According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the 25-year-old All-Star has informed Minnesota he has no plans to remain with the team beyond next season:
Beyond the coaching search, the Wolves are under pressure to start considering trade scenarios for Love, who's anxious to exercise his Early Termination Option (ETO) in the summer of 2015 and leave as a free agent, league sources said.
"For the first time, [Saunders] sounds like looking at deals for [Love] is an option," one rival executive told Yahoo Sports.
Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com confirmed the report but added that Love has "stopped short of demanding a trade."
Straightforward trade demand or not, Love is forcing the Timberwolves' hand here. They cannot risk losing him in free agency for nothing next summer. If he intends to leave, they must explore all their options between now and next year's February trade deadline.
While the market for Love figures to be vast, moving him won't be easy. Interested teams aren't going to mortgage their future or deplete asset pools for a player who could leave in a few months' time. Trade partners will want assurances that Love plans on committing to them long term, limiting Minnesota's ability to roll with the best offer available.
Wojnarowski says that the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns are among the teams expected to make strong pushes for the stretch forward. Sources told him that the Lakers and Celtics plan to make their top lottery picks available in Love negotiations—Los Angeles can fall no lower than ninth in the draft lottery, Boston no lower than eighth.
Of the four aforementioned suitors, Stein and Shelburne say the Lakers and Warriors are two teams that interest Love. The Chicago Bulls are another club that intrigues him, and Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News threw the New York Knicks into the mix as well, though they lack the necessary talent and draft picks to seriously enter the fray.
A more definitive—perhaps even expanded—list of possible destinations should be revealed once the NBA's draft lottery takes place on Tuesday, May 20. Teams like the Lakers and Celtics will have a better idea of where they're drafting and what they can actually offer. Likewise, the Bulls and Warriors, among others, will have a grasp on the types of offers they'll be competing against.
Minnesota could, of course, elect to squash all hearsay by retaining Love for now, heading into next season with the hope that he will change his mind. If he doesn't, they can revisit trades ahead of the deadline.
Yet the time to strike is now, when Love's value is highest. Even teams that aren't favorites to re-sign him are willing to take risks on a player they'll have for an entire season as opposed to a half-year or less. And if Love has actually indicated he's going to leave, there's really no point in prolonging the inevitable, as ProBasketballTalk's Brett Pollakoff writes:
There aren’t many reasons keeping Love in Minnesota, especially if the team fails to retool its roster and make the playoffs next year. As for the coaching search, it’s still far too early in the process to believe that Love’s potential future status would actually be deterring candidates from being interested, and it’s unclear if the search to replace Adelman has even begun in earnest.
Which team can make the best trade offer for Love?
Before now, there were plenty of reasons for the Timberwolves to roll the dice on keeping Love. Superstars don't flock to Minnesota, so if he hadn't given an inclination that he was done, trying to re-sign him wasn't an erroneous course of action.
Now it might be.
At this point, can you really blame them?