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An unexpected case for Trae Young or Karl Anthony Towns to the Spurs

How an eyebrow-raising trade could ease San Antonio’s path back into contention

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Trae Young, an offensive phenom with multiple All-Star games and a Conference Finals run under his belt. Karl-Anthony Towns, an established All-NBA caliber center and arguably the greatest big-man shooter in history. Both are among the most talented players in the NBA but have disappointed this season. Young’s Hawks and Towns’ Timberwolves are both stuck in the middle of the pack with no clear route to contention. So it comes as no surprise that trade rumors are swirling. If either star becomes available, the San Antonio Spurs should be on the phone testing the waters of a deal.

Wait, what?

San Antonio has set itself up for long-term success very early in their rebuild. They have the highest lottery odds of landing the first overall pick this summer, as well as a promising collection of youngsters already on the roster. Why blow that up to acquire a star when they’re far from a championship team? Especially when said star doesn’t seem like a Spurs guy at first glance! Young is seemingly cocky and uninterested in taking responsibility for failure (Atlanta’s on their third coach in the five years of his career). Towns is highly-emotional and easily frustrated which often leads to him pressing the issue offensively at the expense of victory. The difference personality-wise between those two and past Spurs stars like Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and DeMar DeRozan is night and day.

Even though going after a star appears premature and out of left field, the benefits of adding Trae Young or Karl-Anthony Towns are intriguing and a potential trade for one or the other would pave a path to a prosperous future. Let’s take a closer look.

Path #1: Trae & Wemby

NBA: G League-Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans at Ignite Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Envision for a moment the thing you want the most right now as a Spurs fan. Chances are, generational prospect Victor Wembanyama popped into your mind instantly. The 19-year-old towers at an unfathomable 7’5” and is the consensus top pick of the 2023 draft class (read more about him here). To say the sky is the limit for Wemby is stating the obvious and only injury could prevent him from reaching megastar status. Now, picture him sharing the floor with Trae Young.

As San Anronio’s roster is currently constructed, Wemby would be asked to shoulder a gigantic role on both ends of the floor from the jump. But, considering the injury history of similarly-built players, forcing him to exert too large an amount of energy (especially before he fills out his frame) sounds like a recipe for trouble. Devin Vassell has taken leaps and bounds as a shot creator, and Tre Jones is a very capable floor general, but having someone who could consistently relieve pressure from Wemby while amplifying his offensive skillset would go a long way in the big fella’s development. That’s where Trae Young comes in.

Young is one of the elite offensive hubs in basketball. The Atlanta Hawks guard boasts career averages of 25.5 points and 9.3 assists per game and has led the NBA in total helpers two years in a row. He’s a pick-and-roll wizard and a phenomenal lob passer who uses the threat of his silky float game to force defenders to gamble every time he’s probing the paint. His scoring efficiency has recently dropped, but he can still go for 30+ nightly, pressuring defenses to cover him tightly and send constant traps. The gravity he creates allows him to dissect defenses with his surgical passing. While Young does notoriously struggle in his own end, his effort level jumped once Quin Snyder took over as Atlanta’s head coach and Coach Pop could likely bring even more out of him defensively.

Just imagine those two on the court together. A Young-dictated P&R with Wemby diving to the rim would be virtually unstoppable. If the low man showed even the slightest sign of committing to help on the drive, Young would flick an alley where only Wemby can reach and the Frenchman would yam down the oop. Doesn’t that sound beautiful?

The positives of obtaining Young extend beyond his on-court performance and into the direction of the organization. The traditional rebuilding route is bottoming out, amassing draft capital, and hoping prospects pan out— which is exactly what the Spurs did this past season. However, in recent years, we’re seeing teams aim for a more competitive revamping process, with a prominent example being the Oklahoma City Thunder. The emergence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a superstar put the Thunder in a position to compete sooner than expected, and they took advantage of this by trying to win while still prioritizing development. While they ultimately fell short in the play-in, OKC’s youngsters gained way more meaningful experience by pushing for the playoffs than they would by tanking. The sheer abundance of talent around the league has made speedy retools like OKC’s more trendy. The Cleveland Cavaliers were miserable the second time around post-LeBron, but while they racked up Ls they put together a young core as good as any other. Recognizing what they had in Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen, Cleveland traded for a superstar of their own in Donovan Mitchell, a guy who fit their timeline and was capable of elevating them to the top of the East (which is exactly what happened).

