MINNEAPOLIS — Unlike last year, the final full week of June brings with it the distinct possibility of an altered future for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
A more bountiful NBA Draft crop increases the Wolves’ chances of drafting an eventual franchise changer, even though they pick four spots lower than they did a year ago. If the dust settles favorably, Minnesota could land its long-sought wing cornerstone in Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, Duke’s Rodney Hood or Creighton’s Doug McDermott. Or perhaps some additional frontcourt help is in order via Michigan State prospect Adreian Payne.
But that’s assuming Minnesota still drafts 13th this Thursday when the lights come on in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Barclays Center. Still within the realm of possibility is the Timberwolves’ greatest 2014 draft acquisition coming from another team in exchange for the lynchpin of Minnesota’s 2014 offseason plans.
Kevin Love trade rumors that reached a fever pitch late last week and into the weekend have slowed without a deal being struck. The Warriors reportedly aren’t willing to part with shooting guard Klay Thompson, Chicago doesn’t have the draft assets Minnesota covets alongside proven talent, and the Celtics are in an opposite boat with plenty of future picks to deal but not enough tradable current assets.
Teams like Denver and Sacramento, meanwhile, haven’t presented Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders a presentable enough option yet. The czar of all things Wolvesdom says he’s in no rush to trade a disgruntled Love, who by all indications will opt out of the final year of his contract and hit unrestricted free agency next summer.
"I don’t feel in limbo at all," Saunders said after appointing himself to take over for retired Rick Adelman. "I’m very comfortable with all our players coming back. I would be comfortable if we could make a trade to get us better."
Saunders says he doesn’t mind delaying what seems inevitable. But that doesn’t mean he has to.
In order to drive up perceived value, teams often wait till the 11th hour to execute a deal — see past draft-day trades and the league’s annual January trade deadline drama as examples. When it comes to the draft, teams can wait till they’re on the clock to see what players are available and compare their value with any potential trade gets.
The longer Saunders waits, the more he presses a team like Golden State to include Thompson or Cleveland to consider giving Minnesota the No. 1 overall in a trade that includes Love.
For suitors, it means yielding. For the Wolves, it means building the greatest leverage possible.
It’s worked in the past. The night of the 2007 draft, the Seattle SuperSonics traded Ray Allen and 35th overall pick Glen Davis to Boston for Wally Szczerbiak, Jeff Green, Delonte West and a 2008 second-round selection. The Nuggets dealt Antonio McDyess and the 25th overall pick to New York for Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson and No. 7 overall pick Nene in 2002. The Lakers sent Vlade Divac to Charlotte for 1996 13th overall pick Kobe Bryant.
But more recently, stars seeking an avenue out the door have been dealt later. Orlando waited until August 2012 to trade embattled big man Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, Chris Paul’s migration from New Orleans to the Clippers occurred in December 2011, and Denver shipped Carmelo Anthony to New York close to the 2011 February trade deadline.
If that’s the case this time around, it’ll make for an awfully awkward 2014-15 campaign after Love’s calculated avoidance of committing to Minnesota, a public message that’s interpreted to mean he wants out of the Twin Cities.
But Saunders has a way out of that mess between now and Thursday night, should he choose to use it.