Minnesota's reported interest in Markkanen could indicate blockbuster trade

The Timberwolves have interest in acquiring the Utah's Jazz's star big man, and that could indicate them being willing to make a blockbuster trade.
Minnesota Timberwolves v Utah Jazz
Minnesota Timberwolves v Utah Jazz / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

There's no way around it, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the most cap-strapped teams in the association. The Timberwolves brass envisioned what success a trio of Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Edwards could bring to Minnesota and doubled down.

Following the Wolves' decision to re-sign Towns to a historic four-year, $224 million contract in June of 2022—the franchise acquired Gobert just days later from the Utah Jazz. Gobert had signed a lucrative five-year, $205 million pact with Utah a year prior to his departure.

After two, sizeable investments, the Wolves rightfully extended Edwards on a five-year, $244 million commitment of his own a year later. And it was only a brief matter of time before the Wolves re-signed another core member. Jaden McDaniels re-upped with Minnesota in October 2023, signing a five-year, $131 million deal.

As it stands, (not to mention other substantial contracts), Minnesota is projected to be about $120 million over the salary cap. The Wolves are one of three teams, including Phoenix and Boston, above the second apron.

Minnesota can no longer sign any free agents to the mid-level exception (MLE) being a second-apron team. Furthermore, the Wolves cannot aggregate multiple players' salaries into a single trade. Thus Minnesota can't include Towns and McDaniels in a potential blockbuster deal. Finally, second-apron teams cannot use previous year's trade exceptions or send cash in any deals.

Knowing the second apron's strict repercussions, trading for any player is conceivably difficult. However, a recent report linked Minnesota to Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen, sparking legitimate intrigue about how the Wolves could swing a trade for the 2022-23 NBA Most Improved Player.

The Timberwolves are restricted by the second apron

What does this tell us about the Timberwolves' plans for the future? It indicates that Tim Connelly and company may be willing to include one of the Wolves' core players in a trade.

If the Wolves and Jazz are the only teams taking part in this hypothetical trade—the options are limited. Minnesota can only deal Edwards, Gobert, Towns, or McDaniels straight up for Markkanen. While the Finnish forward is a great player, he's assuredly nowhere near worth Edwards' immense value.

Besides Edwards, it's unlikely Utah would want to take back Gobert after shipping him out just two years ago. Towns and McDaniels are the only available players who'd theoretically pique Utah's interest.

At 28 years old, Towns is a year older than Markkanen and far more accomplished. The former first-overall pick made an immediate impact in the NBA. Conversely, Markkanen made his first All-Star appearance at the age of 25. He's still young and entering his prime at 27, but Towns has demonstrated continued success for almost a decade.

Despite Towns' accolades, Minnesota may be intrigued to swap the four-time All-Star for Markkanen. The sharpshooting big man's enormous contract begins next season, where he's slated to earn $49 million—roughly $30 million more than Markkanen. While the Jazz star is playing on a relatively cheap price tag, his next contract will more likely than not be on par with Towns'.

If Minnesota feels Markkanen is the better fit, that's another story. The seven-foot swingman is a knockdown shooter who's a stout finisher. Alas, on the defensive end, both big men are similar contributors. Neither player is an adept rim-protector nor capable of defending a fleet of foot forward on the perimeter.

Minnesota may be open to trading KAT for Markkanen

Although Markkanen isn't a defensive difference-maker, he's actually performed better than Towns on the less glamorous end in recent seasons. Lauri has positively affected his team's defensive on/off splits in five of his seven professional seasons. Towns has done the same in just four of nine seasons.

Is Markkanen an improvement over Towns? That's debatable, nevertheless, the Wolves are certainly worried about the 27-year-old forward's looming contract. Now, it's a given that Markkanen is a better player than McDaniels. The lanky forward is an adequate offensive player who excels on the defensive.

However, his defense is so valuable to the Timberwolves that trading him is far-fetched. Of course, if an offer too good to refuse comes across Connelly, there's always a pathway to trade McDaniels. In this instance, the Jazz likely wouldn't approve of a trade solely swapping Markkanen for the All-Defensive second team talent.

The Wolves would unquestionably have to attach several second-rounders to McDaniels to acquire Lauri's services. Shipping out more draft assets isn't the best idea, nor is pairing Towns with Markkanen in the front court.

Minnesota's reported interest in Markannen doesn't mean a trade is on the horizon. Acquiring the Utah sharpshooter will undoubtedly be difficult with a severe lack of assets. But the Wolves' interest tells us that Towns, and potentially McDaniels aren't completely off the table in trade talks.