LA Lakers, Not NY Knicks, Are Timberwolves' Biggest Threat to Keeping Kevin Love

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
LA Lakers, Not NY Knicks, Are Timberwolves' Biggest Threat to Keeping Kevin Love
David Sherman/Getty Images

While other teams are busy riggin' for Andrew Wiggins or preparing royal presentations for the King LeBron James, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are thinking further ahead.

A lot further. Like already planning for the 2015 NBA offseason in the middle of November 2013 further.

Such is life for these two former pillars of the basketball world, along with the unintentional middleman in this whole scenario, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The winning Wolves—yes, that's actually a thing now—hold the object of those major market teams' desires. For now.

Kevin Love, the league's second-best scorer (26.4 points per game) and top rebounder (15.0) through the early stages of the 2013-14 campaign, can opt out of his current contract after the 2014-15 season. That fact hasn't gone unnoticed by those traditional powers in L.A. and New York.

While this may well shape up into a two-team race for the wildly productive power forward, one of these big city bullies already seems to be the odd team out.

 

Back to La La Land?

Despite what an indefensible number of general managers seem to think, Love was born to play this game.

His father, Stan, was the No. 9 pick of the 1971 NBA draft and spent four seasons in the league. Under Stan's direction, Kevin spent his childhood mastering the sport with training sessions that included hours of film study on the Showtime Lakers and the Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry, he told Arash Markazi, then with SI.com.

He was born in Santa Monica. He punched his NBA ticket during a sensational one-year stay inside UCLA's famed Pauley Pavilion.

The typical marketing pitches of the Lakers—mammoth TV market, celebrity status, nonstop nightlife—may not be needed in Love's recruitment; this is a chance to get back to his basketball home.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Love's bridge to L.A. was formed almost the minute he first set foot on the NBA floor. Peter Vecsey, formerly of the New York Post, reported that the Lakers had dangled former All-Star Pau Gasol as a potential trade piece to no avail.

His nonstop barrage of triples, rebounds and pinpoint outlet passes has only stoked the flames since.

Love himself fueled his free-agent fires when he gave a wide-ranging interview to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski last season. Among other topics, he touched on his frustrations with Minnesota's mounting losses and the perceived lack of support from the office he said he wouldn't soon forget:

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.

Since then, Love's been linked nearly everywhere under the sun. But the lights of Tinseltown have often shined the brightest.

The Lakers can essentially sell Love a clean slate. L.A. has no financial commitments beyond next season, its 2014 offseason activity notwithstanding.

The possibilities are endless.

Grantland.com's Jalen Rose floated the idea of an L.A. reunion for former Bruins teammates Love and Russell Westbrook. Whether there's any foundation to that idea remains unclear, but the point is that the Lakers can essentially offer Love his choice of teammates.

Throw in his personal history with the city, and L.A. emerges as Minnesota's biggest rival in this classic Hollywood love story.

 

Nightmares in the City of Dreams

Give the Knicks credit for dreaming big. That's about the only thing this franchise does well.

When Love spoke with the New York Post's Zach Braziller prior scorching the Knicks for 34 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, he pushed those dreams into an unabashed state of bliss:

I love New York City, it’s great... To get out to the northeast is very nice. I’ve always enjoyed coming to New York City... If you can’t get up to play in [Madison Square Garden], you may as well go home.

The Knicks, Wojnarowski learned, had heard everything they needed to hear. Love was part of the team's future plans, or at least the promise to pursue him would be used in the team's pitch to retain potential free agent Carmelo Anthony this summer:

Through the decay and debris of a crumbling infrastructure, chasing the championship parade that never marches, the New York Knicks' recruitment to retain Carmelo Anthony comes with the promise to pursue Kevin Love into the franchise's 2015 salary-cap space.

LeBron James comes free too soon (2014), Kevin Durant too late (2016), and the best, biggest star available to New York has been validating management's wanderlust with an MVP-esque start to the Minnesota Timberwolves' season.

