Let that sink in.
Working under the standards of conventional wisdom, the easy assumption is that the Timberwolves will do anything it takes to keep Love in Minnesota. Acknowledging the puzzling reality that Love has an opt-out clause during year four of his contract, however, there is reason for doubt.
The question is, what must the T-Wolves do to woo Love before he can leave via free agency in 2015?
In the midst of a rare push for the postseason, Love is averaging 26.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. He's posting a slash line of .462/.378/.821 and sits behind just Kevin Durant and LeBron James with a Player Efficiency Rating of 28.15, per John Hollinger of ESPN.
As years turn into months, however, the anticipation of Love's departure is petrifying for a franchise that appears ready to finally turn a corner.
For a player who has never once made the playoffs since being drafted in 2008, re-signing just isn't a simple process. Instead, Love will have the option to go to virtually any championship contender that has the cap room to sign him.
So what must Minnesota do to keep K-Love?
Pay Him What He Wants
This seems simple enough, doesn't it? Not when we're talking about the Timberwolves.
The first step towards convincing Kevin Love to stay with Minnesota is to give him the contract that he believes he deserves. For a player who averages 26.5 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, that seems like a simple enough task.
Not in Minnesota.
Former president of basketball operations David Kahn infamously gave Love a four-year deal worth just over $60.8 million. That seems like a hefty salary and a reasonable length for a deal, but that's not the whole story.
According to Marc Stein and Chris Broussard of ESPN, Love said he wanted a five-year deal. What he got was a four-year contract with an opt-out clause for the final season: "Did I want the five years? Of course," Love said on a conference call from Dallas, where the Timberwolves were scheduled to play the Mavericks on Wednesday night. "It was something I felt strongly about, but at the end of the day, a four-year deal is still great."
Flip Saunders isn't Kahn, so one can only hope that he'll give a player of Love's caliber what he wants.
Money and job security won't be enough to land Love, but it's a start. Kahn and Love didn't have the most stable relationship, and the contract negotiations are a testament to such.
Other pieces must fall in place, but if Minnesota isn't willing to hand him a mega-contract with the maximum amount of years, it won't get Love back.
Ricky Rubio's Star Progression
It may seem like an unfair burden, but the Minnesota Timberwolves wooing Kevin Love rests squarely on Ricky Rubio's shoulders. For a team that's rarely been a free-agency hot spot, this all starts from within.
Rubio, a statistically impressive player, must make the leap to stardom if Minnesota hopes to convince Love to stay.
There's no question that Rubio knows how to stuff a stat sheet. In 2013-14, he's averaging 8.9 points, 8.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and a league-best 2.43 steals per game—.01 higher than Chris Paul.
Unfortunately, he's also posting a slash line of .368/.347/.814 that doesn't even begin to tell you how bad the third-year point guard is at shooting the basketball. Take a look for yourself, per NBA.com:
With the addition of a reliable jump shot, Rubio could emerge as one of the best point guards in the game. Until that happens, Rubio will be exposed by opposing defenses that opt to sag off while defending him.
In turn, Love's workload will continue to rise in this guard-heavy league. If Rubio's able to score, that workload would decrease.
It's on Minnesota's franchise point guard to live up to that label.
Finding a Defensive Anchor
Offensively, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the best teams in the NBA. They're No. 4 in scoring offense, No. 8 in assists per game and No. 2 in offensive rebounding.
Until the T-Wolves acquire a defensive anchor, none of that will count for much.
Starting center Nikola Pekovic is a physical monster who has come into his own in 2013-14. In 32.0 minutes per game, he's averaging 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds on 53.5 percent shooting from the field.
That may give Minnesota an elite offensive interior, but rim protection is a major issue that cannot be ignored.
According to NBA.com, the T-Wolves are 26th in opponent points in the paint per game at 45.3. Pekovic and Love are a major reason for that defensive inefficiency.
Per NBA.com, Love allows opponents to shoot an insane 57.1 percent when he meets them at the rim. Pekovic isn't much better at 55.1 percent.
Giving up Pekovic doesn't seem like a rational option, and barring a megadeal, it isn't. Still, Minnesota can't afford to have rare spurts of defensive strength when reserves Ronny Turiaf and the scarcely used Gorgui Dieng hit the floor.
Playoff teams discover success with balance, and Minnesota lacks any form of it.
If the T-Wolves are to convince Love to stay, they'll need a rim protector to mask his lackluster defense and create a stronger identity on that end of the floor. Pekovic may not be that guy.
Make the Playoffs
The Minnesota Timberwolves can acquire the biggest of stars and draft the grandest of prospects. The reality is, none of it will matter if Minnesota doesn't make the playoffs.
Without a postseason appearance, the T-Wolves will offer Love absolutely no reason to stay with the team.
Love isn't innocent when it comes to Minnesota's inability to make the playoffs. The No. 5 selection in the 2008 NBA draft has routinely posted stellar statistics, but he's been unable to close out games.
That's resulted in Minnesota never once exceeding 35 wins since he joined the team.
Minnesota has an uphill battle in 2013-14. At 31-30, there has been visible progress, but that doesn't translate to a playoff appearance.
The Timberwolves are 5.0 games behind the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds, respectively. With just 21 games remaining on the schedule, that could be an insurmountable task.
As difficult as it may be, Minnesota needs to make the playoffs in 2013-14 or 2014-15, if not both, to keep Love. If they fail to, there shouldn't be any doubt about the 25-year-old's departure.
Win and he could be in, lose and Love's undoubtedly lost.
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