The Boston Celtics are an exception.
To what is hopefully no one's surprise, Love doesn't plan on sticking with the Minnesota Timberwolves beyond next season, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. With only one year standing between him and absolute freedom—also known as free agency—Love's displeasure is his piercing leverage.
Although the Timberwolves won't want to, they must explore trade possibilities. There is no other alternative. They can wait until just before the February trade deadline if they're into procrastinating, but at some point, they'll seriously have to look.
Prospective trade partners are already chomping at the bit for a chance to land Love. Per Wojnarowski and ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls will all enter the exceedingly crowded fracas. The New York Post's Marc Berman even says the New York Knicks are expected to get involved, because, well, that's what they do.
Looming as one of the greatest threats, however, are the Celtics, who have the necessary combination of draft picks, financial flexibility and tangible assets to rival any other offers the Timberwolves will receive.
Building the perfect Love package is an impossible endeavor.
When NBA luminaries are at stake, there is no such thing as a mutually beneficial trade. The Timberwolves don't want to trade Love. Whatever the Celtics offer, they'll want more. That's how it goes.
What Boston actually has is the ability to soften the blow of Love's departure. That's the key. The Celtics can give the Timberwolves impact players and draft picks and take back less desirable pacts.
Yours truly previously outlined a possible deal the two sides can attempt to hash out:
- Minnesota Timberwolves Get: C Joel Anthony, PF Brandon Bass, F Jeff Green, F Jared Sullinger and Boston's 2014 first-round pick.
- Boston Celtics Get: SF Chase Budinger, F Luc Mbah a Moute and PF Kevin Love
Agree or disagree. It doesn't matter. That's the general framework of what will need to happen.
Jeff Green is owed $18.4 million over the next two seasons, which, while far from ideal, is a reasonable price to pay for the athleticism he injects into Minnesota's rotation. He's also equipped to supplant more than 16 of the 26.1 points per game Love takes with him.
Jared Sullinger, meanwhile, has a shot at developing into the Kevin Love of the East. Those aren't my words. They're Roy Hibbert's. Value his basketball insight as you like, but he has a point.
Sully most definitely needs to trim down during the offseason, but he showed extended flashes of three-point range this year, increasing his versatility on the offensive end as a floor-spacing 4 that can spread defenses wafer thin. Undersized for his position (6'9"), he's a workaholic on the glass, another essential game element for a Timberwolves team that would be losing 12-plus rebounds every night with Love out of the picture.
Joel Anthony holds no value. Brandon Bass is better—serviceable, even—but he's still eh. They're worthwhile as expiring contracts that replace the undesirable deals of Chase Budinger and Luc Mbah a Moute.
If the Timberwolves are truly looking to shed massive amounts of salary, they would have the option of replacing Mbah a Moute's expiring contract with the longer deals of Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin. It all depends on whether they're trying to retain as much established talent as possible, or blow their perpetually lottery-bound roster straight to hell.
Either way, the Celtics can make contractual accommodations. And then they can offer a top draft pick to sweeten the pot.
Wojnarowski says that Boston may be willing to dangle its first-rounder in this year's draft as compensation for Love:
The Boston Celtics have emerged as an increasingly intriguing destination for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love, and the Celtics' draft position coming out of Tuesday night's lottery could be telltale in determining the feasibility of a trade, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Positioning is everything. The Celtics can fall no lower than eighth in the lottery, and have a strong chance of landing in the top five or higher. Trading the first overall pick—or even one in the top three—would seem to be out of the question, but we cannot rule anything out when general manager Danny Ainge is involved.
"If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out there to change your franchise forever, or Tim Duncan was going to change your franchise for 15 years? That might be a different story," Ainge previously told Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen. "I don't see that player out there."
In the event that the Celtics truly aren't high on this year's crop of talent, they may not think twice about tossing in a top-three pick. They most definitely don't seem like a team that will bat an eye at dealing a top-five selection. Perhaps that leaves them unwilling to take back two bad contracts from Minnesota, but that's a trade-off the Timberwolves must accept.
More importantly, it gives Boston the means to assemble a package Minnesota must notice.
