Are We Watching Kevin Love's Final Days with Minnesota Timberwolves?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

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If Kevin Love wasn't feeling especially patient in the summer of 2012, you can only imagine how he feels right about now. Only, you don't have to imagine. He looked completely disheartened this week after his Minnesota Timberwolves lost 109-92 to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Timberwolves are all but eliminated from the playoffs with a sub-.500 record that would barely cut it, even in the East. They rank 25th in points allowed, giving up 103.6 points per game and demonstrating systemic problems that a roster move or two probably couldn't fix. 

Ricky Rubio hasn't panned out as a legitimate All-Star in waiting, and Kevin Martin is as much a defensive liability as he is a potent scorer.

Meanwhile, Love is putting up absolutely astonishing numbers. He's averaging 26.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, doing everything but single-handedly anchoring a defense in desperate need of a savior. That help could come from the coaching staff, from a retooled roster or maybe even if this roster continues to gel in time.

But the real question is whether it will come soon enough. 

Without a defense that wins games, Minnesota will continue to suffer—with Love feeling the pain most of all. The 25-year-old superstar can't entertain free agency until 2015, which might actually matter if he didn't have the capital to bull his way out of town whenever he likes.

Teams are already lining up for his services. CBSSports' Ken Berger reported in February that the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers were both attempting to make deals with the T-Wolves, ultimately citing league sources who claimed, "The Timberwolves have given no indication they'll consider moving the All-Star forward by Thursday's deadline."

That deadline came and went with no movement.

Trading Love would be a tough pill for Minnesota to swallow. The front office has predictably built around him and made him the franchise centerpiece, hoping that in the long term he'd attract the complementary talent needed to field a winner.

It's also difficult to find a match when talking trade partners. Love is making nearly $15 million this season and will make nearly $16 million in 2014-15. Any suitors would have to match that salary while sending young players with high ceilings in return. The Mavericks and Lakers were in no position to assemble those kind of packages.

For Love's part, he's been saying the right things. When presented with the idea of going back to Los Angeles (where he played college ball for UCLA), he told GQ's Steve Marsh, "We have the better team, the better foundation. I'm having fun."

Perhaps this was some combination of wishful thinking and diplomacy, but it certainly wasn't the declaration of disaffection most might have expected. That could be coming any day now.

Either way, the Lakers will continue to try. With a 2014 draft pick that would be ostensibly attractive to Minnesota, the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus wonders, "Do the Wolves just wait for [Love] to leave or do they look to get compensation for their All-Star forward?"

That's an easy question for most of us to answer, but the T-Wolves may stubbornly cling to the hope they can turn things around. Players of Love's caliber rarely come around, even at the top of relatively deep draft classes. There's a legitimate degree of risk associated with exchanging him for prospects.

Realistically, though, hoping he stays is an even riskier proposition.

Love knows that free agents aren't eager to brave the Minnesota winters. He knows the franchise tradition is one of disappointment, wasting Kevin Garnett's best years with first-round exits and subpar support casts.

He knows he's never going to win a championship with the Timberwolves.

The only unknown at this point is the date of his departure. Love would be wise to continue saying the right things. Dwight Howard's experience with the Orlando Magic could be instructive.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 16:  Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the game against the Sacramento Kings on March 16, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
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On the one hand, Howard's very public displeasure permanently harmed his reputation, and Love doesn't need that kind of headache. On the other, though, Howard made it more difficult for the Magic to trade him by decreasing the organization's leverage. Everyone in the league knew he was on his way out. They all knew there wasn't a world in which Orlando would hold on to him.

The inevitability of his departure made it all the more difficult to secure, especially on Howard's terms.

Love would be better off making his suitors believe there's competition, raising the price for his services and thus the probability that Minnesota can find a deal to its liking. If the Lakers see Love's departure via free agency in 2015 as a foregone conclusion, they'll happily hold onto that draft pick.

If they're uncertain about Love's intent, they'll do whatever they have to—and sooner rather than later.

Of course, this logic all presupposes that Love can continue putting on a brave face. That's become less and less likely. Moreover, he'll have a tough time convincing us of anything if and when the Timberwolves continue losing. Nobody really believes he'll stick this thing out beyond 2015.

We may not be watching Love's final days with the team, but we've certainly seen the last of his happy days. His claims to GQ aside, it doesn't look like he's having fun anymore.


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