HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and Timberwolves beat writer Jon Krawczynski discuss whether Karl-Anthony Towns will get a supermax extension and if D’Angelo Russell will be traded. The duo also discussed the latest on the ceiling for Anthony Edwards, the start of the Tim Connelly era, what it means for Malik Beasley’s future and more on the latest edition of the HoopsHype podcast.
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2:00 What to expect from Tim Connelly
Scotto: There had been rumblings for months, dating back to earlier in the calendar year, that the Timberwolves were looking to bring in an executive over Sachin Gupta to run basketball operations with more experience and a proven track record. With that in mind, to me, Tim Connelly was the perfect hire for the Minnesota Timberwolves because they want him to build a sustainable contender in a smaller market, and he already did that with the Denver Nuggets.
Some rival executives around the league wondered why Minnesota allowed Gupta to make decisions regarding the basketball operations staff if ownership was always looking to hire a more experienced person over him to work together.
Krawczynski: This took some time to develop and a little bit longer than maybe some people expected in terms of having the conversations with Connelly, going through the recruitment process, going through his deliberation process, and ultimately making the decision to move from Denver to Minnesota. In the limbo right after the season, to while they were trying to see if this was going to happen, they sort of had to let Gupta run the show just in case things didn’t work out with Connelly.
Connelly’s coming in here not looking to make the sweeping changes that a lot of the times a new president does make. I think that’s what stood out in the press conference. Tim is a guy who makes connections and works with the people around him, and wants to empower. I think he’ll eventually bring in some of his own people, but there’s a strong foundation here that he wants to do as much adapting to the Timberwolves as he wants the Timberwolves to adapt to him.
7:15 Karl-Anthony Towns' supermax extension chances
Scotto: After Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, you can make the case that Karl-Anthony Towns is the third most talented center in the NBA today. Towns is owed nearly $70 million guaranteed over the next two seasons and will be eligible for a supermax contract extension after earning All-NBA Third Team honors. Now, the question becomes is he going to be worth a supermax extension?
One executive who spoke with HoopsHype predicted that Connelly will extend KAT (Towns). The executive said, “It’s hard to get players in Minnesota. Maybe he tries to negotiate less than a supermax, but what leverage does he have?”
One NBA scout for a Western Conference team told me, “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t give him the supermax. I don’t think he deserves it. He hasn’t done anything to become a supermax guy. He’s super talented, but he’s kind of flaky.”
Towns and the Timberwolves have only made the playoffs twice in his seven seasons.
Krawczynski: I’ve been around him for seven years and around this team for a lot longer than that. One thing you do know is that when you have very high-level players in Minnesota, you’ve got to do whatever you can to keep them. I fully expect that Karl-Anthony Towns will get a max offer from the Timberwolves and that he’ll sign that max offer.
I understand you can look at his playoff track record. He had a couple of good games against Memphis and a couple of games that were underwhelming. He doesn’t have a long history of playoff success to go off. I think what you have to look at when you’re evaluating what Towns is as a player is what this organization has been like around him for those seven years.
Connelly is the seventh lead basketball executive in Towns’ seven years in Minnesota. He’s had five head coaches in seven years. He has had one season where there was a teammate on his roster that made the All-Star Game the year prior when Jimmy Butler came and joined the Timberwolves. He hasn’t been surrounded by any stability or any quality in terms of teammates for most of the time here.
Is he the perfect player? Absolutely not. He has a lot to work on. He has to get better defensively and control his emotions more. He has to continue to show his play, and the stats he puts up can impact winnings. He made steps in that direction this season. I still think he’s a 26-year-old All-NBA center who is coming off another All-Star Game and made some real strides after coming out of the fog of the last two years with losing his mother and a bunch of injuries and losses on the court. He really grew into himself a little bit.
He likes it here. He likes Minnesota. He wants to be here. He likes Chris Finch a lot. He likes his teammates. He loves playing with Anthony Edwards. He’s been friends with D’Angelo Russell for a long time. This is a situation where the Timberwolves have a player under their control and one who is a very good player and wants to be here. In that case, I think you make that offer. You get him signed for the long term, and then you evaluate as it goes on.
