2022 Free Agency

5 takeaways on Rudy Gobert being traded to Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are thinking Twin Towers for the Twin Cities, Towns finds a way to stay (and move), plus more from a massive deal.

Rudy Gobert, a 3-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year, has been traded to the Timberwolves.

With the Stifle Tower being relocated from Salt Lake to the Twin Cities, here are five takeaways on the Rudy Gobert trade. And make no mistake, for all the pieces and future assets heading to Utah, this transaction forever will be defined by how well the Timberwolves perform after adding the NBA’s preeminent rim protector and shot blocker.

1. This is a big-big deal

At a time when many NBA teams seemed disinclined to play traditional big men, the Wolves will try playing a pair: Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. And they’ll be paying two of them, too: Only three centers in league history ever have signed contracts worth more than $200 million and now two of them play in Minnesota; Denver’s back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic is the third as of Thursday — Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid just missing last summer with his $196 million extension.

The pertinent number next season will be $72 million, with Gobert pulling down $38.2 million and Towns $33.8 million. Keep in mind, though, the four-year, $224 million “supermax” extension Towns landed this week doesn’t kick in until 2024-25, running through 2027-28.

So in 2025-26 – the last year of Gobert’s deal – he ($46.6 million) and KAT ($54.1 million) will be soaking up more than $100 million of Minnesota’s payroll. Just the two of them.

There are other numbers that factor in: Combined, the two big men have earned six All-Star appearances, six All-NBA berths, six All-Defense selections (all Gobert), three Defensive Player of the Year awards (again, Gobert) and a 3-point shooting trophy (Towns at All-Star Weekend in February).

2. KAT stays and moves

Towns: ‘I’m extremely honored to wear this jersey.’

Towns locked in with his contract extension one day, then got his freedom the next. Which is to say, this trade frees him up from the heavy lifting of defending and scoring in the paint.

An immensely skilled offensive player, the 6-foot-11 26-year-old already is being used throughout the offensive zone by Wolves coach Chris Finch. His 3-point prowess in Cleveland was no February fluke – Towns made 41% of his attempts last season (shooting 150-for-366). His 39.7% career rate leads all centers in league history, and ranks 17th among all active players, making him the only center in the Top 25.

He’s a willing passer, too, and in Gobert now has a big target near the rim. The Jazz center didn’t shoot a lot and got most of his chances off the offensive glass, but he has led the NBA in field goal percentage in three of the past four seasons.

Karl-Anthony Towns becomes 1st center to win MTN DEW 3-Point Contest.

On defense — never Towns’ forte — Gobert lightens his new teammate’s load. Not just individually against the largest opponents, either: Towns’ obligatory role helping against penetration and cleaning up at the rim put him too often in foul trouble, and any extra interaction with officials could trigger his complaints and grumbles. This gets him out of harm’s way there, too.

Anthony Edwards, Minnesota’s exuberant, explosive wing, looms large in the franchise’s future for his raw athletic ability and repertoire of highlight-ready moves. But for now, this is Towns’ team … and Towns’ towns (there’s two of them in the Twin Cities, doncha know).

“I think our goal is to win enough games to put KAT’s jersey in the rafters,” new president of basketball operations Tim Connelly told The Athletic. “He’s a guy that’s been through so much, and he’s only getting better and better. We’re going to go as far as he takes us.”

3. The Wolves are all-in

Closing out games was major issue for the young Timberwolves. Still, this playoff experience, as bad as it looked at times, should benefit them moving forward.

Teams such as those in Minnesota – cold weather, not glamorous, the most hinterland of NBA outposts – traditionally are limited in their avenues for improvement. The proverbial three-legged stool of drafts, trades and free agency teeters mostly on two, with few players choosing the Wolves as a destination market.

This trade means they’ll be relying mostly on one for the foreseeable future. Because they handed over four first-round picks to Utah, three of them completely naked and the 2029 pick with Top 5 protection. There is also a pick swap in 2026. And if you count center Walker Kessler, Minnesota’s yield at No. 22 from last week’s Draft, that makes it essentially six No. 1’s. That’s more than the franchise saw stripped away for their Joe Smith salary-cap circumvention a couple decades ago.

Don’t forget Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Leandro Balmoro, either. Several were helpful role players under Finch. Beasley could be erratic but was the team’s most prolific 3-point shooter. Beverley was  a chief perimeter defender and irritant. Vanderbilt, leaned on as Towns’ defensive and rebounding caddy.

So it’s going to be trades, most likely around the edges, and then a whole lot of coaching-up and internal development with the updated roster. Taurean Prince re-upped when the free agency bell rang, and the Wolves picked up Memphis forward Kyle Anderson as a versatile helper. They’re putting great faith in returnees Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell, with hopes for rookies Wendell Moore and Josh Minott.

4. Scaffolding is up in Salt Lake City

Why it finally seemed like time for the Jazz to split up Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted before this deal occurred, something was afoot with Utah based on its trade of starter Royce O’Neale to Brooklyn for a 2023 pick. Then Gobert goes. Now Donovan Mitchell is getting the most-likely-to-be-next speculation.

Of course, Quin Snyder exiting as head coach from a team he’d led to 108 games over .500 over the past six seasons was white smoke enough to indicate boss Danny Ainge’s thinking. This first-round/semifinals ceiling wasn’t cutting it anymore. Change was on its way and it is coming, in a stash of draft picks exceeded only by OKC’s always-be-hoarding Sam Presti.

Ainge did this once before, rounding up picks in Boston by unsentimentally trading aging Celtics icons Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. He also is using the Timberwolves – again – to overhaul his franchise, though in a mirror version of the original Garnett trade in 2007.

Only he’s pulling off this heist with his buddy Kevin McHale long gone from that Minnesota front office.

5. The crucial question: How much better have the Wolves become?

Does acquiring Rudy Gobert elevate the Timberwolves?

There’s no sense calculating Utah’s victory total as a result of this deal – that’s now what the Jazz came looking for. But the Wolves clearly think this is the next step in their timeline. In April, they emerged from the Western Conference Play-In Tournament to contest a first-round clash with Memphis, only the team’s second such best-of-seven opportunity since 2004. Truth be told, they probably should have beaten the Grizzlies, if not for inexperience gumming up their finishes in close games.

With Connelly in charge, Finch earning his own contract extension and new owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore on the horizon, this is no time for the Wolves to retreat into their den of lottery balls. The Minnesota fanbase has been worn out by modest ambitions and unrelenting disappointments.

Defense and paint protection was an issue. The Wolves ranked 13th in defensive efficiency last season (allowing 111.0 points per 100 possessions) and 16th in rebounding (25th on the defensive glass). Gobert helps there. Moving Towns to power forward opens up his full arsenal and suggests new, improved opportunities alongside Edwards.

But will it be enough in a daunting Western Conference? The Warriors, Suns, Nuggets, Grizzlies, Clippers and maybe the Mavericks look as good or better than they were, at least on paper. And that’s prior to accounting for New Orleans and whatever Lakers permutation shows up.

Given the price paid for Gobert – as opposed to bundling those assets in pursuit of Dejounte Murray or a Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade – it will stand to question whether Connelly got enough. The big Frenchman might have brought that West semifinals ceiling with him.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.