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Minnesota Timberwolves Have No Choice but to Explore Kevin Love Trade

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Minnesota Timberwolves Have No Choice but to Explore Kevin Love Trade
Jim Mone/Associated Press

Prolonging the inevitable is rarely a good idea.

Most of the time, destiny trumps will, logic trounces majesty and reality drubs reverie. Exceptions to the norm exist in the NBA, but the Minnesota Timberwolves' situation with Kevin Love isn't one of them.

Love can and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, at which point he's expected to leave for a bigger market and sounder title hopes.

"That's a 100 percent certainty," one general manager told ESPN's Chris Broussard (subscription required) on the prospect of Love signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015.

Nothing is a "100 percent certainty" in the NBA, where seemingly firm decisions can be reversed and reduced to mush on whims. But Love leaving Minnesota is as close to a certainty as there is at this point, and according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, teams other than the Lakers know it:

Love will be a free agent in 2015, and it is widely known around the league that he and his agent, New York-based Jeff Schwartz, are determined to get him to a major market. The Lakers, Love's first choice, "have the best shot" of landing the Southern California native, one person familiar with the player's thinking said. There is no incentive in the CBA for Love to sign an extension with Minnesota before he has a chance to decline his player option and hit the open market in July 2015.

Giving up significant assets for Love would be problematic for any team that isn't confident it will be able to sign him when he becomes a free agent. That is obviously not an issue for the Lakers.

Berger adds that team president Flip Saunders has given no indication he plans to move Love this season or at all, essentially committing the mistake of all mistakes by imperiling Minnesota's future for a player with one foot already out the door.

 

Securing Top-Dollar

 

The offers Saunders is turning down—which Berger says are coming from the Dallas Mavericks and Lakers, two teams with very few assets—are the best Minnesota will do if it decides to wait.

Love isn't a flight risk for roughly 17 months, and teams are already curbing their offers. That the Lakers have approached the Timberwolves with a package built around 33-year-old Pau Gasol, as ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne confirms, shows how little they think of Minnesota's leverage.

What's going to happen this summer, when he's 12 months away from free agency? Or leading into next season's trade deadline, when he's four or five months from hitting the open market? Offers are going to get worse; Gasol-ish, if you will. 

Few teams are prepared to mortgage the farm on a potential rental. Sam Smith of Bulls.com previously posited that Love prefers the New York Knicks and Lakers above all other free-agency destinations. Interested franchises won't take that as unflappable truth, but it's something they'll have to consider and subsequently use as a means to lower Love's value.

Potential to leave in mind, that value is high right now. Love is averaging 25.8 points, 13.2 rebounds and four assists per game, stats that look like they've been ripped right out of a video game. He also ranks third in win shares (10) behind only Kevin Durant (13.7) and LeBron James (10.7), accounting for 40 percent of Minnesota's 25 total victories, the significance of which is lost on no one.

Infogr.am.

Players on lottery teams don't dwell near the top of win-share rankings. They just don't—unless they're a top-10 superstar approaching top-five territory, like Love.

When you remove impending free agency from the equation, Love's value has never been higher. Trading him at his peak is difficult for a team with only one superstar, but it also makes breaking up under these circumstances easier.

Proposals from teams that aren't the Lakers or Mavericks won't be tapered as much. Berger, in fact, already says organizations are scrambling, "feverishly" trying to secure a "premium" first-round draft pick to buoy any offer.

That's not going to happen next season, when Love's free agency is on the horizon. Frankly, it's amazing it's happening now. Saunders himself has maintained that teams are holding onto top picks for dear life in anticipation of deep 2014 and 2015 draft classes.

"Either everyone wants to keep their picks or if you want to trade players, people are trying to get your pick and people aren’t as apt to do something like that—not only this year, but next year, too," he told The Pioneer Press' Andy Greder.

A continued willingness to unload coveted assets for Love puts the Timberwolves in a maneuverable situation. But that luxury has an expiration date. After this season, the best offers, the ones headlined by top-tier assets such as "premium" draft picks and the ability to pawn bad contracts off on willing suitors, won't exist in the (modest) volume they do now.

 

Doing the Right Thing

Being responsible is the worst.

We all know the feeling. Your friends are out bar-hopping and miming Chris Kattan's dance moves from A Night at the RoxburyYou, meanwhile, are stuck at home, tending to your sick cat or doing your significant other's laundry, when all you want to do is Kattan-it-up with your peeps after having spent large sums of money earmarked for bills on a new pair of pumps or radian suit jacket.

The Timberwolves are living that nightmare. They have a superstar in Love, and they are one of only three teams that rank in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency, joining the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. All they want to do is party, or in this case, contend for a championship. 

But they can't. They aren't. The Timberwolves are six games back of the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Out East, where they build houses of cards—not winners—that's an erasable deficit. In the Western Conference, where anything less than greatness gets you mocked, the Timberwolves can only hope they don't send a late lottery pick (No. 13 or 14) to the Phoenix Suns.

There's nothing left to play for. The Timberwolves aren't going to tank, and they're not going to win. They're stuck. Tanking won't sell Love on the future, and neither will missing the playoffs again.

Instead of attempting to salvage what's left of this mangled vision, the Timberwolves need to do the responsible thing: sift through their dirty laundry on Saturday night.

Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Love isn't coming back, and it's time to admit it. If the big markets weren't fated to get him—like they do many stars—David Kahn's previous reign of incompetence always was. 

Kahn created an irreparable rift when he didn't hand Love the five-year extension he sought. Owner Glen Taylor did the same thing.

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"I don't know who labels people stars, but even [T'wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: 'I don't think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn't led us to the playoffs,'" Love told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski in December 2012. "I mean, it's not like I had much support out there."

More than two years later, the scars haven't healed. A regime change has done little to shift Minnesota's fortunes. Watching the Timberwolves invest five years in Nikola Pekovic couldn't have helped, either.

Fair or not, the Timberwolves put themselves here. Saunders isn't responsible, but it's his job to make the most of this incorrigible relationship. And that begins with ending it on Minnesota's terms, before Love inevitably ends it on his.

 

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