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Karl-Anthony Towns was just a significant part of perhaps the best season in Minnesota Timberwolves history. The Wolves reached the Western Conference finals for only the second time in team history. They beat the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets, and Towns defended three-time MVP Nikola Jokic as they did it. Minnesota has had to trade its fair share of well-known veterans over the years. But now? Can Minnesota truly never have nice things?

Yet as Minnesota was knocked out of the playoffs in a five-game Western Conference finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Towns' future was the immediate topic of speculation. After a strong series against Denver, his poor shooting and inability to stay out of foul trouble doomed him against Dallas. Now his future in Minnesota appears to be in doubt. So what's going on here? Why would Minnesota trade an All-Star after such a strong season? And where could Towns end up if he does in fact leave Minnesota?

Why he's in trade rumors

The Timberwolves already have roughly $193 million in salary committed for next season, above the projected second apron figure of $190 million. That does not include their first-round pick. It does not include new contracts for rotation reserves Kyle Anderson and Monte Morris. It does not account for filling out the roster even with minimum salaries. The Timberwolves are barreling toward a historic payroll. We don't know who their owner is going to be moving forward, but neither bodes well for the team's willingness to spend.

The Timberwolves could save money by trading someone else, but who would that be? Anthony Edwards is a non-starter. He's the face and future of the franchise. Rudy Gobert is their defensive identity. Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid and Mike Conley, while pricey, are underpaid relative to their value and are critical to the team's performance on both ends. Towns, as a super-max big on a team that also employs a Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year at his position, is the simplest combination of expensive and replaceable.

He was also, sadly, terrible against the Mavericks. He shot 37.9% from the floor and 24.2% from deep in the Western Conference finals. The first two games were decided by four combined points. Game 3 was tied with 4:35 remaining. It's entirely possible that a better Towns series would have won Minnesota the West. Maybe even the championship. It's just very hard to justify paying the super-max for an offensive player that hurt the offense in its biggest moments under the terms of the new CBA.

Why the Timberwolves would keep him

It was largely forgotten after the disastrous Western Conference finals ending, but Towns was absolutely critical to Minnesota's upset second-round win over the reigning champion Denver Nuggets. His ability to defend Nikola Jokic while Gobert focused on off-ball rim-protection swung that series. Moreover, having three great big men is a core part of what makes the Timberwolves special. There's something to be said for being bigger than everyone else, especially when it can be done without seriously compromising your spacing.

The Timberwolves also just had arguably the best season in team history. Towns is the longest-tenured player on the team. He is a homegrown No. 1 overall pick. What kind of message would trading him, here and now, send to the team and city? To Edwards, who will inevitably be tempted by bigger cities and brighter stars later in his career? Would either possible ownership group want to take the blame for moving Towns?

If Minnesota is scared of Towns' contract, the rest of the league will be too. This wouldn't be a case where the Timberwolves can just make the inverse of their Gobert swap and turn Towns into a mountain of picks and role players. They'd likely find positive value for Towns, but practically any feasible deal would hurt next year's team without offering some substantial long-term reward.

What destinations make sense?

Towns is a tricky player to place. His super-max contract will trim the field. Teams tend not to want to invest in centers that aren't defensive anchors. Towns can obviously play power forward, but it mutes his offensive value. He would probably have to go to a win-now team of some variety, but it would have to be one with some financial flexibility and an open mind about how to use him.

New York Knicks: We've heard this rumor for years. Towns is a CAA player. The Knicks are practically Team-CAA. New York already invests quite a bit of money into an offensive-minded power forward. A swap of Julis Randle for Towns, with Bojan Bogdanovic included for financial purposes, would position the Timberwolves to maintain a broadly similar playing style, but with a $30 million power forward instead of a $50 million power forward. The Knicks have reportedly eyed Towns for some time, but there have been no serious talks between the two teams.

Oklahoma City Thunder: If savings are the priority, no team can help the Timberwolves more than the Thunder. If they wanted to create the space to absorb Towns outright they probably could, and they have all the picks they could ever need for trade purposes. The Thunder want to play five-out. They badly need size. A trade of this magnitude would be out of character for a team this patient, and it would create serious financial issues in two years when Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren get their inevitable rookie extensions, but boy, would the present be tantalizing.

Brooklyn Nets: The Nets keep warding off Mikal Bridges offers because they want to pair him with another star. It's becoming increasingly likely that Donovan Mitchell stays in Cleveland, depriving the Nets of their first choice. That would leave players like Towns as viable options. The Nets could get most of the way financially with an expiring contract in Ben Simmons, or they could send Minnesota role players like Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith or Dennis Schroder. The rest of Brooklyn's roster would need work, but at least Towns and Bridges is a starting point to something interesting.

What is the latest reporting?

Towns made it clear after the Western Conference finals that he expects to be back. "I'm confident that I'm going to be able to be here with my brothers and continue to do what I love here at home. So that's the plan. Nothing's ever changed on my side, and I love this city, I love this organization," he said. So far, no substantial reporting has indicated that Minnesota plans to pursue a Towns trade, and given the holding pattern created by the ownership battle, it's hard to imagine the Timberwolves making such a seismic change now. If they are blown away, they'll listen, but in all likelihood, they'll address their financial crunch down the line.