The Minnesota Timberwolves missed out on postseason play for a 10th consecutive season in 2013-14—the sixth straight absence with Kevin Love on board. Reports say that the UCLA product intends to test free agency in 2015. That officially gives Minny's president of basketball operations, Flip Saunders, no other choice but to trade the three-time All-Star.
Per ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, K-Love has let the organization know that he has "no interest" in signing a contract extension to stay in Minnesota. He plans to opt out of his contract after the 2014-15 campaign, effectively making him an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Quite honestly, this merely seemed like a matter of time. Ousting embattled former president David Kahn—who made one terrible decision after another—was a start. Putting a respectable supporting cast around Love via Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer hinted at a playoff berth as well. However, the T-Wolves still didn't get the job done. The face of the franchise is still frustrated.
Does part of that losing equation fall on Love's shoulders? Of course it does. He is the team's best player, after all.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that the rebound machine has grown weary of his current situation.
All signs point toward the talented power forward opting to leave the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" behind. The Timberwolves can't afford to lose him for nothing, so it's time for the front office to evaluate every potential deal.
Per Stein and Shelburne, Love's desired destinations include the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls. The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks were also noted as interested suitors, "but going to the best situation for immediate contention is said to be the power forward's priority."
From that outlook, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that he reportedly prefers the Warriors and Bulls. Both made the 2014 playoffs despite dealing with various injury woes. Additionally, they each sport a unique core with All-Star talents.
New York, meanwhile, missed the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference during an abysmal season, and there's no guarantee that Carmelo Anthony plans to re-up with the franchise. As a result, bringing Love to the Big Apple certainly seems like a pipe dream at this point for Knicks fans.
Still, as the New York Post's Mark Berman reports, president of basketball operations Phil Jackson has been "plotting" to bring Love to Madison Square Garden.
He writes, "The Knicks believe they have the expiring contracts—Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert in particular—the Wolves might want so Minnesota can keep cap space to go after the star-studded 2015 free agent class."
No offense to Minnesota residents, but big-name NBA free agents usually clamor over the prospect of playing in Los Angeles or Miami—avoiding frigid temperatures and marketing their "brands." That factor will be even more pronounced if Love is no longer there as a building block.
Adding expiring contracts for cap room isn't what the T-Wolves need. Rather, they need one or more pieces locked up on long-term deals to fill the void.
From that outlook, New York can't offer what other teams can.
A more worthy suitor dwells in the desert sun.
"Sources say that the Phoenix Suns, armed with several draft assets to offer Minnesota, also have strong interest in trading for Love, but the 25-year-old's interest in joining the Suns is unclear," Stein and Shelburne wrote.
Thanks to 34-year-old general manager Ryan McDonough, Phoenix holds claim to three first-round draft picks this summer. Those resources could be used as a framework for a trade.
If there's a team with assets and overall appeal from the winning and/or "big market" standpoint, chances are it will enter the sweepstakes.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda, however, Wolves owner Glen Taylor said that he doesn't plan on trading the 25-year-old prior to the 2014 NBA draft.
Due to that, teams with suitable trade chips in said draft—Phoenix and Los Angeles—are essentially eliminated from contention—for now. So who provides the best scenario in terms of mutual interest?
Aside from the connection between Love and Coach McHale, as well as the promise of a virtually automatic playoff berth, the Rockets have some pieces they could send Minnesota's way.
A package including Chandler Parsons on his cheap rookie deal, defensive-minded center Omer Asik and draft picks is the primary option.
Unfortunately for Rockets fans, the T-Wolves have already invested in Pekovic through the 2017-18 season. That's four straight seasons starting next year. Adding Asik to a roster that already features the 28-year-old mountain of a man wouldn't work from a rotational standpoint.
Trying to play Asik and Howard together only worked in very specific scenarios, and Pekovic simply isn't as good as D12.
On top of everything, the Timberwolves would risk putting together a dynasty in Houston. That isn't to say a core of Harden, Love and Howard would be unbeatable, but coming out of the Western Conference against them would be no small feat.
Expect Minnesota to look more seriously at other options.
Boston, as Wojnarowski writes, has a backlog of draft picks as well as cap space needed to take back an unsavory contract to sweeten the pot.
Unlike the Suns and Lakers, the Celts are not tied down in trade talks by Zgoda's report that Taylor won't trade Love prior to the 2014 draft. Stemming from the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade, Boston has two first-round picks in 2016, 2018 and the right to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017.
Simply put, that's a bounty.
Throw in the fact that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge can add young guys like Jeff Green, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger or even restricted free agent Avery Bradley to the mix, and that makes the storied franchise a legitimate contender for Love's services.
