“Kevin Love WILL be traded.”

I hope you are enjoying the playoffs, as I am.  Opening Weekend was kind of a dud, filled with high seeds trouncing low seeds.  That changed quickly in the Game 2’s.  Chicago rallied to win at Brooklyn, splitting that series 1-1.  Golden State turned in the best playoff shooting performance since the early 90’s at Denver, evening that series as well.  Perhaps the best series “on paper” is Clippers-Grizzlies.  We couldn’t have asked for better Game 2 drama that Chris Paul versus Tony Allen at the buzzer.

The playoffs are, as always, the greatest time of the NBA year.  But they don’t involve the Timberwolves.  Covering the team isn’t so interesting in the weeks immediately following a lottery bound season.  So when Bill Simmons, the most famous sports writer in the world, writes unambiguously and emphatically that Kevin Love WILL be traded this summer or next season, I suppose that calls for a RESPONSE POST.

Here’s the full excerpt from Simmons’ Trade Value Column, where he ranked Love 20th in the NBA.

Tough love for Love! He already lost the 2013 Mokeski to David Lee; now he’s bungee-jumping 16 picks from last year’s lofty no. 4 spot to this year’s semi-insulting no. 20 position, which normally wouldn’t happen to a 24-year-old franchise star unless he was arrested with two underage girls and three and a half pounds of molly. Just know that he didn’t drop 16 spots because of that twice-broken hand. If we’re measuring players by trade value, we’re really measuring them by the probability that they’d ever be traded. And Kevin Love WILL be traded. It’s inevitable. It might happen this summer, it might happen during next season, but it’s going to happen. (Emphasis added. Well, except for the ALL CAPS.  Those were Bill’s.)

And here’s why: Before the 2011-12 season started, Minnesota could have locked Love up to a five-year max extension that he wanted to sign. Incredibly, the T-Wolves decided it would be dumb to lock up a 23-year-old franchise guy for as long as humanly possible; they wanted to save that “max” extension slot for Ricky Rubio. Love signed a lucrative four-year extension with a player option for Year 4 (after 2014-15) that may as well be called “Kevin Love’s Get Out of Jail Free Card.” He’s been bitter ever since. You would be too.

What should you do if you’re Minnesota? If you’re smart, you’d build around Rubio (about to get an extension), Pekovic (about to get paid) and whatever you can get for Kevin Love. The blueprint: In February 2011, the Jazz shrewdly dealt Deron Williams 17 months before he could bolt Utah for a high lottery pick (Derrick Favors) and a future lottery pick (that became no. 3 overall: Enes Kanter), maximizing any and all leverage they had. I don’t see how the T-Wolves make it through this summer without doing the same. The likeliest suitor? Chicago. The Bulls have big contracts to make the trade work (Luol Deng on the enticing side, Carlos Boozer on the less enticing side); they’re loaded with assets like Jimmy Butler (no. 49 on this year’s list), the rights to Mirotic (a high lottery pick if he entered this year’s draft), and the rights to Charlotte’s future no. 1 pick (top-10 protected in 2014, top-eight protected in 2015, unprotected in 2016); and they’re a big-market contender with a superstar in house (so they could keep Love for the long haul).

Let’s say Chicago calls Minnesota in June and offers them Boozer’s contract with Butler, Mirotic AND the Charlotte pick. How could the T-Wolves turn that down? And if you’re the Bulls, how would you turn down the chance to (a) dump Boozer’s deal, and (b) upend a potential Miami dynasty with a nucleus of Rose, Noah, Love, Deng, Taj Gibson and Tom Thibodeau these next few years? You know, unless your owner was too cheap to make a real run at the Heat? (Cut to every Chicago fan grimacing.) Anyway, I’m dropping Love to 20 only because that Bulls trade made too much damned sense. It just did.

Let’s do this Craig Kilborn style with FIVE QUESTIONS!

1. Beginning with the technical: What is Bill saying and what is his reasoning?

Kevin Love will be traded before the next trade deadline because Kevin Love remains bitter about the 4 year, $60 Million, maximum contract that the Timberwolves offered — and he accepted — last year.  The only inference to be drawn from The Sports Guy’s assertion and reasoning is that the Timberwolves will either know, or greatly fear that Kevin Love’s never-ending bitterness will cause him to opt out of his contract one year early — as he is allowed to do — and sign with a different team in 2015.

