Grade the Trade: Timberwolves flip big man for LA superstar in new blockbuster pitch

The Minnesota Timberwolves were not quite good enough to win it all this season. Could this blockbuster trade push them over the top, or is it too wild to make?
Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages
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Would the Timberwolves make this trade?

Circling back to the introduction of this piece, the loss to the Dallas Mavericks highlighted the problems the Timberwolves face on offense facing the best defenses that the playoffs have to offer. The defensive combination of Rudy Gobert, Jaden McDaniels, and Anthony Edwards is enough to match anyone, but this team needs a second offensive option to step up when teams take away Edwards.

Karl-Anthony Towns is a uniquely gifted offensive player, a prolific shooter and a skilled scorer inside, but throughout the playoffs, he was incredibly streaky as a shooter and prone to disappearing for stretches. When you add in that he has to summon colossal levels of energy to be a positive defensive player—to his credit, he did that in multiple playoff games, including Game 7 in Denver—and his penchant for racking up fouls on both ends of the court, you get a player who vacillates wildly from driving the Wolves' playoff success to causing its failures.

The No. 1 reason that the Wolves trade Towns this summer would be to get off of money, and while this deal would lop a year off of the commitment it wouldn't save a penny this season. The second reason, however, would be to move him for a player or players who materially change their chances of competing for a title.

Trading for Kawhi Leonard does that. He was an All-NBA Second Team selection this season despite playing just 68 games, the centerpiece of the offense in Los Angeles whose ability to get to his spots is essentially defense-proof. He shot 41.7 percent from 3-point range as his accuracy has only become more refined later in his career. Defensively, Leonard is still a monster to go against, with the quick hands to take your lunch money and the strength to stand up inside.

A Minnesota Timberwolves lineup of Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Kawhi Leonard, and Rudy Gobert would be more deliberate and more lethal than the current team, and against playoff defenses and at the end of games would have two closers to bring them across the finish line.

That group would also be the best defense in the league with a bullet. Leonard brings the size and speed combination needed to check Luka Doncic; no one will fully stop Doncic, but Leonard is the best option in the league to do so. The idea that perimeter players will be able to get past Leonard, McDaniels, and Edwards only to face Rudy Gobert at the rim is terrifying.

For all that the on-paper Timberwolves would be title favorites with this trade, the rub with Kawhi Leonard is that the incredible team you envision with him on the court so rarely comes to pass. Leonard has a leg injury that can be managed, but not healed, and continues to flare up at the worst times. Resting him all year doesn't work, and playing him all year doesn't work.

Rolling the dice with Leonard would mean cracking open a skylight to true championship upside. It would also mean unlocking the door to the basement, as the more likely outcome is that they enter next year's postseason without Leonard healthy and available to play.

Is that tradeoff worth making this deal? If the Wolves believe Towns can't take another step forward, probably so. Yet there is also the possibility they find a better option on the trade market, one that gives them more flexibility or adds offensive help without the injury concerns. This isn't a no-doubt deal.

It's certainly one that dangles a tantalizing future before the Wolves. Given the history of this team and Minnesota sports overall, it's almost certainly one that would be snatched away, one way or the other.

Grade: B