other players) in another trade for a more expensive player, such as Russell, before the deadline.

Before getting to the trade, it is also important to remember that Golden State has a crucial TPE as a result of shipping Andre Iguodala to the Grizzlies back in July. They will undoubtedly want to maintain that TPE in any dealings with the Wolves. Additionally, Golden State is currently

In order to do so, they will be unable to take back more salary than they send out. This very well could rule out any deal involving Andrew Wiggins, because he makes $27.5 million, while Russell makes $27.2 million. While Alec Burks’s $1.6 million deal likely keeps that TPE intact, Golden State will want more assets for Burks and I would be surprised if Minnesota forked over even more assets for a player like Burks, who could command a market of $10 million+ annually this summer.

Keeping that in mind, here is the best offer Minnesota can come up with:

Timberwolves Get
PG D'Angelo Russell
Warriors Get
C Gorgui Dieng
PF Jabari Parker
2020 unprotected first-round pick (via MIN)

Note: This deal also includes Golden State receiving a 2020 first-round pick from Brooklyn via Atlanta and Minnesota, as well as a 2020 first-round pick from Houston via Minnesota.

Simply put, there is no way Golden State can get three first round picks (one being a potential top-five pick), retain their TPE and receive a player that can potentially provide meaningful value beyond this season (Parker).

Parker is due just $6.5 million next season and, considering he is still just 24, his on-court output is worth more than what he is currently paid. If they opt to part ways with him, his $6.5 million cap figure is a great contract to use as salary filler.

The Warriors could very easily flip this haul into a star that better fits their team moving forward. Gorgui will become an expiring contract starting this summer, which, coupled with the Warriors’ $17.2 million TPE (which expires on 7/7/20), could fit in very nicely to any trade for either a rising or established star player.

After a deal like this with the Wolves, the Warriors could be heading into the summer with:

But more importantly, Minnesota heads into a seemingly bright future with two clearly established franchise cornerstones that double as best friends, and a three-man core of Towns, Russell, and Wiggins, who are 24, 23, and 24, respectively.

A trade for Russell revitalizes a franchise that has not seen an impact point guard since Sam Cassell in 2003 or Stephon Marbury in 1998, and would satisfy the Wolves biggest need: a happy generational superstar.

Next: 3 potential Robert Covington trades for the Wolves

A future with D’Angelo Russell is a tantalizing one, but it is still (D)loading….