On July 1, Tim Connelly and Danny Ainge made one of the most controversial trades in NBA history. The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz for four draft picks, a pick swap, and several role players, including fan favorites Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt. The national media primarily lauded Ainge for the haul he got for Gobert and criticized the Wolves (as usual) for how much they paid for a player who isn’t a traditional superstar.
The number of players and draft picks the Timberwolves front office sent out was undoubtedly an “overpay” from a historical perspective. It’s easy to do a quick Google search and find trades for players who are as good or better than Gobert, where teams offered less than what Minnesota did. The most similar recent trade was when the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Anthony Davis in 2019. LA gave up three first-round picks, pick swaps, and three talented young players, including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart.
However, the landscape of the NBA is constantly changing, and this isn’t the first time a team has dramatically altered the landscape of the trade market with one transaction. It isn’t even the first time Ainge has been responsible for changing the market. As Brian Windhorst pointed out on The Hoop Collective Podcast, Ainge “moved the game in 2012 when he got three unprotected picks and the swaps.” He then points out that three picks and two swaps are now “the starting point for a star player trade.”
Just days before the Gobert trade, the Atlanta Hawks traded three first-round picks for Dejounte Murray, a talented up-and-coming guard. Murray has only one All-Star quality season and a decent amount of injury history. While I was personally an advocate for taking a swing on Murray, it seems odd that the Gobert trade caught so much more flak than the Murray trade. Gobert is a much more proven player.
Regardless, people around the league are still upset about the Gobert trade weeks after it happened. Windhorst reported that at the NBA’s Summer League, he had 10 people working in the league complain to him about what the Wolves gave up. Now, why is that? Why would they do that?
The primary answer seems to be that the market price for trades in the league has risen to an unreasonably high level due to the haul that the Jazz got for Gobert. It has empowered the front offices of teams looking to trade away star players and initiate a rebuild to ask for more draft picks than ever before. It’s now even more of a seller’s market, and front offices looking to sell can start trade negotiations from an even stronger position of power.
According to Tim MacMahon, people in the Jazz front office were telling teams at Summer League that “we got five firsts (counting Walker Kessler) for Gobert, we’re going to get more than that for Donovan Mitchell.” Additionally, the Brooklyn Nets have reportedly been asking an exorbitantly high price from teams who want to trade for Kevin Durant. We know that the Nets asked for Anthony Edwards or Karl-Anthony Towns for Durant when the Wolves called them before they made the Gobert trade.
For the record, this suggests that the trade market for stars was already incredibly high before the Wolves went all-in on Gobert. But everyone seems to be blaming the Wolves anyway, so why not take that spot in the NBA history books? Regardless, the trade gave teams a tangible example that they can ask for the world, and it can work if they are patient enough to wait for the right offer.
While the market inflation has drawn the ire of many league executives, it may benefit the Wolves this season. The trade market is currently frozen, and many teams seem to be hoping to wait out the market’s spike rather than compounding it by following suit with the “new standard of picks.” Several players who were rumored to be headed to the Western Conference no longer seem as likely to do so.
The Nets were rumored to be in trade talks about moving Durant to the Phoenix Suns, one of the few teams with enough good players to trade for Durant and still have a team left to play around him. However, the Suns recently matched an offer bringing Deandre Ayton back on a four-year max deal, which means he can’t be traded until Jan. 15th, 2023. As a result, Phoenix no longer has as appealing of a trade package for Durant until January, which suggests that they are passing on the trade for now.
Kyrie Irving was rumored to be getting moved to the Lakers a few weeks ago. However, Adrian Wojnarowski has since reported that the trade is unlikely to happen. Additionally, the Nets are reportedly “focused on the Kevin Durant situation first.” Therefore, it’s even more unlikely that Brooklyn will trade Kyrie soon. As a bonus, it has been rumored that the New York Knicks are currently the front runners in the Mitchell trade sweepstakes. They have multiple draft picks to trade, and Mitchell has several connections to New York. If Mitchell moves to the Eastern Conference, then that’s one less All-Star the Wolves will have to battle regularly. It’s also one more tanking team to (hopefully) get easy wins against.
Even if all those players end up being traded to (or stay in) the Western Conference, the Wolves will still have other slight advantages due to the frozen trade market. They traded for Gobert at the beginning of the offseason. He has already had a chance to speak to fans in an introductory press conference, talk with the Wolves coaching staff, and visit Minneapolis to get accustomed to his new home.
It may seem small, but comfort is essential to players performing at their highest level. We all know what it’s like to have stress in our home and personal lives affect our productivity and work life. Imagine being traded a week before the NBA season starts, having to move your entire life to a new city, and still show up to work the next day. The Wolves will have the advantage of having Gobert at training camp the day it starts. He can begin developing chemistry with the players already on the team through practices and preseason games. Gobert will likely have already bought a house in Minnesota by the time any of the aforementioned superstars even know what city they’re being traded to.
Of course, the entire trade could backfire and leave fans questioning Connelly and Minnesota’s new ownership team. However, if a new higher standard for trades has truly been set, that will still ultimately benefit the Wolves in the event they are forced to rebuild. They now have a starting lineup full of players who could net them their own haul of picks down the line. I’m not arguing that the Timberwolves front office is going full galaxy brain while the rest of the league is viewing the world through a one-dimensional lens. I’m simply stating that if you stop asking yourself, why is that? Why would the Wolves do that? then you might find a few more answers than you previously thought. As MacMahon said best, “inflation man, we’re all dealing with it.”