The Knicks are rolling into the second round of the NBA playoffs and with homecourt advantage on hand against the battle-tested Heat, they could well find themselves in the conference finals in mid-May. That would be their first foray that far into the postseason in 23 years.
But, flush with draft picks and some promising young talent, the Knicks are probably better built for the pursuit of another NBA star in the longer term than for the chasing of a championship in the short term. It’s been a wacky first two weeks of the postseason, so who knows? Maybe the Knicks can bring a Larry O’Brien trophy back to MSG. More likely, though, they’ll need another piece.
And it could be the piece they’ve been eyeing for a while: Timberwolves star forward Karl-Anthony Towns.
“The interest in making that happen would be mutual, for sure,” one league source told Heavy Sports. “KAT and the Knicks are intertwined. To some people, it is more a matter of when they go after him, not if.”
Towns’ History With Knicks Brass
Indeed, Towns was coached by Tom Thibodeau of the Knicks in Minnesota for two-and-a-half years, and his former agent with Creative Arts Agency is Leon Rose, who is now the Knicks president. Organizational connections, however, are not enough to push a trade to the fore—there has to be some motivation on all sides. And with the surge of the Knicks in the East and the continued wilting of the Wolves in the West, that motivation is falling into place.
Minnesota has made just three playoff appearances in eight seasons with Towns, and won a grand total of four playoff games. They earned the No. 8 spot in the West playoffs with a play-in win, and were KO’d by Denver in five games in the first round.
That came despite the enormous bet the organization made in acquiring Rudy Gobert from Utah, and despite an All-star campaign from guard Anthony Edwards. It did not help that Towns played only 29 games, mostly because of a severe calf injury, or that he averaged only 20.8 points, his fewest since his rookie season. Even when Minnesota had its whole group together, the Wolves were no more impressive—they were 15-14 when Towns played and 27-26 when he did not.
Both Towns and the Wolves are mired in mediocrity, and Towns’ four-year, $225 million supermax extension (signed in 2022) is set to kick in next season. For Minnesota team president Tim Connelly, who took the job last year and made the Gobert bet, the Towns trade market could be the only way out.
“You can still sell high on Towns even though it was not a great year for him,” an Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “He’s signed. He’s still young (27). And he’s good. But you need to have a tougher team around him, and you want him in a comfort zone. That is why the Knicks are always coming up—he is from Jersey, he has a base there. And personnel-wise, it would be a good mix. Everyone knows the connections there, everyone knows there is an interest.”
What Would it Take to Get Towns?
That would depend, though, on what it would take to get Towns from Minnesota. League executives say that the Timberwolves may have some interest in adding back some of the draft picks they sent out to Utah for Gobert (four first-rounders outstanding) but that Minnesota is more likely focused on bringing back win-now talent with the team going through an ownership change.
The Knicks are in position to offer both, with three extra first-rounders through 2025 and a solid base of talent to put around Edwards.
“No matter the success this year, the Knicks are going to keep being aggressive. So, you’d want to start with R.J. Barrett there,” the East exec said. “But you can send (Obi) Toppin, you can send (Quentin) Grimes, (Miles) McBride. They do not want to trade (Immanuel) Quickley but if the target is Towns, maybe they would change that. You’d play Towns at the 5 if you were New York so they’d probably have Mitchell Robinson in the deal, and he could go to a third team. A lot of possibilities and Minnesota might be a better team by putting it all on Edwards and getting the right pieces from that mix.”
Of course, that assumes the Timberwolves are going to head into the offseason with guns blazing on a Towns deal, which can’t happen until July 7 under NBA rules. That is not necessarily the case, even as it appeared that Towns and Gobert together in a frontcourt was not a good fit.
“They don’t have to do anything, really, and they don’t have to do it now,” one Western Conference executive said. “They need to get their point-guard spot settled. Then they can approach next year with Karl-Anthony healthy and with everyone knowing their roles. I don’t know if him and Gobert can work but they probably think it didn’t get a long enough look.
“They have some time to think about it and maybe Towns goes to them and decides he wants out. That situation, you are going to see a whole bunch of teams try to get involved at that point but not too many have the juice to get something done.”
Among the teams executives mentioned as potential suitors for Towns: Brooklyn and Miami (two teams that will inevitably come up in any potential superstar trade talks in the next six months, though the Heat’s Jimmy Butler has a rocky history with Towns), Portland (in a Damian Lillard deal?) and Indiana. Should Boston consider dealing away All-Star wing Jaylen Brown, which is a longshot, the Celtics could offer the best single player in return for Towns.
But if a Towns moves comes about, New York is the likeliest landing spot.
“There would be some smoke,” the East exec said. “I don’t know if that will become fire. But it would be out there.”