5 NBA Teams in Best Position to Pull Off Kevin Love Trade

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMay 19, 2014

5 NBA Teams in Best Position to Pull Off Kevin Love Trade

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The tenuous marriage between Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves may be headed for Splitsville sooner than expected.

    According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, Love has "made it clear" to team management that he'll leave the Land of 10,000 Lakes by hook or by crook—which, in this case, means either before next February's trade deadline or as a free agent the following July. Should the T-Wolves decide to trade their most prized asset themselves, two of the league's marquee franchises figure to find themselves on the outside looking in:

    The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have likewise been mentioned all season as big-market landing spots that would tempt Love, but going to the best situation for immediate contention is said to be the power forward's priority.

    The Lakers and the Knicks, then, can only hope that Minnesota hangs on to Love—and that they each improve their own lots in the interim. For now, neither of those destinations can promise Love or Minnesota what each wants.

    The T-Wolves, for their part, seemed to have softened their once-hard stance against dealing the three-time All-Star, per the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski.

    Team owner Glen Taylor, though, has yet to conceded defeat. "You never say never, just because you don’t know what some other team might do -- to prepare you for the future -- but at this point of the year, we don’t even talk about it because it’s not the part of the season where you can talk about it," Taylor told Fox 9 Sports' Lindsey LaBelle on Sunday.

    Assuming T-Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders does open up for Love-related trade talks, he should find no shortage of eager and interested suitors. As far as teams that fit the key criteria (i.e. a win-now situation, a trove of assets to make a deal work) are concerned, these clubs should sit atop the list of potential destinations for the sweet-shooting big man at the outset.

Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics have been mentioned as an "increasingly intriguing destination" for Kevin Love, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, even though they hardly fit the description of a team that's ready to win right away. The C's went 25-57 in 2013-14 under first-year head coach Brad Stevens and will be gunning for a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft as a result.

    That pick could have plenty to do with Boston's inclusion herein. So, too, could any of the other draft considerations currently residing in the Celtics' impressive treasure trove. They're owed two first-round picks in 2015 and one apiece in 2016 and 2018, and will have the option to swap selections with the Brooklyn Nets in 2017.

    Not to mention the bevy of additional second-rounders they'll have at their disposal between now and 2017, along with their own choices, of course.

    At this point, Boston's biggest obstacle may be finding actual players who meet Minnesota's demands. The C's have expiring contracts and the like to make the money match up, and they're scheduled to have the requisite cap space to take on one of the T-Wolves' more onerous pacts.

    But would Minny be amenable to taking back unknown quantities and known cap casualties in exchange for a bona fide superstar? Would throwing Jeff Green into the mix satiate the T-Wolves' demands?

    If so, it won't likely be long before the C's are back in the business of contending for titles. They already have one resident cornerstone in All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Adding Love to the equation, along with some more competent role players hither and thither, would certainly accelerate the rebuilding process.

    And the C's should find no worse than a willing ear with Love. Per Woj, Jeff Schwartz, Love's agent, has a good working relationship with Boston GM Danny Ainge, especially after Ainge helped Paul Pierce, a Schwartz client, find more comfortable refuge in Brooklyn last summer.

Houston Rockets

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    If Danny Ainge doesn't snag Kevin Love from the T-Wolves, another former Celtic just might.

    As Woj mentioned in that same report, the Houston Rockets, led by C's Hall of Famer Kevin McHale as head coach, could figure prominently into the discussion. The Rockets don't have any picks to deal other than their own, which figure to fall at or near the end of the first round for the foreseeable future.

    But what Houston lacks in draft considerations it makes up for (somewhat) in tradable players. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are both young and gifted, with considerable upside to boot, and will combine to rake in just over $3 million next season. Chandler Parsons, a tremendous "glue guy" with borderline-All-Star talent, is slated to make under $1 million in 2014-15. The Rockets could easily toss in Omer Asik to make the money work.

    From Love's perspective, this is about as ideal as situation as he'll find right now. He won't have to shoulder the burden of an entire offense, thanks to James Harden's on-ball abilities, and won't be quite so exposed on the defensive end, thanks to Dwight Howard's rim protection. Instead, Love can settle into a role as GM Daryl Morey's ideal "stretch 4," one who can operate as a low-post threat and all-court passer in addition to collecting caroms and launching threes.

    Love's prior relationship with McHale dating back to their days in Minny—where McHale, then the GM of the T-Wolves, traded for Love on draft day in 2008—could be a credit to Houston's pursuit. Then again, Love didn't exactly flourish under McHale's leadership as a rookie.

