Following the 2016-17 NBA season and in Year 1 under president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Minnesota Timberwolves arguably had the best young core in the league. As an injury-prone Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons (out for the season) only played 31 combined games for the Philadelphia 76ers, all eyes were on Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine.
After years of rebuilding through the draft, Thibodeau and company wanted to end the team’s 13-year playoff drought. At the 2017 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves acquired Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton (No. 16 pick) from the Chicago Bulls for LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markkanen (No. 7 pick).
Despite Butler’s knee surgery that forced him to miss 17 games, Minnesota was able to sneak into the 2018 NBA playoffs as the eighth seed but lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round.
As Towns struggled in his first playoff appearance, he might face an uncertain future with the Timberwolves, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst explained during an appearance on the Zach Lowe Podcast:
“Has anybody noticed what’s going on in Minnesota with Karl Towns and that organization? … I don’t think Anthony Davis is going anywhere anytime soon. Karl Towns, now that might be a different story. The reason that the Karl Towns thing is interesting is under the new rules. You retain super-max rights if you’re traded on your rookie contract. Does anybody know what’s going on with Karl Towns? I’m not reporting anything. I just asked a question.”
For the Timberwolves, this is not the first time there has been a conflict involving the young core. During the 2017-18 season, Wiggins was reportedly unhappy with being the team’s third option behind Butler and Towns after signing a five-year, $146.5 million contract extension.
With Towns set to turn 23 years old and preparing for his fourth season, it will be interesting to see how the Timberwolves handle this situation. As the former No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he is eligible for a five-year max contract extension this summer, which could further complicate discussions.
And if Towns does wind up on the trading block, the Los Angeles Lakers could be a team to watch considering a desire to take the next step in their rebuild and willingness to trade members of their young core in the right situation.