Just because a player signs a contract doesn’t mean that he’s going to finish that contract in the place where he signed it. If you sign it and it doesn’t work and the team stalls out or Towns plateaus with his play, he’s going to be movable even if it’s a max contract because of his age, production, and efficiency year in and year out.
I just don’t think there’s a whole lot of debate in terms of what they’re going to do. I expect at some point this summer, there will be a big press conference saying Towns has signed a max deal, he’s one of our guys going forward, and they’re going to keep pushing forward. If you don’t sign him to an extension or try to play games with negotiating for less money, then you have a possibility of alienating him and things going like they did with Deandre Ayton in Phoenix. If you then want to trade him, the first thing you’re going to want is a big who can space the floor for Edwards and give him room to operate. There are very few, if any, players that fit that mold better than Towns.
That’s why I think they’re going to go forward and get that done. He wants to be here. They want him here. This is not a market that gets a lot of free agents or anything like that. Got to keep your guys happy, and I think he’s deserved that.
16:15 D’Angelo Russell’s future
Scotto: Recently on Bleacher Report, there was some speculation from executives about the Knicks entertaining a possible trade for D’Angelo Russell. Anytime there’s a CAA client, he’ll be linked to the Knicks due to Leon Rose’s past with the agency.
Previously, when Steve Mills was running the Knicks, there were some in the front office that were fans of Russell, but they also questioned how he’d handle the spotlight in New York.
If Minnesota traded Russell, I don’t know how that would affect, if at all, Towns’ happiness in Minnesota in terms of wanting to extend or not. The last time Russell was in a contract year, he dedicated his summer to coming into camp in the best shape of his career and became an All-Star, playing 81 games for the Brooklyn Nets. At 26, he’s entering the prime of his career. On the flip side, his expiring $31.4 million contract makes him a decent potential trade chip, especially when you look at the salary structure of other players around the league.
Krawczynski: That’s going to be Connelly’s biggest challenge to navigate this summer, what to do with Russell and how to handle that situation. I think the Towns thing is what it is. He’s a really good player, and he wants to be here. You sign him, and if you have to figure something out later, you do. I think he wants to be in Minnesota and be one of those few players now that just stays in a place and sees the whole thing through.
Russell is extension-eligible. He’s making max money. I don’t think that anybody would, just immediately as quickly as you’d say with Towns, that you just give him a max. I don’t think Russell is going to be a max player on this next contract he gets with an extension or next year after a full season. He’d have to have a great season coming up to re-earn that money.
Connelly is going to have to gauge what it’s going to take to sign Russell to an extension. If there’s common ground, then maybe you look at that. He had a good regular season for the Timberwolves and was a big reason why they won 46 games and made the playoffs. He had a huge play-in game against the Clippers and was one of the main reasons why they won that game and got the seventh seed in the playoffs. But he didn’t play well in the playoffs, was on the bench in Game 6 at the end, and struggled in that series.
24:05 Anthony Edwards’ upside
Scotto: One NBA scout told me he believes Edwards can eventually be the top player in Minnesota. He said, “It all comes down to his mentality. We saw flashes of that on defense and attacking the basket. But consistency will be key with him. He’s got all the tools. It just comes down to his desire and decision making.”
Another scout told HoopsHype, “It’s Ant’s team. It’s not KAT’s team, and KAT knows it. I think that’s the future for them. I wish his basketball IQ was a little better. He’s definitely a competitor and not the nonchalant guy that people thought he was coming out of college. For him to become that bonafide superstar, he has to have the basketball IQ. His defensive commitment has to be better. I think he’s already on his way to becoming a heck of a player. Will he become a top 10 or top 20 guy in the league? It remains to be seen. Playing in the playoffs was a great thing for him. If you play on a losing team, you don’t get that much exposure and chance to rise up to the challenge or taste winning.”