    Still, the Rockets have the makings of a title contender as is, and could become the on-paper favorites to win the West with a triumphant (and relatively young) trio of Love, Harden and Howard in their employ.

    Houston may not be New York or L.A., as far as popular cachet is concerned, but it's a big city nonetheless.

    And one whose resident NBA franchise is ready to win right away. 

Chicago Bulls

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    In truth, Houston's case for Kevin Love isn't all that dissimilar from the opportunity the Chicago Bulls could present. They, too, boast a Defensive Player of the Year up front (Joakim Noah) and a powerful, productive guard (Derrick Rose) in their backcourt.

    But Noah isn't quite the force of nature that Howard is. As for Rose, his time spent recovering from knee injuries over the past two years should give any future Bulls acquisition pause, though Love will get to see his progress up close when the two join forces with Team USA this summer.

    Love could stand to benefit as an individual player, as well. If Tom Thibodeau could turn Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli into passable defenders, imagine what sort of magic he might conjure up on Love's behalf on that end.

    Chicago could make the trade worth Minnesota's while as well. Taj Gibson could be a quality pick-and-roll partner for Ricky Rubio. Carlos Boozer, for all of his late-career regression, still has value as an expiring contract. If the T-Wolves want another shooter, the Bulls could always throw in Mike Dunleavy Jr. as a chip.

    Bulls GM Gar Forman will have means to sweeten the pot for the T-Wolves, as well. Chicago owns all of its upcoming first-rounders, along with the Sacramento Kings' 2015 first-rounder (top-10 protected) and possible swapping rights with the Cleveland Cavaliers next year. The Bulls are also in talks to finally bring international sensation Nikola Mirotic across the pond, per The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson.

    If Minnesota finds that deal to its liking, Love should find it to his, too. Only New York and L.A. can outgun the Windy City as far as market size is concerned, and neither the Knicks nor the Lakers could promise Love the chance to compete for a championship from day one like the Bulls can.

Golden State Warriors

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Love's California roots—he was born in Santa Monica and played his college ball at UCLA—could make the Golden State Warriors an attractive proposition. So, too, could the opportunity to play alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in what would be (perhaps) the greatest collection of shooting talent in NBA history.

    Not to mention what Andrew Bogut can do to cover for Love's defensive deficiencies.

    The Warriors, though, might have a tough time concocting a return package that suits the T-Wolves' demands. A pairing of Harrison Barnes and David Lee would seem a logical starting point. But Barnes hasn't exactly shined with any consistency since coming into the league in 2012. And Lee, for all the pretty numbers he puts up on a nightly basis, is something of a liability at his salary (i.e. more than $15 million per year through the 2015-16 season).

    Moreover, Warriors GM Bob Myers is fresh out of fungible first-round picks—unless the T-Wolves are willing to wait until 2019—thanks to the trade that sent the team's 2014 and 2017 first-rounders (along with a second-rounder and a slew of expiring contracts) to the Utah Jazz in the deal that brought Andre Iguodala to the East Bay.

    How Steve Kerr fits into this is anybody's guess at this point. They share southern California roots, but Kerr's never been a coach at any level and might have a difficult time gaining the full trust of the Dubs' locker room as it is.

    That being said, if Love wants to win on the West Coast as soon as possible, Golden State would give him the best chance to do so.

Phoenix Suns

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Don't sleep on the Phoenix Suns in the Kevin Love sweepstakes. They may be the dark horse in this emerging melee, but that needn't preclude them from taking the lead at some point.

    They're not bona fide title contenders, but they might not be far off. If they can win 48 games with Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and a slew of undervalued role players, who's to say they can't up the ante considerably with an honest-to-goodness cornerstone like Love operating under the auspices of Jeff Hornacek?

    Phoenix isn't L.A., but it's not all that far off distance-wise. At the very least, Love should find Arizona's warm climate more enticing than the frigid Minnesota temperatures to which he's already accustomed.

    Likewise, the Suns don't have any one trade chip to pique the interest of the T-Wolves, but they have a number of picks and young players who are ready to move, either directly or as cogs in a more complex bit of trade machinery. Phoenix could even send back to Minnesota the pick it acquired when it took Wesley Johnson off the T-Wolves' hands two years ago.

    Chances are the Suns won't be the ones to pry Love from Minny, especially if he's hesitant to opt in to the final year of his contract in the Valley of the Sun.

    Still, GM Ryan McDonough can't be counted out. He's already proven to be one of the craftiest young minds in his profession and will have plenty of tools at his disposal (i.e. picks, players, cap space) with which to work his magic to even greater effect this summer.

     

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