Wolves still clinging to hopes of keeping Love

Kevin Love, who can opt out of the final year of his contract after next season, has reportedly drawn trade interest from the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and other franchises.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated P

MINNEAPOLIS — A vigorous fist pump with towel in hand. The occasional postgame salute to fans. An impassioned, sentimental reaction to the news he’d be starting in the NBA All-Star Game.

There were times — fleeting blips, really — when Kevin Love actually appeared somewhat enthused to be here.

But that was before the Timberwolves finished 40-42, failing to deliver their star player the progress he desired entering his sixth season in the Twin Cities. It was before reports surfaced the past few weeks indicating Love is on his way out the door.

The hopes of retaining Love, who can opt out of the final year of his contract after next season, have diminished amid a sea of rumors surrounding his impending departure. Teams have extended trade offers, and the market for some return on the 2008 draft’s fifth overall pick is reaching its peak as the June 26 draft approaches.

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But the notion hasn’t faded completely. Yet.

"We have a great relationship with him," general manager Milt Newton said Thursday. "I’ve said this in the past: We’re going to do what’s best for the organization at the end of the day, but as of right now, our relationship is the same as it has been during the season."

That would seem to contradict the reports listing the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and other franchises as potential landing spots for the stretch-four phenom. But Love hasn’t technically demanded a trade, and owner Glen Taylor expects him to be on board when training camp opens in October.

Until he’s gone, there’s a chance to keep him — albeit a mere sliver of hope.

Since Flip Saunders took over as president of basketball operations, the franchise has made conscious efforts to make Love feel appreciated. First of all, they can offer him more money — about $26.5 million more — than any other team and have made it clear they intend to pay him. They involved him in the planning process for the club’s new practice facility. He’ll reportedly have input when and if the Timberwolves ever hire a coach to replace departed Rick Adelman.

While it’s secondary to winning in Love’s mind, playing in Minnesota also gives him a chance to be "the" guy — the biggest fish in the oft-frozen pond.

Considered since last summer a frontrunner among teams gunning for Love, the Lakers look like less of a possibility given there’s not a tradable asset on their current roster. He’s reportedly interested in Chicago or somewhere else on the West Coast, but no destination seems to have the same allure as the place Love was born and his parents reside.

But Love’s made it clear he’s not happy with the way Minnesota’s treated him, withholding a max deal after his rookie contract and failing to put the necessary talent around him to break the league’s longest active playoff drought.

Timberwolves brass and aficionados, though, cling to the hope the Timberwolves can work a sales job similar to that of Portland, which retained power forward LaMarcus Aldridge this season despite trade rumors surrounding him last summer.

Aldridge had a career year, led the Trail Blazers to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs and very well may re-sign with them as an unrestricted free agent after next season.

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The difference, though, is the Blazers gave him a max deal after his rookie one expired. They also came out and did their best to squash trade rumors by openly stating Aldridge wasn’t going anywhere.

Since the end of the season, Minnesota hasn’t been quite as committal.

"He’s a hell of a player, hell of a talent, and our first inclination is to keep him on board," Newton said of Love, "but if it happens that that’s not the case at the end of the day, you best believe we’re going to be a better team based on what happens."

Aldridge also saw stability in the franchise trying to keep him around, as key pieces were added around him. With the Timberwolves’ coaching search continuing to stumble forward and their cap space severely limited this offseason, there’s no way Love sees the same from his vantage point this summer.

So while, technically, the dream of a Love coup isn’t off the table, it’s looking less realistic by the day.

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