Gilbert McGregor of NBA.com recently came out with his list of top 75 players in the NBA and he has Karl-Anthony Towns at 26, just a few spots higher than the Knicks’ Julius Randle. Towns is a very talented player who averaged 24.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last year on a 49/39/86 slash line. At just 25 years old, there is a reason NBA executives have long kept an eye on his situation with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Towns has been looked at as one of the league’s brightest young stars, but after missing the playoffs year in and year out and lacking team success, he seemed the most likely candidate to be the next star to ask for a trade until reports came out denying such a situation, saying that there was “no indication” he wants out. But hypothetically, if this season with Minnesota proves to be another disappointment, the franchise continues to prove their ineptitude by failing to make any process in building a winning team and Towns asks for a trade, should the Knicks pull the trigger and make an offer?
Stefan Bondy’s tweet about a possible trade is probably the one most likely to appeal (at least from Minnesota’s point of view): Towns for Randle and RJ Barrett.
Julius Randle and RJ Barrett for Karl Anthony Towns:— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) September 22, 2021
Who says no?
In Towns, many fans see a young star who hails from Jersey, is ready to produce for the Big Apple and brings even more hype and success than Barrett and Randle. Many Knicks supporters, as well as non-Knicks supporters, voiced their opinions on why the Knicks should chase the potentially disgruntled star. And there is good reason for that. Given his aforementioned numbers and age, there is a possibility that Towns comes in, takes another step in his game and with a new change of scenery and continues to mature from a stat sheet stuffer to a winner. But there is also a reason why many, including myself, would rather not go ahead with the trade.
Side note: this is coming from someone who thinks highly of Towns and his talent. First, Randle was able to win. Towns did make the playoffs once in 2018 and you can make an argument about whose team had more talent and stayed healthy and all that, but at the end of the day, this league is often result-based, and even more so a “what have you done for me lately?” league. Randle was clearly the engine that drove this team and the focal point of everything they did offensively in carrying this team to the playoffs, somewhere Towns hasn’t gotten close to since 2018.
The trade would also potentially include Barrett, who showed significant improvements last year: making huge strides in his outside shooting, continuing to improve as both an on-ball and help defender and showing glimpses of his potential to create for himself off the dribble. While Barrett still has a lot of work to do, his work ethic, confidence, and mentality, along with what we saw last year, should lead to yet another leap in his game this year. His numbers will be hard to predict with more mouths to feed on offense this year, but it would be a surprise if we didn’t see him continue to take the next step in to becoming a potential All-Star caliber player. So this trade would include a current All-Star and a potential All-Star who combine to make $36M for Towns, who hasn’t made the All-Star game in two years and makes $33M himself.
Towns also didn’t necessarily get along with current Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, and while stars and former coaches have reunited in the past, there is still that bridge to cross. Another thing to consider is fit. While Towns possesses a lot of the skillset that Randle has and then some on offense, he is a pretty bad defender. His help defense is all right due to his athleticism, but man-to-man he often struggles or appears lazy; the same can be said for his overall team defense IQ. The Knicks made their mark last year by being a very disciplined, stingy, hard-nosed, blue collar defensive team and Towns has yet to show that he can be a part of a team like that. Randle is by no means an elite defender, but he showed on multiple occasions last year that he is willing to put in the work and compete night in and night out on both sides of the ball.
So how about the other disgruntled star that actually wants out? Ben Simmons has been, unlike Towns, very vocal about wanting out of his current situation. He came into the league with a lot of potential and hype, and throughout his first few seasons showed why so many around the game praise his. His rare and unique combination of size, defense, rebounding, and playmaking led to comparisons with LeBron James and Magic Johnson. While his scoring was never at an elite level, most believed that it was only time until he developed in that area.
But as the 76ers found out, it wouldn’t come that easy. After a couple years as an elite regular season team, the 76ers have struggled in the playoffs, in large part due to Simmons’ inability to shoot as well as his reluctance to look for his own shot. So this offseason, after yet another letdown in the playoffs, Simmons asked to be traded. The 76ers wanted to keep him for the upcoming season, but his refusal to join the team for media day and training camp have signaled that this relationship is all but over. And the Knicks were dragged into this messy situation recently when Simmons added the Knicks to his list of teams he would be interested in playing for. So like the hypothetical Towns situation, we must ask ourselves: is this a trade worth pursuing?
Simmons, like Towns, still has a lot of potential due to his age (25). There is a possibility that he blossoms from a star with clear weaknesses into one of the game’s best players, because the scary thing is he really is a somewhat reliable jump shot and mental shift away from achieving just that. Maybe if he were to have a full team built around him and his strengths and weaknesses, he could really thrive. But like the Towns situation, this trade would most likely not happen unless the Knicks parted with Randle and/or Barrett. In both scenarios, it does not make a lot of sense to make the trade.
Yes, Simmons for RJ straight up may end up worthwhile for the Knicks if Simmons can figure things out. But they’d be taking on a boatload of money for a player who has not been the best player on an NBA team yet and has shown that he is not the easiest player to play or build around. His fit with Randle, who would still be the best player on that team, does not mesh at all. Randle occupies some of the same areas on the floor Embiid does in Philadelphia, and he’s also a big who likes to have the ball in his hands for post-ups or face- ups in the midrange. If the Knicks ran a similar offense as last year with Randle being the main go-to guy, Simmons would be stuck floating around without much to do when not handling the ball, something we already saw did not work in Philadelphia.
The other option would be to give Simmons more of the ball-handling duties, but that also does not make sense as it takes the ball out of the hands of New York’s best offensive player. If the only way to get the trade done was to send Randle, it would be even worse. The Knicks would be losing their best player and the current roster isn’t filled with the knockdown shooters that Simmons would ideally like to play with. If the Knicks replaced Randle with Simmons, the team most likely doesn’t make the playoffs and they are back to square one in looking for a number one option.
So are Randle and/or Barrett untouchable? No. Leon Rose and the Knicks front office should be open to listening to every deal since they still are in a position where they can, want to, and need to get a lot better to compete for a championship. But after the season they had last year and the moves they made in the offseason, the Knicks need to stay patient and careful. For a lack of better term, they have to trust the process by believing in Randle and the All-Star he is now, trust their young core of Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley, and hope that the new veteran additions can be the pieces to take this team to the next level.
Most franchises with success, especially sustained success, take years to build, and the Knicks should stay on track. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t go for a trade if one presents itself, but they should remain very cautious in taking on big contracts and trading their young pieces. Gutting their roster for a Towns or Simmons or any other 2nd or 3rd tier star doesn’t make them a better team because they would parting ways with a lot of their own talent as well. There should only be a few tier 1 superstars that the Knicks should be willing to trade for and even then, it shouldn’t be just any of them. Guys like Damian Lillard and Steph Curry would be great to watch, but an aging star coming to a team where the team would be gutted wouldn’t results in a better season. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, Nikola Jokic, Zion Williamson and Jayson Tatum are the only kind of guys the Knicks should be willing to trade their core for.