New York's financial books (finally) clean up a great deal after next season. Amar'e Stoudemire ($23.4 million), Tyson Chandler ($14.6 million) and Andrea Bargnani ($11.5 million) will all see their contracts expire in 2015, just in time for the Knicks to make a substantial offer to Love.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

But this won't be the barren canvas that Love could find in L.A.

J.R. Smith ($6.4 million) and Raymond Felton ($3.9 million) both hold player options for the 2015-16 season. Tim Hardaway Jr. will presumably be a part of New York's plans, provided he shows enough to warrant the team exercising its $1.3 million team option.

And, assuming he's still balling in the Big Apple, Anthony is sure to chew up a major chunk of the team's cap space.

Love will have to be convinced that Anthony can play at a championship level. That would be a tough sell now given his offensive struggles so far this season (.413/.318/.821 shooting slash, 20.1 player efficiency rating) and his matador defense. And it'll be an even greater challenge once Anthony's cleared his 31st birthday.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Even that's assuming Love is OK with being used as a pawn in the Knicks' never-ending quest to appease Anthony, as Wojnarowski noted:

Between now and July free agency, the Love pursuit will be part of New York's hard sell to Anthony. The Knicks are a mess now, but the mirage never changes: always a salvation on the way at the Garden, always a championship parade headed down the Canyon of Heroes.

Sounds like an awful lot of assumptions. If Love wants to gamble, the empty cupboards in L.A. sound like a much better bet than New York's overstocked shelves of expired goods.

A better bet than what Minnesota can offer, though?

 

Is the Grass Any Greener?

It's tough forming any sound conclusions in mid-November, but this already looks like the best Timberwolves team of Love's career.

The Wolves did two important things this offseason. They orchestrated a massive upgrade in the talent department, and they got healthy.

Kevin Martin is killing Better Basketball DVD sales with his fiery start (24.6 points on .460/.558/.922 shooting) and awkward-as-ever form. Ricky Rubio is setting back this supposed golden age of point guards (8.6 points on 31.9 percent shooting) but powering this offense nonetheless (20.5 points created by assist per game, fourth-best in the league, via NBA.com).

Even Corey Brewer has shined as a long-range recipient at the other end of Love's full-court flings.

But if you want the real reason behind Minnesota's 5-3 start, look no further than the MVP candidate filling the stat at an historic pace:

So, the max-money question for Minnesota and Love to ponder is this: Have the Wolves found the makings of a contender, or is that image only shaping up because Love is on the roster?

No offense to Martin, Rubio and especially not the always terrifying Nikola Pekovic, but if Love went recruiting with L.A.'s cash at his disposal, he'd set his sights a little higher for an All-Star running mate.

But this roster wasn't built to be a superteam. Minnesota isn't in the market to build a championship team off the strength of its deep pockets.

The combined talents of Love's scoring and rebounding, Rubio's next-level court vision, Martin's three-point bombs and coach Rick Adelman's offensive genius make the Wolves the threat that they are.

David Sherman/Getty Images

What Love has to consider is if this collection of gifts is better than what he could help assemble in L.A. A lot of that ultimately depends on the trust he has in his skills as a salesman.

What should Love do in 2015?

Submit Vote vote to see results

The Lakers would have a nice start. Let's say Rose is right, and Westbrook is feeling the idea of a Hollywood return. Barring a trade, he wouldn't be able to make that switch until 2017, and even the best German doctors would have a hard time keeping Bryant mobile by then.

With no talent rising through L.A.'s ranks—sorry, Robert Sacre fans—it would fall on Love and Westbrook to put their superteam in place.

Could they form something better than what Love has in Minnesota? Hard to say at this point.

What's not hard to do, though, is whittle this potential field down to these two teams. Anthony might bite on New York's latest baseless promise, but I can't see Love making the same mistake.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information used courtesy of HoopsWorld.com.

 

Load More Stories

Follow Minnesota Timberwolves from B/R on Facebook

Follow Minnesota Timberwolves from B/R on Facebook and get the latest updates straight to your newsfeed!

Minnesota Timberwolves

Subscribe Now

We will never share your email address

Thanks for signing up.