Trae Young could play a similar rebuild-accelerator role for the Silver and Black. They wouldn’t be in title contention immediately (unless Wembanyama went on a Magic Johnson run and won Finals MVP as a freshman), but rolling out a squad capable of competing for a top six seed would be a much better experience for players, coaches, and fans alike than spending another season in the deep, dark depths of the league. Young is also just 24 and has his entire prime ahead of him.

Every rose has its thorn, though. Young is one of the most ball-dominant players in the NBA, and that would take valuable touches away from everyone else on the roster. Core pieces like Vassell would lose on-ball reps and players like Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley would be put on the backburner (if they weren’t included in the package to get Young) almost entirely. Additionally, there are no guarantees that Young would be happy in San Antonio. He’s a bit of a wildcard attitude-wise and if he became restless with the situation the whole plan would implode.

Path #2: KAT & Scoot

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The idea of Victor Wemanyama in a Spurs jersey is enough to make any fan of the team drool, but the opportunity to draft him is not a sure thing. If the ping pong balls don’t drop in our favor, hope for the future should not be lost. There are several other prospective stars at the top of the 2023 draft class, including and specifically Scoot Henderson. The G-League Ignite product is an incredibly athletic and bouncy 6’3” guard bursting with creation upside who has earned comparisons to the likes of Russell Westbrook, Ja Morant, and Derrick Rose (read more about him here). He is the near-consensus second-overall pick and should be good enough from the get-go to warrant the same competitive rebuild Wembanyama would. Henderson would not work well alongside Trae Young, though, as both are lead guards and he is a limited three-point shooter and off-ball contributor. So if Henderson is the lottery selection suiting up for the Silver and Black next season, Brian Wright should seriously pursue Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns’ claim to fame is being the best three-point shooting big of all time. The two-time All-NBA nominee is a career 39% shooter from deep on high volume, something very few other players of his size can hold a candle to. Out of all centers with 600+ career three-point tries, he ranks first in percentage. Towns pairs his deep-range sniping with the ability to get past closeouts and draw contact at the cup. Toss in his skill as a passer from the post and it’s clear why he is truly special offensively. His lackluster postseason track record with the Minnesota Timberwolves has made many skeptical of him but there’s no denying the pure talent Towns possesses. Just like Young and Wembanyama, KAT and Scoot would help put Ws on the board.

If Wembanyama becomes a Spur in June, trading for Towns should be out of the question. Sharing the frontcourt with Rudy Gobert this season as a jumbo four-man has exposed his weaknesses in space defensively, and being paired with Wemby would bump Towns into that same uncomfortable position. If Henderson is the pick, Towns becomes the guy instead of Trae Young. Because Henderson is an electric slasher with a below-par jump shot, having a center who can space the floor and clear the lane would benefit him immensely. There is no better stretch five than Karl-Anthony Towns.

The major downside to Towns is his tendency to let his emotions get the best of him. When a foul call doesn’t go his way or he misses a few shots in succession, Towns gets frustrated easily and gets somewhat out of control. He’ll start recklessly pursuing buckets or whistles, often to the detriment of the team. However, if channeled correctly, the frustration could become fuel used to turn Towns into a dominant force. Being coached by the greatest ever to pick up a clipboard could help him do just that.

If the Price Is Right

So what would it take for the Spurs to add one of these guys? Young’s price would be much heftier. He’s younger and better than Towns and after his performance against the Celtics in the playoffs Atlanta will probably be even more hesitant to part ways with their franchise guard. To lure the Hawks into a deal, rising star and fan favorite Keldon Johnson would have to be included alongside one of Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley. Here’s what a package could look like:

Towns’ value, on the other hand, is at an all-time low. Keldon would be the main bait again but it would take fewer picks to get a deal done.

Overall, in no circumstance should San Antonio clean house and break down what they’ve already built just to bring a star to the team. The lottery pick, Devin Vassell, and Jeremy Sochan should be effectively untouchable. However, if the price is right, Trae Young or Karl-Anthony Towns should be lacing up their kicks for the Spurs in the 2023-24 season. If they do, San Antonio will be gunning for Larry O’Bs for the next decade.