The Celtics are not alone.
At least five other teams are trying to join in on these festivities, and there's bound to be more. Luckily for the Celtics, most other "threats" are futile.
Hope as they might that Love's ties to Los Angeles will put him in purple and gold, the Lakers aren't going to trade for him. All they have to offer is their first-round draft pick, which can fall as low as ninth in the lottery.
Draft commitments complicate matters, too. The Lakers cannot actually trade the Timberwolves their pick, since the rights to their 2015 first-round selection belong to the Suns. They basically have to draft for the Timberwolves, picking a player they know Minnesota wants before shipping him out accordingly. Their best shot at acquiring Love remains in free agency next summer.
Sames goes for the Knicks. They're not going to trade for Love, either. Berman alleges they plan on offering Tyson Chandler's and Iman Shumpert's contracts along with a 2018 first-rounder. That offer won't land them any superstars.
The Bulls are tough to figure out, as Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes explains:
There's no doubt the Bulls could use his scoring, and amnestying Carlos Boozer could free up nearly all of the space necessary to fit Love's salary under the cap. But the Bulls don't have much in the way of tradable assets to complete a package the Wolves would want.
Anyone would love to have Taj Gibson, but he makes just $8 million in 2014-15, far less than Love's $15.7 million for next season, which means Chicago would have to sweeten the pot significantly.
By no means are the Bulls out of it. But if they're going to pry Love out of Minnesota, their offer will have to look a little something like this:
- Minnesota Timberwolves Get: SF Mike Dunleavy, PF Taj Gibson, F Nikola Mirotic, Chicago's 2014 first-round pick and Charlotte's 2014 first-round pick.
- Chicago Bulls Get: PF Kevin Love
Not only is that a tough sell for Minnesota, it's difficult to justify in Chicago.
For all the bluster emanating out of the Windy City, the team's future is still disturbingly uncertain. The Bulls don't know what they have in Derrick Rose yet. Next season poses a pivotal test, one that will determine just how reliable their star point guard can be.
Decimating much of their depth for additional scoring is a risky gambit. Taj Gibson emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate this past season, and Nikola Mirotic and those two first-rounders are key building blocks the Bulls can use to deepen their fragile rotation.
After them, there are the Phoenix Suns. They should be a threat, what with their useful mixture of expiring contracts, draft picks and tangible talent (Markieff Morris, Goran Dragic, etc.) on the roster. The problem with them, though, is market appeal. Phoenix isn't a choice destination for many players right now, even after their magical run in 2013-14.
Love wants to play in a big market, according to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence. A team like Phoenix would have to trade for him knowing full well he may wind up being a one- or half-year rental. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has already shown he's not afraid to take risks, but compromising a bright future for temporary superstar possession isn't one he can embrace.
Golden State is a different story. The Warriors have attractive assets in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, enabling them to construct a formidable offer around two of those three, along with David Lee and their 2019 first-round pick.
In comparison to what the Warriors can dangle, the Celtics cannot unequivocally lay claim to the best offer. But they're right there, which puts them in great shape.
Oh, the Possibilities
Boston isn't a lock to land Love. No team is. Too many factors are at play right now. Too many questions must still be answered.
Early on, though, the Celtics have to be among the favorites. If they're prepared to relinquish their top draft pick while providing the Timberwolves with plenty of financial relief, it will take a seriously ridiculous proposal to top them.
Now, this is all conditional on the Celtics being interested in constructing their team around Love and Rajon Rondo, two superstars who immediately vault them back into contention within the terribly weak Eastern Conference. I've already said the Celtics are more likely to trade Rondo than keep him, and I stand by that. Should they nab Love, everything changes.
Love would have the superstar sidekick he wants, the big market he craves, the opportunity to reach the postseason he needs.
Rondo's future in Boston looks brighter, more certain.
Pingpong balls become playoff berths.
Huger than huge if the Celtics turn their arsenal of draft picks, viable talent and financial plasticity into a disgruntled superstar who decidedly ends their rebuild much sooner than even the most impassioned optimists could have predicted.