Six Questions About Trading Kevin Love

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?


They must.

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:

Warriors get:

Kevin Love
Kevin Martin

Timberwolves get:

Klay Thompson
David Lee
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.



Filed under Timberwolves

8 responses to “Six Questions About Trading Kevin Love

  1. Nathan Anderson

    Ugh. I’m not going to be very clear … but here goes

    I’m not as down on the Keep Love option as you are. That said, I am not arguing that the downsides to keeping him are not substantial.

    I guess I view next season as a lost season anyway. This is because I think Rubio & Pek cannot be the two best players on a 40 win team (in the West). I don’t understand how Flip Saunders can think that either. If it is a lost season, why not Keep Love?

    I don’t see Thompson as a guy capable of moving the needle. (PER 14) I think he’s a worse player than both Rubio and Pek. David Lee is also a worse player than Rubio and Pek.
    Getting Klay Thompson to replace Kevin Love is like when the Wolves signed Mike James in 2006. A DELUSIONAL attempt to return to the playoffs. Back then they had KG. I don’t see how adding Thompson to a sans Love roster gets this team close to 40 wins.

    Mike James shoot 37% from three that year. He was not as good as in TOR, but he was not a horrible player. (PER 13.3) It is just that he was not a second best player on a playoff team type of guy.

    What would I do if I were Flip? Resign.

    I would tell Boston that I need #6 and #17, and Olynyk. But that I also need another future 1st round pick and an established youngish player, not named Sullinger, with at least 2 years before RFA. See if Danny Ainge can go and get it with is cadre of draft picks. (I have no idea who that player should be)

    • You don’t keep Love around because it would have a negative effect on everyone else. That’s my opinion, anyway. George Karl described coaching Melo in the exact situation in Zgoda’s piece in today’s Strib. I really hope they don’t keep him and delude themselves into thinking that he might change his mind.

      Everything you say about the GSW possibility could be absolutely right. Plenty of smart people dislike the idea. As I wrote in the post, I think I prefer the Celtics-type opportunities to the GSW one. But I don’t hate the GSW one, mainly because I see no good option here, and the team has committed enough salary to Pekovic and others to make a David Kahn-style rebuild somewhat difficult. (And do we really want that, so soon after the 2008-11 disaster, anyway?)

      Here’s the thing: if the Wolves add Klay, Lee and maybe Barnes and do well (earn a 7 or 8 seed) everybody is excited. It almost certainly means that Ricky Rubio hit another gear with better-fitting teammates, and we at least can feel good about the progress of the team’s core. It’s easy to (sort of) forget how effective Rubio was at leading an offense built around his passing skills. Last season, he was in possibly the worst possible scenario for his skillset (and still did okay, statistically, relative to his rookie year). Combine Rubio with Klay and you have two good-to-great perimeter defenders. If they could also get Barnes and say goodbye to Kevin Martin, and give more minutes to Gorgui, you’re all of a sudden seeing the makings of a defensive-minded team. There are worse scenarios. Maybe Shabazz will learn some things from players who take pride in defense.

      If they add Klay, Lee, and maybe Barnes, and disappoint (say, something similar–maybe slightly worse than last year’s record) they’ll draft in the lottery again and hope that that player, along with Shabazz, Gorgui, and the 2014 lottery pick provide some upside opportunities. (*Important caveat: they still owe the top-12 protected pick to Phoenix, so they would have to be slightly worse than last year to get another lottery pick.) They don’t HAVE to completely blow the thing to the ground. The Pacers added Paul George and Roy Hibbert — the core of what seemed like a contender for a minute — in the middle of the draft without becoming horrible.

      For me, this just isn’t a clear situation other than that I don’t want to watch a sulking Kevin Love next year. That helps nobody, and it sounds terrible to watch. I’d much rather watch a Rubio-led team win 32 or 33 games with a youngster like Julius Randle showing progress in March and April. Or I’d rather watch a last year’s Wolves-Warriors hybrid compete for a fringe playoff spot (which I think they very possibly could). And like I said above, even if they do the Warriors deal and disappoint, there will always be more draft picks.

      • Nathan Anderson

        Sulking Kevin Love would suck to watch. However, I worry that next season is a 20-25 win season (w/o Love) and I hate watching that more than Sulky Love that produces 40-45 wins.

        The Adelman offense and Rubio is interesting to contemplate. My question is compared to what? My other question is how big?

        In MN and in DET, Flip’s offense did best with a PG that could score. Billups could score, Marbury could score, Brandon could score, and Cassell (two S’s two L’s, baby!) could score.

        Rubio most definitely cannot score (at least not like those guys). He has no mid-range pull jump shot and he’s horrible at the basket. Even if he improves at the basket, it will be erased by an uptick in the missed mid-range Js.

