It's 2024 and the Minnesota Timberwolves are the best in the Western Conference. After narrowly squeaking into the playoffs a season ago, the Timberwolves will likely host a playoff series for the first time in 20 years.
As a frontrunner in the West, it's time for Minnesota to gauge both the trade and buyout markets to upgrade the roster. No longer a bottom-feeder, the Wolves are now a likely destination for several veterans around the league.
The trio of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert have played tremendously this year, alongside the help of Jaden McDaniels and Mike Conley, the starting lineup is intact.
Despite a strong opening unit, the reserves are bound for improvement. Minnesota has already been linked to reserve guards such as the Washington Wizards' Tyus Jones and the Detroit Pistons' Monte Morris.
However, another veteran has recently been made available in trade talks (subscription required). Charlotte Hornets' wing, Gordon Hayward, is likely on his way out. The Hornets are "actively trying to…construct a Gordon Hayward deal before the Feb. 8 trade buzzer sounds."
The 33-year-old Hayward hasn't seen action since late December, as he's dealt with a calf injury. And although the veteran wing is older than the typical trade candidate, he's by no means seeking a buyout to choose his next squad.
Hayward is earning $31.5 million in the last year of the four-year contract he signed in the 2020 season. If the Hornets' wing were to accept a buyout, he'd forfeit his bird rights, thus drastically lowering his expected salary come free agency.
For the Timberwolves' sake, adding Hayward via buyout would be far and away the best option. Nevertheless, a buyout seems to be off the table (for now). So trade it is. Hayward's salary makes a trade tough to navigate for just about every squad in the association.
The Timberwolves can trade all of Kyle Anderson, Shake Milton, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jordan McLaughlin, and Troy Brown Jr. to acquire Hayward and his sizeable contract. But the whole point of acquiring Hayward would be to bolster the second unit, consequently depleting the reserves is all but unlikely.
A likelier trade would be that of sending Naz Reid, Anderson, and Brown Jr. in exchange for Hayward. However, two serviceable reserves for a potential half-year rental is also improbable. Instead, the Timberwolves could tack on Milton, asking for Charlotte center Nick Richards in return.
Of course, including Conley in the trade makes the deal simplistic, but the veteran guard is most likely off-limits due to his importance to every lineup. His inclusion is in three of Minnesota's best four quintets this season.
Although Hayward is a valuable asset, the Timberwolves lack the requisite players to acquire his services. Depleting the roster for a 33-year-old wing with a lengthy injury history is imprudent. Therefore, trading for the former All-Star is doubtful.
The more likely acquisition would be via buyout. If Hayward ultimately decides on a buyout, watch out for the Timberwolves. Minnesota is one of the few contenders capable of signing a player who had previously made over $12.4 million.