Krawczynski: I agree with a lot of what those scouts said in terms of there being a real question mark whether this kid wanted to be great when he was coming out of Georgia and if he loved the game and would put in the work. All of those questions were answered emphatically the moment he entered the Twin Cities. He really does work hard and loves the game. He wants to be great. He’s an incredible physical specimen with so many tools at his disposal. I think he’s a smart kid and understands what he needs to improve on. From a makeup perspective, he’s got everything you’d want from a star player.
In terms of his potential, in terms of his charisma and skill set, he’s the total package. I couldn’t be a whole lot higher on a player than I am on him. I think this is a guy that, a couple of years down the road, you’re looking at as having the potential to be a perennial All-Star and All-NBA type of guy and leader of your franchise. People love Edwards, and they want to follow him. They want to have him rise up and really take control of things.
To the other point of whether it’s his team or Karl’s, one thing Towns knows as well as anybody in the league is that you need multiple great players on your team to have a chance, especially in the West. I don’t think there is any kind of jealousy or things like that popping up between the two of them because they get along so well together. They really enjoy being around each other, and they know their games complement each other well.
31:10 Malik Beasley’s future
Scotto: Connelly being there, I think, will help Malik Beasley return to the form that we saw him at the beginning of his tenure with the Timberwolves. Malik can be a microwave scorer off the bench and a good shooter. He’d love to be in the three-point contest one day. I look for him to have a bounce-back year… In a way, it’s a contract year because, after next season, the following year at $16.5 million is a team option.
Krawczynski: I think you’re right in terms of the familiarity with Connelly will certainly help. Connelly was in Denver, drafted Beasley and brought him in… Last summer, he had very highly publicized legal issues. He spent three months essentially in jail for the gun charges that he had stemming from an incident with some people who unwittingly visited his home or parked outside his home. Beasley came out and pointed a gun at them and kind of threatened them as they drove away. It was all a case of complete mistakes by the people that were involved in the car and Beasley misunderstanding. He paid the price for it.
All of last summer, he could work out, but it wasn’t the same thing. He was not able to be in a good head space. He couldn’t go through his usual routine. That’s all his fault. He has no one to blame for that. He showed up to camp out of shape and rusty while not able to work on his game as much as he wanted. He’s a gym rat and works harder than anybody on the team. For him, to have his gym time limited by his legal issues, I think it really affected him.
35:45 Timberwolves draft and free agency intel
Scotto: As I alluded to in our previous mock draft, the Timberwolves are going to be a team to monitor for trading their draft picks with three second-round picks in the 40 to 50 range. In free agency, the biggest question mark is Taurean Prince, who was a guy rival teams thought would be moved ahead of the trade deadline before he returned to the rotation and played well for Minnesota I don’t see Josh Okogie and Jake Layman back this summer.
Krawczynski: One of the big selling points for Connelly in terms of the Wolves going after him was how productive he’s been in the draft, particularly outside the lottery and in the second round. We all know about Nikola Jokic. That may be the best second-round pick in history. Outside of that, you’re looking at Monte Morris and Jarred Vanderbilt. He’s found guys who are very helpful rotation players in the second round. Outside the lottery in the first round, you have Beasley, Bones Hyland, Jusuf Nurkic and Jamal Murray in the lottery.
They don’t have four roster spots. They’re not going to take four players to compete for spots in this upcoming season. They can use one or two of the second-round picks on European players and stash them or package those picks to try and trade for veterans or move up in the draft. Maybe he uses the 19th pick and attaches it to a player on the roster to go look for more veteran help.
What they need in a trade or free agency, they need size, strength and toughness. They were the worst defensive rebounding team in the league last season. Memphis’ Brandon Clarke ate them alive in that series.
I do think that Prince is absolutely a candidate to return. He is on the record saying he’d like to return to Minnesota. I think he fits in very well here as a level-headed veteran guy who can do a lot of different things. I know the players and coaches love him, and he likes being here.
You’re totally right on the other two. I think Layman definitely will not return. He was never really in the rotation this season. He’ll be moving on. Okogie, they’d like to have back. They love him as a teammate and as a workhorse defensive specialist, but he also didn’t have much playing time because of some offensive limitations. I think it’s possible he’ll look elsewhere or find something else. I wouldn’t completely rule out a return for him if the market is pretty soft once everything opens.