Sometimes it feels like the media willed the Anthony Davis trade request into existence, with the help of anonymously sourced NBA executives who benefit from All-NBA players hitting the open market.
Now, Karl-Anthony Towns might just fall victim to the same phenomenon.
For years, speculation about Davis’ availability ran rampant, despite his repeated insistence on building a winner with the New Orleans Pelicans and the five-year maximum extension he signed to demonstrate that commitment. Surely, a player of his caliber could not be content toiling in obscurity for a loser, the thinking went. Spin the rumor mill enough times, and eventually you will hit the jackpot.
Every competitor wants to win, but I imagine the decision to request a trade and become reviled in the city that nurtured you into superstardom does not come lightly. There is part of me that wonders what came first — the genuine desire to play for a deep-pocketed franchise with championship pedigree or the narrative that fame and fortune follows only those who star for a title contender in a big market.
(Giannis Antetokounmpo catches some of this, too, but the Milwaukee Bucks’ league-best record does not fit as conveniently into the thinking as Davis did in New Orleans and Towns does in Minnesota.)
Whatever the reason, Davis asked for his trade some three or four years after reports indicated that teams were following his status in New Orleans. The 26-year-old listed the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers as his preferred big-market destinations before more recently telling Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, “It was about putting myself in position where I can win before this career is over.”
It is hard to pin down when rumors started with Davis, since HoopsHype’s database of 642 only brings us back seven months, but the $127 million extension he signed back in 2015 did nothing to end them.
So it is for Towns, whose own five-year max extension kicked in this season.
This past week saw two separate anonymously sourced reports about teams monitoring Towns’ contentment with the spiraling Minnesota Timberwolves. According to The New York Post’s Marc Berman, the Knicks are banking on their proximity to Towns’ native New Jersey as reason a two-time All-Star might soon consider a change of scenery from a small-market loser to a big-market loser. The Golden State Warriors are also keeping a close eye on Towns, per The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss.
News flash: Every team was monitoring Davis. Every team is monitoring Towns. This is how it works.
As The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski noted, neither report came from the Twin Cities. Berman’s source was “one individual who has spoken to [Knicks] brass,” and Strauss cited “multiple team executives at the recent G League Showcase, with a few relaying word that Towns is unhappy in Minnesota.”
Sources connected to both Towns and the Timberwolves downplayed any concern about his long-term outlook in Minnesota in the wake of the attention showered on the final two paragraphs of Strauss’s story. The sourcing is not coming from anyone connected to Towns, so most directly involved see it as the inevitable chatter that surfaces when losses mount.
Added The New York Times’ Marc Stein:
The Wolves have been adamant, in every conversation I’ve had with them, that they are building “everything” around Towns. The swift fall from Minnesota’s promising 10-8 start to 12th in the West entering Tuesday’s play is undeniably alarming, but I’ve been advised that the idea of trading Towns is pretty much the last thing the Wolves are thinking about.
So, there you have it. Rival executives, all of whom would love to get Towns on their team, let it be known that Towns may not be thrilled with how another Timberwolves season is playing out, and both Towns and the team — or at least sources close to both — are forced to answer questions about it.
The seed is planted. Maybe it was embedded two years ago, when ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said, “I don’t think that the Wolves are looking to trade him, but teams are definitely sniffing around as if maybe there’s something here. They’ve already taken some calls on him.” Maybe it was before then. Maybe it was whenever marketability and rings became the sole measures of success for a superstar.
With any luck for executives circling the tank, this latest round of rumors will lead to a growing distrust and another awkward conversation between Towns and the Timberwolves. That is the goal here, right?
Because there is often some truth behind these things. Teams obviously are inquiring about Towns. The Wolves are surely desperate to build a contender around him for fear he could one day drop the same hammer Davis did. And Towns probably is unhappy. They missed the playoffs for the third time in his four years last season, and they are coming off an 11-game losing streak that dropped them into the lottery again. In between, Minnesota swung and missed on a trade for his close friend, D’Angelo Russell. Towns has now sat the past two weeks with a left knee sprain. You would be unhappy, too.
There is a gap between being unhappy with how your team is playing and no longer wanting to play for your team, and rival executives are hoping to narrow it. Make your interest known, get Towns thinking, and the next thing you know he could be calling his agent for advice. It is the NBA version of inception.
Teams will continue to call. Towns also has a close relationship with Devin Booker, whose Phoenix Suns have a cheaper No. 1 pick to offer Minnesota. The Boston Celtics have a wealth of assets and a need at center. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a cache of first-round picks and expiring contracts to offer in hopes of pairing Towns with rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Everyone has something.
It appears Towns is still content with the direction new Wolves coach Ryan Saunders and new general manager Gersson Rosas have taken them since Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau took a torch to the franchise in previous years. Anthony Davis was content, too, until he had enough. Or heard enough.
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