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:
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?!”
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?