SB Nation's Kevin O'Connor even pointed out the following tidbit: "Boston has the clear advantage of being in the opposite conference. It's unlikely that Minnesota would deal a star player like Love to another team within their conference unless the offer was far and away superior to Boston's."
The Celtics may be viewed as a bit of a dark horse contender, but a vast collection of draft picks suggests they shouldn't be.
For Chicago, it's fair to assume that former MVP Derrick Rose and 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah are completely and utterly untouchable. That does not mean, however, that the Bulls can't put together an enticing package for the 6'10" veteran.
If Chi-Town opts to utilize the amnesty provision to waive Carlos Boozer's contract from the salary cap, that will open up some avenues.
The Bulls could package a mixed bag of the following assets: Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, the rights to European standout Nikola Mirotic or first-round selection(s).
Minnesota would have to haggle and determine the best fits, but Gibson is a must to make any deal work financially.
A Big Three of Rose, Love and Noah would be devastating if healthy—especially if head coach Tom Thibodeau can get the potential new addition to buy in on defense.
Nevertheless, another one of the big man's "desired destinations" stands out above the rest.
Golden State Warriors
G-State may not have a lottery pick in 2014, but the young and talented roster has more than enough pieces to send Minnesota's way.
As Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote:
Golden State is an exciting destination, with loads of talent and enough intriguing assets (David Lee, Harrison Barnes and/or Klay Thompson, to name three) to pull something off. And with the added pressure of winning big under new head coach Steve Kerr, perhaps the Dubs will be extra motivated to swing a deal.
Lee, Barnes and Thompson are all rock-solid NBA talents. Picking up two out of those three guys would stem the bleeding from a Love deal. It would also make Minnesota a viable destination for free agents looking to join a fresh new core.
Is it possible that there's something brewing in the Bay Area?
As Berman wrote, "It's unclear if Steve Kerr knew Love's preference when he chose to coach the Warriors, but it's very possible."
If money, proximity to his home, basketball appeal and long-term security wasn't enough of an incentive to coach the Dubs, Berman is throwing out the idea that Kerr might have known about Love's intentions to put Golden State near the top of his wish list.
Take that speculation with a grain of salt, but it doesn't change the fact that Golden State is a very worthy suitor.
Losing has weighed heavily on Love, but Timberwolves fans are not exempt from that emotion.
Now, with the prospect of losing the organization's best player as a distinct possibility, T-Wolves fans need to look on the bright side.
There aren't many silver linings when a franchise-changing star wants to storm out the exit. However, how "franchise-changing" has Love been over the past six years?
In that time, the Timberwolves have never reached the postseason. Not even as a No. 8 seed. Whether the former UCLA standout likes it or not, that's partly on him.
B/R's Adam Fromal often asks whether the Timberwolves would make the playoffs with any other power forward in the league when this topic comes up. Would they get there with Blake Griffin? LaMarcus Aldridge? It's a sound argument, considering that the answer likely isn't "yes." Replace Love with someone else at his position, and the results would probably be the same.
If nothing else, Minnesota appears poised to land a genuine haul of assets for the All-Star. Gary Dzen of Boston.com tweeted the following after news broke:
Whether or not that standpoint reflects GMs around the Association remains to be seen. Netting three first-round picks for Love may not be feasible, but potentially talking down from that starting point is a great place to be for the Timberwolves.
The player considers that "motivation has been one of the problems" that they have had and he opined "that starts with the (coaching) staff, the head coach and the assistants are the ones that should impart that (...) Even if he was only at 80 percent, 70 percent, Rick Adelman is a coach that knows a whole lot."
About his teammate Kevin Love, the Spanish point guard says that "he is a special player, the numbers that he puts up are incredible, but still the leader has to be somebody else (...) He leads in scoring, in other things, but in voice he is not the type of player that wants to be or that can be, no? There are different types of leaders. Still, it did not have to have been him, it should have been Kevin Martin, with a little more experience, or even I can take a step further and start to be the definitive leader."
Love has never had an astounding supporting cast to work with. If he embraced a leadership role to inspire his teammates and get the most out of them, though, maybe he would have made the postseason at least once.
Teams need guidance, wisdom and on-court leadership from their best players. It doesn't appear as if Love will be that type of guy without a different No. 1 option as his wingman.
If trading him lights a fire under Rubio and prompts the Spaniard to reach his potential, the Timberwolves may ultimately benefit down the road.
Love has given Saunders, Taylor and Co. no choice but to move him for value. The rebuilding process starts with that trade, so the front office has to make the final decision a good one.
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