Life after Love? Wolves must weigh options

Kevin Love's public comments recently have expressed unclear -- sometimes contradictory -- sentiments about his future in Minnesota.

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Kevin Love, speaking with FOX Sports at a publicity event for the newest edition of "Call of Duty" last Wednesday:

"I just think it’s all in my people that represent me, it’s in their hands, and I just want to go to a spot — wherever that is, one of 30 teams — where I can win. In six years, I haven’t been in the playoffs, and I think it’s time for people to be watching me."

Cryptic.

Kevin Love, talking to USA Today Sports at the same convention:

"It’€™s funny how the world works. I respect what people put out there, but a lot of it is not true and laughable. At the same time, it’s fun and nice to be wanted."

Contradictory.

Related

Kevin Love, on ESPN’s social media-entwined "SportsNation" last week:

"My agent is handling everything at this point. . . . Six years in the league, I’m 25 years old, I’m hopefully heading into my prime, working as hard as I possibly can, and I’m hoping that everything works out for all parties involved.

"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win. At the end of the day, I’ve played six years, haven’t made the playoffs yet — that burns me and hurts my heart."

Cloudy.

Once Kevin Love decided to speak publicly for the first time this offseason, interpretation and analysis of his every word — said with the cameras on and the country watching — spread through the web like a patch of ragweed.

But there’s as much, if not more, to be gleaned from what Love didn’t say the last time he donned a Timberwolves game jersey.

After Minnesota’s double-overtime loss April 16 against Utah to conclude another frustrating season in the Twin Cities, Love was asked if he thought he’d be back with the Wolves in 2014-15, the last season on his contract before he can opt out and become an unrestricted free agent.

Kevin Love, sitting in front of his locker and staring blankly as a team public relations employee said the All-Star power forward was done taking questions.

Silence.

It’s not that Love has said outright he wants out of Minneapolis. It’s that at every opportunity to quell speculation that he does, he’s only fanned the flames.

And the fire is burning as bright as ever 10 days out from the 2014 NBA Draft.

No longer is coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders clamoring for Love to consider staying. The Wolves, reportedly, have fielded trade offers from more than half the league involving Love. The market is at its most lucrative right now with top picks in a deep draft available for dealing.

Wolves Draft Double Takes

Love and the franchise that traded for him in the 2008 draft are leaving less and less room to believe he’ll be around when training camp begins this fall. The time to plan for life after Love is officially here.

It’s a three-part process:

The trade: Assuming it happens before or during the draft, the deal sending Love away could include either the pick that nets Minnesota a new star in return, or a proven forward like Golden State’s David Lee or Chicago’s Taj Gibson. The ideal scenario brings in a top draft pick and experienced assets to insert into the rotation immediately.

The draft: If the Wolves are dealt a favorable draft pick in exchange for Love, they can select whom they deem the best available talent. If they stay at No. 13 overall, they can nab a power forward of the future like Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, who worked out for Minnesota officials Saturday. In order to protect his hand, Saunders hasn’t been as wont to open draft workouts to the media this summer — because whatever the Wolves’ draft plans are tie in directly with Love’s future.

Free agency: Depending on the other two steps, Minnesota may still have a hole at power forward that needs to be addressed in July. Dante Cunningham is an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to be re-signed, and the only other four left on the roster is little-used Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The Wolves will have a near $6 million mid-level exception and perhaps some left-over money from shedding the $32.5 million they’d owe Love the next two seasons if he opted in. Hypothetical, unrestricted options here include Kris Humphries, Boris Diaw and Jordan Hill, but no one from that trio is anywhere near the skill level of Love — few human beings are — and are just as unlikely to choose an in-flux Minnesota franchise as their next destination, if they leave their current franchises at all. That makes negotiating a trade with the power forward position in mind all the more imperative.

There is no replacing a talent like Love. But Saunders’ job has become mitigating the loss of him, should he indeed desire to move on, and rebuilding in the wake thereof.

And the possibility of that scenario is looking more and more realistic.

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