It's not hard to understand why Love is frustrated. Throughout his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it's just been one letdown after another.
His first coach wouldn't play him and his first general manager wouldn't put a good team around him. He's been insulted by not being offered the full maximum contract extension. He's been hurt. Maybe most importantly, he's never sniffed the playoffs.
Basically, Minnesota has done just about everything wrong at every possible turn.
This year was supposed to be different. Rick Adelman was back on the sidelines, ready to have a healthy Love play in the system he was born to be in. Ricky Rubio was back and healthy as well with another year of work on his jumper under his belt. Kevin Martin was the perimeter shooter that was desperately needed. Things were looking up.
And the Timberwolves have been better this year, in many ways. They have the point differential of a team about 10 games over .500.
This might have been a positive or encouraging sign for Love a few seasons ago, but it probably isn't now. With the ability to decline his player option and become a free agent after next season, Love needs to see real results now. Despite the improved play, the Timberwolves are still below .500 and currently out of the playoff picture once again. And that's with Love having the best season his career.
This particular criticism felt particularly pointed, however. Here's what Love told AP writer Jon Krawczynski:
We can't have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that play good mins just sitting there and not getting up during timeouts (...) We all need to be in this together. That kind of (ticks) me off. We're supposed to be a team.
This sort of thing happens, of course, and at least Love has said things have since been patched up.
Love said he and teammates have talked, that team chemistry is fine and that this sort of thing will be kept internal going forward— Kent Youngblood (@BloodStrib) January 10, 2014
But the fact of the matter is that the amount of negative experiences in Minnesota greatly outweigh the number of positive ones for Love. When will enough be enough?
We've seen this story before, haven't we? Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Chris Paul all forced trades before their contracts expired. Love has as much of a case for wanting out as any of those players did.
Minnesota's front office has to at least prepare for the possibility of Love asking for a trade, particularly if the team misses the playoffs yet again. It's a true worst-case scenario, but there's plenty of evidence to believe that it could happen.
It seems unthinkable to shop one of the league's very best players, but gauging the value on Love at the deadline may be the prudent thing to do. Given his contract situation and his frustration level, Love can no longer be treated like an "untouchable" player, even though his talent level makes him worthy of that designation.
So what could the Wolves get for Love? Given his versatility as a frontcourt player, it's hard to imagine any team that wouldn't want him. Very few teams have both a superstar power forward and center, and for that reason, it's safe to assume that multiple general managers will be tripping all over themselves to acquire a 25-year-old superstar in the prime of his career.
If we've learned anything from the most recent superstar trades for Paul, Williams and Anthony, it's that at least one future first-round pick has to be involved. That was true in all three trades.
Another common bond in all three deals was the inclusion of a talented young player on a rookie-scale deal (Eric Gordon, Derrick Favors and Danilo Gallinari). Any team that can't offer those things for Love can probably be safely ruled out.
Of course, a lot depends on what Minnesota would value most in return if it was forced to deal Love. There's a decent core in place with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, and so it's hard to imagine that Minnesota would tear it completely down and rebuild, especially given the contracts handed out to Pekovic and Martin this offseason.
What do you think will happen with Kevin Love?
Trying to come up with an actual group of names and teams right now is a wasted exercise, but we can get an idea of the type of package Minnesota would want.
For Love, however, it may make more sense just to play next year out, decline his player option and then choose exactly where he wants to go while pulling down a long-term deal.
The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks should both have max cap space, and it's hard to imagine that either team has the assets to acquire Love otherwise. If Love wants to play in a major market, that might be the logical path.
Make no mistake: Love holds all the cards here. The day that Minnesota failed to extend him for the full amount of years and slapped a player option on the end of his contract, all the power was lost. If Love wants out, it's only a matter of time before he can make that happen.
Minnesota obviously wants to make this work, but the clock is ticking. It's not quite time to be aggressive in shopping Love, but it is time to start listening.