Ranking Potential Landing Spots for Kevin Love in 2015 Free Agency
When Kevin Love becomes available—whether by trade or free agency—he'll have an abundance of suitors on the market.
The Minnesota Timberwolves star forward is putting up out-of-this-era numbers for a team that seems to be perpetually stuck in neutral.
26.3 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists looks like the kind of line you'd see on the roster of a high-octane team in the 1980s. And you'd think that level of production would translate to more wins in today's NBA.
That hasn't been the case, though, as the T'Wolves are 6.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West with just 11 left to play. In his sixth year in the league, it looks like Love is going to miss the postseason for the sixth time.
If he feels like there's another team with a better shot at getting him into the playoffs, Love could opt out of the final year of his current deal and become a free agent in 2015.
When or if that happens, some big-time organizations will be lining up to recruit the most productive power forward in the NBA.
5. Dallas Mavericks
Rumors of the Dallas Mavericks making a play for Kevin Love ran rampant around this season's trade deadline.
The talk turned out to be just that, as ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon said, "...the thought of Love coming to Dallas is comedic fodder."
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban added (via Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News):
I know what we’re talking about and not talking about. We take pride in the fact that you never read about our deals before they happen. So if you read about them, you know what that means.
But does that mean the Mavs can't make a play for Love in 2015?
Sure, they don't really have the assets to make a trade for the All-Star forward, but they'll have cap space when Love is potentially available.
They have one of the league's best coaches in place in Rick Carlisle, who led the Mavericks to the 2011 title over the Miami Heat.
Mark Cuban has proven for over a decade that he's willing to spend whatever it takes to make his stars happy and surround them with great role players.
The problem is, Dallas may not be quite as desirable a destination as the Mavericks seem to think it is. In the last couple of offseasons, they made free-agency plays for Dwight Howard and Deron Williams but failed to secure either.
Aiming all their plans toward another potential signee could set the team back a couple years.
Having said that, if they do have cap space in 2015, and Love opts out that summer, expect Cuban and the Mavs to throw their 10-gallon hat into the ring.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Internet seems to have decided Love's leaving Minnesota eventually, but there are a few things working in the T'Wolves' favor.
It helps that, despite its current struggles, Minnesota is still much better than the Lakers. Whether that would still be the case if L.A. landed Love is another question.
As for the here and now, he seems alright with the Wolves, as he recently told GQ's Steve Marsh, "People think it's so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota. And I'm not s------g on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I'm having fun."
They certainly have the better team this season, and if Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin could've stayed off the injury report, they'd likely have a better shot at the postseason.
If given the opportunity to play together for another year or two, these Wolves could develop more chemistry. Martin is the only current starter over the age of 30, and 23-year-old Ricky Rubio still has plenty of room to improve.
Pass-first point guards like him are a rarity in today's basketball world. So playing with him would give Love plenty of shots as long as they're together.
3. Chicago Bulls
Love is a phenomenal scorer and rebounder who's faced plenty of questions about his defense. The Chicago Bulls are a defensive juggernaut with a putrid offense.
Perfect match, right?
Just imagine a lineup with a healthy (fingers and toes crossed) Derrick Rose, Love and Joakim Noah. Now plug in a couple role players like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. That's a title-contending squad.
According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, it's a real possibility:
A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.
The Bulls under Tom Thibodeau could cover for Love with top-notch defenders like Noah and Gibson the way they've done for Carlos Boozer.
On the other end, Love could bail out the Bulls' anemic offense. He takes 6.5 threes a game and hits them 38.5 percent of the time. That ability to stretch the floor and drag opposing bigs away from the rim would open up the lane for Rose and Noah.
His ability to score in the post would collapse the defense for shooters like Mike Dunleavy, Jimmer Fredette or whoever might fill that role in 2015.
2. New York Knicks
As McMenamin said, another big city in which Love might be interested is New York. And who could blame the big forward?
He'd have the opportunity to work for 12-time NBA champion Phil Jackson, the Knicks newly hired president. He'd play his home games in the world's most famous arena. And he might be the biggest star on the biggest team in the league.
The Knicks are the most valuable team in the NBA according to Forbes, and Carmelo Anthony could be moving on this offseason. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski said, "The losing, the decaying roster, has inspired 'Melo to consider closely the possibilities of free agency this summer."
The headliner at Madison Square Garden 41 nights a year? Talk about an opportunity to build the brand of Kevin Love.
And if it's more about winning than becoming a bigger star, who better to work for than Phil Jackson?
His system won six titles in Chicago and five more in Los Angeles. Granted, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had a lot to do with that, but Shaq's the only one who's snagged a title without Phil.
As the guy in charge of personnel decisions for the Knicks, Jackson can tailor a team to fit both his triangle offense and Love's strengths.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
It almost seems inevitable, doesn't it?
After Love's quote in GQ stating how he feels about Minnesota, Marsh observed, "Note the present tense."
Sure, Love's saying the right things as long as he's still playing for the Wolves, but a future in L.A. makes sense for so many reasons.
McMenamin outlined a few of those:
Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers -- and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.
Add to that the Lakers need to find someone to take on Kobe Bryant's mantle as franchise cornerstone, and their wide-open cap sheet in 2015.
Kobe is the only current Laker with guaranteed salary for the 2015-16 season, leaving more than enough room for a max deal for Love.
He and Kobe would make for a dynamic inside-outside duo, and could be part of a potential big three depending on who the Lakers draft with their upcoming lottery pick.
And speaking of draft picks, the Lakers might even be able to land Love before free agency.
Despite five teams having a worse record, the Lakers have a shot at the No. 1 pick thanks to the NBA's lottery system. According to Tankathon.com, if the season ended today, the Lakers would have a 6.3 percent chance to land the top pick and a 21.5 percent chance to sneak into the top three.
Would that, in addition to say Pau Gasol in a sign-and-trade, be enough to land Love via trade?
If the Timberwolves feel like re-signing Love is a longshot, they'd have to at least entertain the notion of a trade, especially if it includes a pick from the star-studded draft class of 2014.
Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are all potential franchise players. A team could do much worse than rebooting with any of those four.
However things shake out for Love between now and the summer of 2015, it looks like the deck may be stacked in favor of the Lakers.
They're down for now, but landing Love could put them back in contention before the 2015-16 season.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.