Love's Minnesota Timberwolves took it to the Lakers, rocketing out of the gates to take a 47-23 lead before coasting to a comfortable 113-90 victory. Perhaps in an effort to impress his hometown fans, Love, an L.A. native, pumped in 18 points and grabbed eight boards in the opening period.
Despite optimistic projections, he'd finish with "just" 25 and 13.
As odd as it sounds, Minnesota's thrashing of the Purple and Gold—and Love's clear desire to impress, in particular—should have given fans in Los Angeles a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal season. That's because those same Lakers fans have to be entertaining far-fetched wishes that Love will soon wind up playing his home games in the Staples Center.
Ready for caveats? Good, here they come.
Any potential move that would land Love in Los Angeles is almost certainly a long way off. He's technically under contract with the 'Wolves for two more seasons, plus he has a player option in 2015-16.
Yet his potential relocation to L.A. is far from impossible.
Old Wounds Lingering
Love seems likely to opt out of his contract after the 2014-15 season for a number of reasons.
Chief among those is the pattern of disrespect the Timberwolves have visited on Love since he signed his contract. In fact, Love's deal itself is a sore subject for the Minnesota big man (insofar as a four-year, $60 million contract can ever be a sore subject).
The 'Wolves could have offered Love a fifth year on that contract, but they didn't, apparently unconvinced that the forward was worthy of franchise-cornerstone status. That perceived slight has stuck with the 25-year-old ever since. And Love's discontent has only grown over the past year, as the 'Wolves have questioned the legitimacy of a hand injury that cost the star nearly the entire 2012-13 season.
Love opened up to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski about his injury, the sting of his contract and his questions about the team's direction in December 2012. Most importantly, he assured everyone that he wouldn't forget about the way he'd been treated:
I have a very, very good memory, and I always remember the people who have done right by me, and the people who have done wrong by me. It will be embedded in my brain, and something I won't forget about. There's no telling what will happen. I would love to compete for a championship in Minnesota, but …
So, if Love was being genuine in those comments, it stands to reason that the 'Wolves' current success won't necessarily prevent his eventual departure.
The other factor that could push Love to exercise his player option in 2015 is the simple, financial reality that he'll easily command a max salary on the open market. Generally speaking, players want to lock in as much long-term money as possible. So if Love believes he'll be able to get a maximum-salary deal when he exercises his option to become a free agent, he'll jump at the chance.
Given Love's Los Angeles ties—he was born in southern California, starred at UCLA and his father played for the Lakers from 1973-75—and current MVP-level production, the Lakers would be crazy not to offer him the max within seconds of him hitting the market.
In today's NBA, stars have shown an increased aptitude for getting to their desired destinations. After seeing the way Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and, to some extent, Chris Paul engineered trades to preferred locales in recent years, there's good reason to expect Love would have the same ability.
Of course, we don't yet know if he's the type to create a PR disaster by forcing his team's hand. But we do know that he's got a history of discontent in Minnesota and wouldn't think twice about ticking off ownership by making a trade demand.
If the Timberwolves became convinced that they were likely to lose Love for nothing in 2015, they might come around to the idea of either getting back an asset, or securing a massive expiring contract in exchange for Love before that day ever comes.
So while it doesn't currently seem like the 'Wolves would be interested in, say, a Pau Gasol-for-Love swap, it's not totally out of the realm of possibility either. And if Minnesota were to suffer the rash of season-killing injuries that have been an annual tradition in recent years, perhaps Love would be less inclined to stick around and make a playoff push with his current team.
We've seen other players force their way out of bad situations. If Love really wants to get out of Minnesota, he could do it.
Admittedly, Love getting to L.A. before the summer of 2015 is little more than a pipe dream. One good way for Lakers fans to tide themselves over in the meantime is to imagine just how spectacularly he'd fit into Mike D'Antoni's system. (And yes, I realize it's probably not wise to assume D'Antoni will be around two years from now. Just go with it.)
Love would immediately become a marquee star if he joined the Lakers, and D'Antoni would maximize the sweet-shooting forward's productivity like few coaches could.
Think about it: In the past, D'Antoni has routinely pulled his floor-stretching big men from the scrap heap. Either that, or he's opted for the square-peg-round-hole approach with guys like Pau Gasol.
Love is the player D'Antoni would create in a lab. He's a ready-made three-point threat who rebounds, plays no defense and can pass like a guard. Plus, Love's superhuman ability to start the break with pinpoint outlet heaves would fit right into D'Antoni's preferred up-and-down style.
The only way the Love-D'Antoni pairing could be any more perfect is if the big man spoke Italian.
In addition, the Lakers would have the money to pursue a running mate for Love in short order. And since we've been wandering around the land of imagination, here's ESPN's Jalen Rose opining on who that might be:
Granted, the assertion that both Love and Russell Westbrook would wind up in L.A. because of their ties to the area is a little flimsy. But it's not any less likely than the Lakers luring a LeBron James or a Carmelo Anthony on this summer's restricted free-agent market. Besides, we're trying to paint a 113-90 loss to the Timberwolves as a potentially hopeful occurrence.
It's not easy.
Any move that would send Love to L.A. is purely hypothetical at this stage, but far-fetched, far-off hopes are all the Lakers have right now. The present is a bummer, and the immediate future is tied up in Kobe Bryant's uncertain return.
So for a team that has actually been losing stars for the first time in memory (See: Howard, Dwight), it's nice to dream about Love coming to Los Angeles—even if major obstacles and long years stand in the way.
Hey, it can't hurt to start thinking about the next era in Lakerland now. And besides, it's better than the alternative of digesting the depressing end of the current one.