Wolves will have to make decision with others courting Love
MAY 23, 2014 3:23p ET
Motivation usually aids hardheadedness.
Since Flip Saunders took over as the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations a year ago, he maintained a constant, fervent message his inherited star player wasn't going anywhere. As recently as this week, owner Glen Taylor told a local paper the same thing.
But the facade appears to be wilting.
Saunders came in with a pipe dream of convincing Love to stay with the franchise that traded for him in the 2008 NBA Draft -- even after previous management denied him a max extension Love thought was rightfully his. But now, with Love able to opt out after next season and become an unrestricted free agent, the Timberwolves have no choice but to at least entertain the notion the bearded face of the organization may require losing.
Stay too stubborn, and he could walk for nothing.
With the draft coming in a little more than a month, the market is at its most lucrative right now. Teams that want Love are lining up deals, according to reports, some that include draft picks and proven pieces to help assuage the loss of Love.
A team almost never walks away from trading a superstar in better shape than it was previously -- see Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. But there are some chips out there that could mitigate the departure of another Kevin from the Twin Cities.
After Tuesday's draft lottery, the most enticing draft-based option is Cleveland. The Cavaliers inexplicably received the draft's No. 1 pick for the third time in the past four years, an intriguing proposition to dangle in exchange for Love's services.
The Cavs reportedly made a run at Love last summer in a similar situation, to which Saunders promptly said "no way." But a package including the potential to draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker may be too much to pass up.
It'd likely require some additional cash compensation on Cleveland's part to fill in the salary gap between Love and a player on the NBA's rookie scale.
But Cleveland doesn't show up on the list of teams Love is reportedly interested. That matters because any team in discussions with the Timberwolves would want assurances Love would sign a long-term extension after his contract expires.
Like Paul did with the Hornets in 2011, Love could opt into 2015-16, worth $16.7 million. This would increase his trade value, as teams would get a guaranteed-minimum two years out of him.
Love's willingness to land with the Cavaliers, of course, would likely change drastically if they're able to woo LeBron James, who can opt out of his contract at the end of this season, back to his home state.
But a more likely trading partner is Chicago, for a number of reasons. The Bulls have enough tradable assets to offer a return for Love and assume one or two unwanted Timberwolves contracts, and Love has to like the idea of playing alongside a healthy Derrick Rose and turning the Bulls into a surefire contender.
Butler and Gibson are two of the league's more renowned defenders and could help reshape Minnesota's identity into a more balanced group. Even better, they're and 24 and 28, respectively, leaving at least a few more years for them to perform at a peak level.
The Bulls also have a pair of first-round picks -- 16th and 19th overall -- in this year's draft and a 2015 first-rounder that could that could serve as secondary trade bait.
Trading with a team like Chicago would allow the Timberwolves to clear guards J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved from the fold even with the pair still under contract. Neither performed well for Minnesota this past season; Barea's been floated as a trade asset before, and Shved's in danger of being bought out in order to free up some roster space.
Considered a Love frontrunner due to his many connections with the area, the Los Angeles Lakers didn't receive any favors from the lottery Tuesday. Rather than jump into the top three and grab a pick worth offering the Timberwolves, they moved back a spot to seventh.
Love has plenty of reasons to like the City of Angels. His parents live in the area, he played his one college basketball season at UCLA, and his girlfriend Cody Horn is from California.
But his most likely route there includes playing out 2014-15 in Minneapolis, opting out then signing with the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent. Los Angeles will all but certainly have the cap room, but it doesn't have much to offer Minnesota in a trade other than the draft's seventh overall pick.
After dropping a spot to sixth via the lottery, Boston is in the same boat. The Celtics, however, have two first-round picks -- also the 17th overall selection -- to offer, but little in proven player potential other than role-playing small forward Jeff Green. Power forward Jared Sullinger and/or center Kelly Olynyk could also be thrown in a deal.
The Suns (three first-round draft picks and a bevy of movable contracts including those of twins Marcus and Markieff Morris), Rockets (Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik) and Warriors (Harrison Barnes, David Lee and perhaps guard Klay Thompson) also could take a shot at Love's services. For his part, Saunders could get creative with a pair of other teams in a three-team deal that balances out return and salary cap space.
Or, Saunders could stay the course and spend the better part of one more season trying to sell Love on staying. If that doesn't work, there's always the trade deadline to execute a deal.
But by then, the market will have shrunk. Players, including Love, can get hurt. Future draft slots aren't guaranteed.
It all depends on what other teams are willing to give, and how obstinate Saunders and Taylor decide to be this summer.
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