2. Does BS know this, or is he basing it on the same secondary evidence available to the rest of us (Woj interview, team struggles this season (and Love’s other 4 in MN), etc.)?

It seems like he’s guessing/predicting more than stating fact.  Love hasn’t demanded a trade.  While Simmons has a relationship with Love (If memory serves, he’s hosted him on The BS Report at least twice) I highly doubt Love would be leaking his intent to demand a trade in this fashion.  Of course I could be wrong but I think it’s safe to assume that Simmons is analyzing the situation from the outside and making what he feels is an educated guess.

3. If we accept his premise (The Wolves know — or will know soon — that Love plans to leave in 2015) should the Wolves trade Kevin Love?

Simmons lays out what he thinks is the best course of Timberwolves action:

Trade Kevin Love now (or at least before next deadline), while his 1.5 (or 2) years remaining on his contract allow the team to get a sizable return in any trade.  He compares it to Utah’s situation with Deron Williams when they decided to avoid an off-season and season of “will he/won’t he” and the gamble of incumbent superstar free agency and instead get out ahead of things with a blockbuster deal that brought them Derrick Favors and the draft pick that became Enes Kanter.

The Wolves could likely get something similar for a player as productive and young as Kevin Love.

But should they?

The the nominal cost would be losing Love in 2015.  They’d have their full squad — hopefully the healthy version — for two seasons.  Despite the perpetual difficulty of the Western Conference, it seems possible, if not likely, that the Wolves would make the playoffs with slight roster fine tuning (read: acquire a shooter or two) and good health.  Depending on how Rubio develops, maybe they could even scare the Thunder in a second or third round playoff series.

But there’s also the opportunity cost.  What could Love net in a trade, right now?  Well, Simmons throws out an idea (more on that below) but the possibilities are pretty much endless.  No, he won’t bring back LeBron James or Kevin Durant.  But he might bring back an enticing young player, along with an overpaid but capable vet with an expiring contract (short-term help) and a draft pick or two.

Honestly, the answer to this question depends largely on how the Wolves are playing next season.  If they’re on the outside of the playoff picture when February rolls around — or even on the bubble — and the Simmons premise is accepted, then yes, they should probably trade Kevin Love.  All that’d be left is a season of distractions and a similar roster that hasn’t worked out.  But if the team is playing well — say, 10 or more games over .500 at the All-Star Break — then I think they should keep him.  Make the playoffs.  Break that streak and get fans interested again.  A season or two of playoff basketball is worth it for this team, even if it means losing Love for nothing in 2015.

4. What about the trade with the Bulls that BS suggests?

Simmons throws out a “Who says no?” of:

Minnesota gives:

Kevin Love

Chicago gives:

Carlos Boozer
Jimmy Butler
Nikola Mirotic
Charlotte Bobcats draft pick (protected until 2016)

No thanks, and here’s why: The Wolves — with or without Love (that sounds like a song title) — cannot afford to make a long-term rebuild move like this.  They wouldn’t get the Charlotte pick for at least another year and probably not until it becomes unprotected in 2016.  Butler is solid and cheap (for now), but not at all spectacular or able to give the Wolves a noticeable boost.  Boozer is Boozer — solid but [way] overpaid.  Minnesota has missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons and this trade would probably make it ten, if not eleven or twelve.  By the time Mirotic escapes his UNKAHNSCIONABLE BUYOUT and the Bobcats pick escapes protections, Ricky will be just as tired of losing and alienated with the Wolves Org as Love allegedly is now.

So no, I wouldn’t co-sign this deal on our end.

5. FOREST FROM THE TREES: What to make of all of this?

First, if Simmons is correct and Love is actually still so resentful of his maximum-but-not-five-years Kahntract, then he will rival the biggest prima donnas in the NBA for the next decade.  He was just paid $13.7 Million to play 18 games.  How about we call that lost fifth season a wash?

