As you already know, Kevin Love is on the trading block. Where he plays next season remains an unanswered question, but we are beyond the period of speculating whether or not the team is answering phone calls and entertaining serious offers. Given Love’s extended silence that followed the report that he will leave Minnesota next year as a free agent, it is safe to assume… well, exactly that. If he is not traded, he is going to leave Minnesota in 2015. He eventually made a brief ESPN appearance which did nothing to change this perception.
Flip Saunders and the organization have the option of keeping Love for one more season in hopes of attaining that elusive playoff berth that has escaped them for the past decade. More likely, they will trade Love for whatever they can get right now, or at least some time before February’s deadline.
I have not written much about these rumors (well, beyond the Twitter machine) for a few reasons, but primarily because it’s a dilemma that leaves me faced with way more questions than clear answers or opinions. With that in mind, I’ll rattle off some of them and share some reactions; reactions that vary from knee-jerk opinion to ones with a bit more factual basis and analysis.
1. Must the Timberwolves trade Kevin Love?
Not only would keeping Love come at a significant opportunity cost (more on potential options, below) it would lead to an incredibly distracting season for everyone else; most importantly, the other players that plan on sticking around beyond 2015. Love will be booed at games. Patrick Reusse projects Love as the state’s “top worm” – “its most detested star athlete ever to worm his way out of Minnesota.”
If you’ve paid close enough attention to the past six years of Timberwolves basketball, then you know that Love has never been considered a great team player. He takes obvious satisfaction in individual statistics and accolades. Some of his playing habits prioritize stats like rebounding and avoiding personal fouls over things like defensive rotations and preventing layups. He has bitched about his teammates both directly (infamous Wojnarowski interview that came right after the team paid Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy in free agency) and indirectly (team’s poorly thought out “NUMB#RS” All-Star campaign in the midst of a 15 or 17 (I can’t keep track) win season).
Add a quasi trade demand to that backdrop and it will not be a pretty picture if Love is still wearing a Wolves uniform. The team won 40 games last year when they (usually) seemed on the same page. That number will not increase with a soured locker room.
They must trade Kevin Love and they really must do it before the season. They can’t wait around until February.
2. Will Love be traded before next week’s draft?
I think so, because some of the most significant bids (Sacramento, Boston, possibly even Cleveland) involve lottery picks. And I think that teams possessing lottery picks are more likely to deal them before they actually draft a player of their own with it.
It reminds me a little bit of a passage from Breaks of the Game when a furious Jack Ramsey wants to trade a pouty Maurice Lucas for either David Greenwood or Calvin Natt. Lucas was a star and could plausibly be flipped for a Greenwood or Natt, except for one problem: they were both recently drafted rookies whose teams were too excited about their recent acquisition to feel like dealing. Halberstram described the dilemma from the perspective of Stu Inman, the team’s vice president and personnel manager:
Inman was melancholy. He thought the time for the trade had already come and gone, that it would be harder for a team to pick up a player of Greenwood’s quality once he had arrived in the league. The original deal with Chicago had been premised on its being completed before the draft. “Look, if we draft Greenwood and then ten hours later trade him, the people here will kill us,” Jonathan Kovler, the Chicago managing partner, had said. Similarly, Inman believed that once New Jersey’s coaching staff discovered how physical and tough Natt was, that they would probably want to keep him. He was already angry about the whole business. A little later he returned, dejected. “This is the worst time of the year to deal–everyone is saying this is the best camp they’ve ever had.”
It just seems to me that lottery picks are more likely to be moved before a team uses it to add a famous young player. With that in mind, the Wolves have a much greater bidding war between now and Thursday than they do after that when teams become more attached to their own players.
3. How should we feel about the Golden State possibility?
For the past few days, most of the Love Trade chatter has surrounded the Golden State Warriors, who apparently made Klay Thompson available. (Recent reports indicate the Dubs are split internally on whether to trade away Thompson. Most believe this to be posturing.)
The deal would look something like:
either Harrison Barnes or a future 1st Round Pick
I actually like this deal for the Wolves, which (based on my review of the Twitter accounts I follow) seems to be an unpopular opinion amongst Wolves fans. The main objection involves salary: both Lee’s current one (about $15 Million per year for two more seasons) and the one that Thompson is likely going to command in 2015 restricted free agency (when the Wolves will also deal with Ricky Rubio’s restricted free agency if he isn’t already extended to a long term, expensive deal).
Lee’s salary is a short term concern and could have luxury-tax implications in the 2015-16 season. Here is the salary sheet if the trade goes through as Love and Martin for Thompson, Lee and Barnes (note: I projected Rubio and Thompson contract extensions of the same size as the recent one signed by Pekovic):
You will note that the team has almost $70 Million committed to just nine players in the 2015-16 season. That number could eclipse seventy mil if either Rubio or Thompson (or both!) have breakout seasons, next year, paired together in the Wolves backcourt.
One thing about that possibility: I don’t know – and I kind of doubt – that Taylor Corp. wants to spend luxury tax dollars.
Another thing about that: If Rubio and Thompson play well enough to command big bucks, there’s a good chance that 2014-15 went really well and people are excited.
After that 2015-16 season, Lee comes off the books and the team has a little bit more flexibility. Continued roster management will depend on drafting well.
It’s probably not a great option, unless Barnes or Thompson makes a big step forward, but I don’t know if a *great* option exists for this team at this particular point in time. If nothing else, I would be fascinated to watch Rubio pass to a prolific shooter like Thompson. Rubio was really limited last year by the number of teammates who catch his passes and hold the ball rather than shoot it. This includes both Kevins, gone to Golden State in this deal.
David Lee is not as good as his individual stats might suggest, but he’s also not as bad as the wave off post-Sloan Conference commentary does, either. We’ve seen this team struggle when Kevin Love sits out. That’s obviously in part because Love is so good, but it’s also been because Derrick Williams is so bad and Dante Cunningham is not suited to a starting role. Lee is a proven producer of points and rebounds, and can absolutely play big minutes on a team that wins. The bigger question is whether Rubio and Pekovic are good enough players to lead a good team. Since that question is fundamental no matter what the Wolves do next, I don’t mind having a more-than-competent power forward slotted to make more money than he’s worth (for just two seasons).
4. What’s the worst possible outcome?
I suppose trading with Golden State for David Lee and Harrison Barnes – no Klay – would be awful. I don’t like the Denver rumor (something along the lines of Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and either a draft pick or somehow Denver would acquire and flip Arron Afflalo) very much. It seems to me sort of like the Golden State deal, but without the potential upside of pairing Rubio with Thompson. Keeping Love would be a very bad option. I guess I don’t know what the worst is. (Insert joke about how it’s the Timberwolves so the worst option is the one they will choose, or something.)
5. What’s the best possible outcome?
Probably getting a Top-8 pick in this draft with some expiring contracts or young players with potential. They could replace Love with a high-upside rookie like Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, or Julius Randle and have less worries about the luxury tax and salary-cap flexibility going forward. If Cleveland somehow entered the Love Sweepstakes, maybe even Andrew Wiggins would be in play.
Even though it would almost certainly mean another losing season or two in the short term, getting into this draft lottery would probably be a smarter move than the more short-sighted one rumored to be happening with Golden State.
6. Gun to my head, what do I guess will happen?
Wolves trade Love, Martin and possibly a minor third piece to Golden State for Lee and Thompson (no Barnes or draft picks) and maybe a minor third piece. Maybe there’s a third team to help facilitate the details. I’d guess that this happens next week, a day or two before the draft.