If this were all swirling a year from now, the Lakers would be sitting pretty. They'd be coming off a 2014-15 NBA season with a new coach, a promising young prospect from this year's draft, some recently situated free agents and, perhaps, a healthy and rejuvenated Kobe Bryant. All of that would, presumably, entice Love, who plans to opt out of his current contract in 2015 (per ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein), to return to the city of his birth and brief collegiate education.
As would the oodles of cap space at the Lakers' command.
Instead, L.A. will now be thrust into these superstar sweepstakes a year ahead of schedule, coming off arguably the worst season in franchise history, with little to offer the T-Wolves in return and even less to offer Love in the way of certainty, much less any of the championship variety.
Not to mention the lengthy list of teams with the wherewithal to outbid the Lakers in trade talks with the T-Wolves. So far, that list includes (but certainly isn't limited to) the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls, the Golden State Warriors, the Phoenix Suns, the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks. Just about all of those teams can offer more to Minnesota and Love than the Lakers can.
Which, at present, isn't much. Only three of last season's Lakers are slated to wear purple and gold in 2014-15. Two of those (Bryant and Steve Nash) are coming off injury-riddled campaigns, with Father Time pushing them toward retirement. The other is Robert Sacre, who's better known for his cheers and his tattoos than for anything he does on the court.
Of course, the Lakers won't be a three-man operation for long. Nick Young could opt into the second year of his deal, though he figures to test the market in pursuit of a richer, longer contract. The Lakers won't have control over Swaggy P's future, but they do hold the cards in regard to the futures of Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore and Ryan Kelly, the latter of whom are due for qualifying offers.
Still, the Lakers would likely elicit much more than laughter from the T-Wolves in any conversation involving the cast of characters they currently have on hand. To make the money and the talent match up more evenly, L.A. would have to dip into free agency, where the likes of Luol Deng and Lance Stephenson are expected to rule the roost this summer.
Back in March, Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted, in connection with Nash, that the Lakers might not be so keen to spend freely on free agents this summer:
And the fact is, as of this time, Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.
Then again, L.A.'s reluctance to splash cash this summer probably had plenty to do with a desire to save room for Love in 2015.
Granted, Love won't be the only big-name player who might hit free agency next year. LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap will all be in search of new deals by then. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Al Jefferson, Goran Dragic and Arron Afflalo are among those who could choose to do so that same summer.
But if Love's up for grabs now, the Lakers might be compelled to dip into their reserves sooner than they expected.
Even so, NBA rules prohibit teams from trading newly signed free agents until the following December, at the earliest. That restriction would put the Lakers even further behind the eight-ball, assuming they were able to attract talent to the T-Wolves' liking in the first place.
And not just because all the other teams pursuing Love wouldn't have to wait. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Love's representatives want the T-Wolves to trade him before free agency begins in July and would prefer that a deal go down in time for the 2014 NBA draft on June 26.
The draft could grant the Lakers their best means of acquiring Love. The misery of L.A.'s 27-55 season will yield a lottery pick of some sort. The final resting place of that pick will be determined on Tuesday, ahead of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
According to Sports Illustrated, the Lakers are guaranteed to fall no further than ninth in the final order, with a 21.49-percent chance of sneaking into the top three. The Lakers could, in theory, use that pick to re-route another team's players to Minnesota in a multi-team trade. For what it's worth, general manager Mitch Kupchak is open to the idea of parting ways with L.A.'s draft-day considerations, per The Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina:
But trades of that caliber and complexity are exceedingly difficult to pull off, especially in scenarios as time sensitive as the one in which the Lakers now find themselves. And beyond that one pick, the Lakers don't have much to offer; they can deal away their 2014 second-rounder if they so choose, but they can't send out a first-rounder (other than this year's) any sooner than 2019, since they owe picks to the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic from the Nash and Dwight Howard trades, respectively.
At this point, the Lakers can only hope that this saga between Love and the T-Wolves drags on for a while. The longer it goes, the better L.A.'s odds of landing Love will be.
To be sure, Love's worth the trouble for the Lakers—or any team, for that matter. He finished among the top four in the league in both scoring and rebounding for the second time in three seasons.
|Kevin Love's Stats, 2013-14 and Career Averages|
As a result, Love finished third in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which roughly measures an individual's per-minute production. The only players to finish ahead of him: Kevin Durant and LeBron James, who wound up as the top two vote-getters in MVP balloting once again.
|NBA PER Leaders, 2013-14|
There's still a chance that Love will play out the 2014-15 season and explore his options thereafter. He doesn't have any leverage with the T-Wolves beyond the threat of exit next summer, as "convincing" a cudgel as that may be. Minny could choose to wait out the storm and hope that a more promising, playoff-bound season for the T-Wolves will change Love's mind, much like the Portland Trail Blazers' surprising success seems to have quelled LaMarcus Aldridge's concerns in Rip City.
The T-Wolves would certainly do well to bide their time if they can, whether that means prolonging the timeline of a Love trade or having him wear the team's colors for the entirety of his seventh pro campaign. After all, superstars on Love's level don't come around every day. The T-Wolves owe it to themselves to not rush to a conclusion, one way or another.
Even more so when considering that this franchise hasn't participated in the playoffs in a decade, and would be hard-pressed to break that dubious streak next spring without Love. According to the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski, the T-Wolves are more amenable to trading Love than they were before, though there's little indication yet of any sense of urgency within the organization to do so.
"You never say never," team owner Glen Taylor told Fox 9 Sports' Lindsey LaBelle on Sunday, "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."
Dealing franchise players is a delicate business in the NBA. Those types of talents are hard to find, and even harder to get anything close to equal value for in a trade.
Kupchak, Jim Buss and the Lakers know this all too well. They've been on both ends of such a transaction over the last decade.
Sending Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat in 2004 (at Bryant's behest) brought them Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, some draft picks and, ultimately, a few years filled with misery, mediocrity and the Mamba's trade demands. Snagging Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008 afforded them two more championships, but cost them a future All-Star (Marc Gasol) on the other end. The Howard blockbuster from 2012 is largely at fault for the mess in which the Lakers find themselves at this very moment.
The Lakers should be aware, then, that they're not out of the race for Love's services yet. But time is quickly ticking away on L.A.'s pursuit of the cornerstone who's long been presumed a Laker-to-be.
Assuming it hasn't run out already.
Love is in the air and on Twitter!
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