If I had to guess, Love is not still fuming about those paper-crumpling exchanges with Kahn that led to the 4-year/3rd-year opt-out agreement.  If Love plans to leave Minneapolis in 2015, I’d guess it’s related mostly to never making the playoffs (seriously, five years and counting is a TON for any player, let alone one with Love’s individual credentials) and maybe a little bit of a desire to join up with some of his Olympic peers in a bigger market.

Since the nuclear Woj Bomb, a lot of Wolves fans have seemingly divided into two general camps:

1) “Kevin Love is an entitled asshole that hates Minnesota. Why would he do an on-the-record with Adrian Woj of all people when the team is finally starting to come together?!”

and

2) “Everything he told Woj was true.  There’s nothing to see here.  Minnesota sports fans have an inferiority complex.  Or some type of complex.  There’s nothing to see here.  David Kahn should be fired and then all will be well.  Did I mention there’s nothing to see here?”

I don’t know if I neatly fit into either camp.  I know that I don’t fit into the second camp.  There was DEFINITELY “something to see here” when that crazy interview went down.  But if you compare it to other ball players — hell, look no further than our own Wolves history — one dumb interview isn’t so terrible.  Stephon Marbury forced his way outta here almost immediately.  That was after KG turned down an incredibly-huge salary for an even-more incredible one.  Latrell Sprewell had to feed his family.  Christian Laettner pointed out losers in the locker room.  You get the idea.

If I had to bet on it, it would be that Love is gone in about the timeframe that Simmons predicts.  Maybe he just got me thinking it through.  I think the fan and media pressure to “KEEP PEK!” will be strong and the team will view a Kevin Love trade through the lens of financial savings.  I think the years and years of losing has worn on Love and the organization both.  I don’t know what type of trade to predict at this point, but something with the general framework as the Bulls one shown above is about right.  I’d just like to get better immediate help than Boozer.

What do you think?

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13 Comments

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13 responses to ““Kevin Love WILL be traded.”

  1. Joe

    I think to choose Pek over Love is completely short sighted. MN fans need to understand this. It doesn’t have to be one over the other…there is room for both and still fit under the lux tax

    • The question is whether Love will come back. There’s nothing pointing to anything close to certainty on this at the moment, nor has there been for a while. I’m not convinced firing David Kahn would change this, but it does make for a convenient excuse for Love to complain about the situation and pressure management, and at the same time give himself an out when he’s eligible under this contract. I couldn’t agree more that Love is and always will be better and more valuable than Pekovic, but if you’re looking at probabilities and there’s a high one that Pek will re-sign for whatever market value is, and that Love won’t, you start to shop Love or else face that ridiculously high opportunity cost that would come with losing him as a FA.

  2. Dave A.

    Love will do well next season with the Wolves. I don’t see many changes being make. Important to get everyone healthy and playing together. Adding a little more athleticism would help. Wonderful young players in Rubio, Williams and Shved. Each will improve greatly. In the NBA, great point guard play seems to be the key to winning the fourth quarter and; therefore, the game. Making the playoffs with a healthy, whole team next season will fall on Rubio – making shots and avoiding turnovers. A fun, existing, and hustling player who needs to step up in the closing minutes.

  3. Eric in Madison

    A few thoughts.

    First, let’s clarify. Love will opt out. The contract was always a 3 year deal. There is no player in the league who, barring serious injury, would not opt out of the deal Love signed. It makes no sense at all not to; why play on a one year contract when you don’t have to?

    Second, that doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign if it comes to that. The Wolves will still have advantageous Bird rights should we get to that point. It will certainly have something to do with how the team is performing and what options he has.

    Third, seems to me there are two questions here: what (if any) are the circumstances under which Love will re-sign with the Wolves? And can the Wolves afford to have Love, Rubio, and Pekovic under big contracts at the same time?

    I don’t know about the first question. As I said above, it will depend on the team’s circumstances and what other options are out there. I doubt residual bitterness over this contract will really factor in. As for the second question, can they afford those guys? Simmons implies that they can’t. I don’t buy it. It obviously depends on several factors, including ownership, but go look at the Thunder payroll. They will have 3 guys making north of $40M combined for the next few years (not including Kendrick Perkins), and still look able to avoid the luxury tax. With Kendrick Perkins.

