Kevin Love is still in a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey.
Although Kevin Love missed a significant portion of the 2012-13 season due to hand injuries, he's still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves, believe it or not, are well aware of this.
Lately, we've been subjected to a rash of trade rumors that center around the best power forward in the Association. And before you question that statement, let's leave Tim Duncan, who spends most of his time at center for the San Antonio Spurs, out of the picture.
What? Really? Are you sure?
I have some breaking news of my own: The Wolves aren't going to be trading Love. Well, not yet.
Ever since the Minnesota management brought aboard Flip Saunders as the president of basketball operations, the former coach and his star player have been making nice. Saunders could have handled the situation a lot differently, potentially pulling a Danny Ferry and immediately trading Love for a bunch of expiring contracts.
However, he's chosen to make it perfectly clear that he has no intention of allowing the power forward to play in any jersey but a T'Wolves one.
Just two days after he joined the team, his eighth tweet as the acting general manager read as follows:
Talked with Love and Rubio even more excited about #Twolves.— Flip Saunders (@Flip_Saunders) May 5, 2013
A little over two weeks later, Saunders made it clear that Love was ready to compete for the Wolves:
Off to Brooklyn Combine. Knowing draft position now helps moving forward. K. Love committed and excited about team!— Flip Saunders (@Flip_Saunders) May 22, 2013
During his first month in charge, Saunders wasn't particularly definitive, and Love was conspicuously silent. That changed when the calendars rolled over and brought about the month of June.
On June 6, presumably after Saunders had received multiple phone calls from NBA general managers inquiring about Love's availability, he went on ESPN's radio program Mike & Mike and revealed that the team's best player will not be traded under any reasonable circumstances (via the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda):
First thing w/ Flip on Mike and Mike, KLove clears up that he won't be trading. "Maybe people will stop calling me now," Flip says.— Jerry Zgoda(@JerryZgoda) June 6, 2013
Later that day, Love went on SportsCenter and confirmed this once more, revealing that he and the Wolves no longer had any feelings of animosity toward each other and indicating that he was excited to play with the team during the 2013-14 season.
Despite all the rumors that point in the opposite direction, both the president of basketball operations and the star power forward have firmly indicated that they'll remain a potent one-two punch for Minnesota.
Until we're given reason to do so, there's no need to doubt them.
The 2013-14 Campaign
Unless the Timberwolves are greeted with another ridiculous spell of injuries, the 2013-14 campaign is not going to give Love a reason to depart, nor will it make Saunders lean toward trading him. The other 29 general managers in the Association should stop calling him, as he said on Mike & Mike.
Love will be healthy at the start of the season. Ricky Rubio is no longer coming off a torn ACL, and he should be good to go. Nikola Pekovic should be back and at full strength, assuming that the team matches any offer for him now that he enters the offseason as a restricted free agent.
The pieces are in place for a remarkably successful season, just as they were in 2012-13 before injuries took their toll.
Just look at this potential lineup:
- Point guard: Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea
- Shooting guard: Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad (or whoever else the Wolves draft at No. 9), Malcolm Lee
- Small forward: Andrei Kirilenko, Mickael Gelabale
- Power forward: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Dante Cunningham
- Center: Nikola Pekovic, Greg Stiemsma, Chris Johnson
That's a solid rotation from start to bottom. There's no reason to believe that Minnesota won't be a strong contender not just to advance into the postseason, but to emerge victoriously from its ensuing first-round clash.
Going into the offseason, which admittedly means that the landscape can still be altered rather dramatically, six teams seems like locks for 2014 playoff spots: the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers (assuming Chris Paul returns to his old stomping grounds), Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors.
The Houston Rockets could work their way into that category, but it's still possible for teams to jump them if Daryl Morey doesn't make any moves. The Los Angeles Lakers aren't locks yet either, given the uncertainty of Kobe Bryant's health and Dwight Howard's return.
In fact, it looks like the Rockets, Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and, of course, the Timberwolves will all be competing for the final two spots. Even though Minnesota finished with the worst record of the bunch in 2012-13, there were some seriously extenuating circumstances since no one stayed healthy.
Given the way the teams look right now, and that temporal descriptor is rather crucial, my money would be on the Wolves and Rockets.
If that's the case, there's no reason for the team to move Love when he still has two more full seasons left in the Land of 10,000 Lakes before he can choose to opt out of his contract.
The Aftermath of a Disappointing Season
Let's say that the Timberwolves fail to earn at least the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and are left watching the playoff proceedings from their couches for the 10th season in a row. The reasons don't matter. Injuries, ineffectiveness or some combination of the two could come into play, but that's irrelevant.
A season without making the playoffs would certainly qualify as a disappointing one given the talent sure to be present on this roster.
At this point, Love would be fair game to other general managers, and the calls would come flooding in. As much as he might love playing with Rubio and under head coach Rick Adelman, the power forward needs to make it to the postseason. He can't just be a regular-season star and a postseason spectator.
Love was drafted out of UCLA in 2008, and he has yet to score a single point after the 82nd game of a season. That's probably because he's never made the playoffs, though.
Think about that for a second. Love, the 20/20 monster who is a near-lock for the All-Star game when healthy, has yet to advance past the regular season during his five run-throughs in the league.
At some point, enough is enough.
Should the Timberwolves trade Kevin Love if they don't make the playoffs in 2013-14?
I'm not suggesting that Minnesota would need to trade Love following another disappointing season, but the Wolves would be able to at least consider it. And if the right deal came in over the phone, it would behoove them to accept it.
Right now, everything is happy and pleasant in Minnesota. Saunders and Love are making nice, and hopes are high. Large expectations tend to promote positive feelings.
That tune will change if expectations aren't met, and so too will the front office's stance on trading its star player.
Right now, there's no reason for Saunders to even bother opening an email from another GM with "Kevin Love" in the subject line. But if Minnesota isn't taking part in the postseason, it could be Saunders sending out that email next offseason.