Trade No. 1 pick for Towns? The Suns have leverage, incentive and Booker

May 20, 2018, 8:20 PM | Updated: May 21, 2018, 1:38 pm
Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns, left, is double-teamed by Houston Rockets' PJ Tucker, r...
Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns, left, is double-teamed by Houston Rockets' PJ Tucker, right, and James Harden in the first half during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

It took 50 years for the Suns to acquire the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.  It took three days for the gift to become a gambit, for the celebration to shift into a sobering conversation:

Should our NBA franchise trade their winning lottery ticket for an established star?

Yes. Definitely. But only in the case of Timberwolves’ star Karl-Anthony Towns, who might be available following reports of internal discord in Minnesota.

It would be folly to call this a rare opportunity. Elite NBA talent has become increasingly available in recent years. Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins were traded in 2017. LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard might switch teams before next season. A current generation of stars are guided by wanderlust and personal empowerment, with no reservations about jilting their current fan base.

It’s also presumptuous to assume the Timberwolves will look to move Towns anytime soon, even though the dysfunction in Minnesota has been illuminated by two highly-respected NBA journalists. The Wolves fired Towns’ developmental coach following their playoff elimination. Teammate Andrew Wiggins is unhappy with his role in the offense. And there have been lingering rumors that Towns doesn’t enjoy the screaming, confrontational style of his heavy-handed head coach, Tom Thibodeau.

There are plenty of reasons why this would work for both franchises.

Towns is close friends with Suns star Devin Booker, a former college teammate at Kentucky. He is only 22, and his rookie contract would give the Suns three years of control. He is 7-feet tall, and one of the brightest young stars in the NBA.  He has transcendent talent, the kind of front-court force that Deandre Ayton aspires to be somewhere down the road.

Observers are already wondering if Towns’ alleged unhappiness will lead to a showdown with Thibodeau and the Wolves’ billionaire owner, Glen Taylor. But if Taylor fires his head coach to pacify Towns, he will alienate another star player, Jimmy Butler, who professes deep loyalty to Thibodeau. It’s a sticky dilemma for a team on the rise.

This much is certain: If the situation becomes untenable, NBA teams would line up around the block to acquire a player like Towns. But only the Suns can offer a younger, more affordable replacement (Ayton). And Towns can shape the narrative by expressing a desire to play in Phoenix, alongside Booker.

This unexpected debate is extremely disorienting to Valley basketball fans. When the Suns landed the No. 1 pick, it symbolized a seismic shift in fortune. The Suns have been a hard-luck franchise from their inception, when they lost a coin flip for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before their inaugural season. During Jerry Colangelo’s tenure as majority owner, the franchise forged the fourth-best winning percentage in NBA history, only to make just two appearances in the NBA Finals.

The No. 1 pick offers more than a highly-touted prospect. It gives the Suns control of their destiny. It generates intoxicating amounts of attention. From coast to coast, every draft conversation begins with Phoenix, and the excitement is already palpable. The Suns have never been in this position before, and there’s great value in milking the moment, announcing the first pick in the draft, and watching that player’s development, for better or worse. It’s a chance to claim our next homegrown star, without having to pick from leftovers.

Trading the pick would pull the plug on this exhilarating experience. It would also eliminate the timeline and a playoff drought that’s lasted nearly a decade.

Before Towns, there was only one player who seemed worthy of such risk. That was Leonard, a top-tier star disenfranchised with the Spurs, seemingly eager for a fresh start. But he has one year left on his contract, and has shown no interest in dropping roots in Arizona.  For all his considerable skills, he doesn’t offer a ceiling like Towns or possess a deep relationship with Booker, the face of the franchise.

It would cost more than the No. 1 pick to make this happen. But if the dissent in Minnesota is real, the Suns have plenty of leverage and incentive. And a reunion of Towns and Booker would give them a pair of young superstars who happen to be close friends, changing the future overnight.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Trade No. 1 pick for Towns? The Suns have leverage, incentive and Booker