        But this is where it gets interesting. How does the existence of a negative Adelman effect influence your opinion on trading Love?

        If Adelman’s offense really did hold Rubio back, the team should keep Love. I believe that Love can do what he does in any offense and so changing the offense won’t make the team worse by affecting Kevin Love. For instance, if the Adelman effect cost 5 wins alone, and the team was also unlucky, they get 50 wins next year. 50 wins! Flip should say, suck on that Kevin Love. 50 wins.

        On the other hand, if the Adelman effect does not exist and the team is not going to win more just by changing the offense to better suit Rubio, you trade Love. You trade him because there is no real chance at 50 wins. This is where I worry about a 20-25 win season. Even a 30 win season would suck. If they are going to suck, they should get young players with potential, not expensive “good” veterans.

        • To clarify, I think any negative Adelman Effect only applied to Rubio and I actually think Adelman was GREAT for Love’s development and statistical production. I don’t think Love would rack up quite the insane stats in an offense that was built more around pick-and-rolls and spacing. He would certainly get less assists in a different offense, and probably slightly fewer points.

          I just got sick of watching last year’s team. Knowing that Love is gone in a year if we keep him, I can’t imagine it being any fun watching the same group beat bad teams by 30 and struggle to score points against good teams in close games. Especially knowing that another rebuild begins in 2015.

          The whole point of this article was that I have more questions than answers though, and you’re confirming this by making good counters to the points I sort of do try to make in the post.

          I don’t see any great options, but I like following the NBA enough to remain interested….

          How’s that? 🙂

          • Nathan Anderson

            That’s great.

            IF I understand correctly, you believe that the Adelman to Saunders transition will help Rubio but not necessarily the team? So, if Love stays we will see Rubio with better stats, Love with worse stats, and the team we expect to win the same # of games.

            I want to believe that (1) Love is so great and rare that he can succeed in any system and (2) Rubio’s offensive success relies more on a particular scheme (p-n-r, shooters around him, him with the ball). If that is the case, I think the Saunders offense could help them win more games … assuming Flip does not emphasize the mid-range jump shot.

            I’m repeating myself.

            On the note of the season being depressing knowing that we have to start over … I’m a sucker for hope (that’s why I’m a Twolves fan).

            I’ve held out hope for Pooh Richardson, Gerald Glass, Doug West, Anthony Peeler, Will Avery, Ndudi Ebi (!), Randy Foye, Corey Brewer, Rashad McCants … and have yet to be rewarded.

            But, I guess trading Love (especially for draft picks) gives hope again (even if only an illusion). Keeping Love generates enjoyment NOW … enjoyment of which is not consistent with being a Wolves fan. So, I get where you are coming from … but, man … this is not getting any easier

            • It is quite an experience, isn’t it?

              If Love’s camp didn’t float the “intent to depart” stuff, which effectively seems like a trade demand, then keeping him for one year might be okay. I just really think it’ll be distracting in a way that actually affects the basketball if he’s around, this season.

              He looked pretty happy, going on ESPN and discussing trade destinations. He assumes he’s gone, and that’s what he wants. If that doesn’t happen, he won’t be happy and neither will the fans watching him…

  2. DAG

    I’m enjoying the Minnesota Twins this season even though several players are under contract for only this season. A good test of Love’s character and that of Wolves players and fans would have him back this fall and make another run at a playoff spot. It’s doable. Honor contracts – no more, no less.

    • Nathan Anderson

      Minnesota fans have horrible character. We can see from how local media and fans are treated Love right now and how they treated Chuck Knoblauch then.

      Love has never said he won’t honor his contract. He has an option after next year and he plans to exercise it. He probably told the team that when he exercises his option he is likely leaving.

      Why is he likely leaving? Because he works for a horrible organization.

      Yet, MN fans cannot wrap their heads around that. It’s like Knoblauch and the Twins. Knoblauch left the Twins because the team and organization were horrible. This was the period when they kept bringing back MN people at the end of the careers as some kind of pathetic dog and pony show. The Twins were a joke. It wasn’t that he hated MN, he hated losing. But he comes back to MN and people throw hot dogs and batteries at him. Classy. To this day, Twins fans can’t admit that Knoblauch made the correct decision. He won 3 WS rings. If he would have stayed he would have wasted more than five years of his career in a wasteland where the owner refused to spend money to try and win the games.

      Local fans should turn their ire on ownership and management rather than the players. You can be a fan of your local team while also thinking that their owner and GM are idiots.

      The owners and GM want MN fans to blame to players. It deflects attention from their incompetence.

      There should be a “stay home for Glen” campaign. Where people react to the Love trade by demanding that Glen Taylor sell the team. No one goes to games until he sells.