    The Bulls trade he suggests is terrible. Boozer is owed more money then Love over the next two seasons. Getting a couple of marginally useful parts for that exchange is not reasonable, especially since, as you point out, two of them won’t even be useful to the Wolves for at least a couple of years.

    It’s possible there is a trade out there I would do this summer, but it’s very hard to think of one. I would be surprised if they even start to consider doing anything until trade deadline time. Even then, I would only entertain it if I had good reason to believe that my chances of re-signing him were close to nil.

    All of this is just more evidence that not signing him to the 5 year deal was about as dumb as it gets. Regardless of your thoughts on this year’s injury(s), it just goes to show. You only commit to a 23 year old superstar for 3 years, and things happen. A year gets lost to injury, and all of a sudden you are up against it. Had they signed him to a 5 year deal, we are still two years away from him having only two years left on his deal. As it stands, we are NOW in a situation where he only has two years left. He is exactly the guy you WANT to lock up long term. Instead, we are where we are. I still cannot understand the reasoning behind that decision. In fact, I have yet to run across any reasoning that even approaches a sensible argument.

    • Eric,

      (going point by point)…

      1. You’re right and this touches on an important “why Kevin Love should not have been angry with his contract” point. He got a huge contract that included essentially an insurance year. His 4th year is just there (from his perspective) to ensure he gets another big year of salary even if he’s injured or has somehow become a much worse/valuable player. If he is still Kevin Love as we know Kevin Love now (or last year, anyway) he opts out and signs another huge deal.

      2. For this point I was basically running with Simmons (since his post inspired mine). I don’t know if he’s right, but his premise is that Love is gone in 2015.

      3a. Tied to #2, but if we entertain the question, I personally think that it relates infinitely more to the team’s success or failure next year than it does David Kahn’s continued receipt of Taylor Corp. paychecks. But who knows, some people are more vindictive than others. But Michael Jordan would seem the worst for that sort of thing and — despite the stories told of him insulting Jerry Krause at every turn — he never demanded his GM be fired.

      3b. I covered this some in this post (http://punchdrunkwolves.com/2013/03/03/following-the-money/). In my last chart I ran the numbers on a max deal with Ricky and a Pekovic contract with the numbers of Batum’s from last year. It adds up to be less than what OKC is paying Russ/KD/Serge for that season. Question is whether they’re worth “in the ballpark of Russ/KD/Serge” and whether the Wolves brass is capable of filling the gaps cheaply and effectively.

  4. Paul Wassmund

    On a related note: Mark Evans posted a piece on Yahoo ! Sports titled “The One Free Agent the Boston Celtics Need to Make a Top Priority”. And who is that One? Pek. Is it possible that we could witness a KAHNtastrophe and lose both Love and Pek? Maybe we should start stockpiling point guards now…

    • Paul,
      One thing that I think I can safely say is that the team won’t lose both Love and Pekovic. I’d guess that whatever is done with Pekovic is done entirely conscious of the Love situation as they see it.

      And you know something, this is one reason why I think it’s imperative to keep Pek. He’s an asset that they have in the fold right now, and if nothing else it’s some insurance against losing someone else to an unexpected development (injury, trade demand, etc).

  5. Dave A.

    My wife enjoys watching the Timberwolves because she knows the players. Continuity and identity is important to loyal fans. Wolves will keep their key players. “Punch Drunk Wolves” is the post-Garnett era. Need I say more.

    • In a perfect world they’d keep Ricky & K-Love for the next 10 years. But if Love plans to leave in 2015 in free agency, the team might have to be a little bit proactive about getting talent in return.

  6. Jordan

    I do think he felt slighted by the lack of a max contract, but I think missing the playoffs is the most important aspect of all this. Love was the only Olympian this year (not including Anthony Davis) who has never played in or won a playoff series. I understand the injuries have played a part and the West is very competitive, but I don’t think this team, even with relative health, is good enough to make the playoffs as its presently constructed. Maybe Kahn will get fired and some moves will be made, but I think its unlikely. Whats most likely is that Kevin Love forces his way out sooner rather than later for one simple reason: the Wolves don’t win. All of his star peers have passed him up. He had no playoff stories to tell in London and that gets to a player. This year is absolutely make or break for the Wolves.

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