Trading for a bona fide NBA superstar requires a perfect storm of circumstances—an expiring contract, dysfunction in the player's current organization and enough assets to jump-start his current team's rebuilding process.
It's not an easy concoction, but since ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Kevin Love will hit free agency next offseason, the trade buzz has been active around the Timberwolves' All-Star. In his report, Stein highlighted that prying Love away from Minnesota would require a 2014 lottery pick and a winning environment:
Two sources told the AP that the likely asking price would include a high first-round pick in this year's draft and a veteran or two who could bring immediate leadership to a team that lacks it.
Sources say Love has stressed to the Timberwolves that he's desperate to get to a winning situation and that the constant losing has worn on him. Minnesota has not reached the playoffs in Love's six seasons and endured a particularly disappointing 2013-14 season, missing out on a top-eight spot in the West thanks in part to a number of close-game defeats.
With that criteria in mind, let's take a look at Love's most logical landing spots if Minnesota does indeed pull the trigger and trade their biggest star.
Stein highlighted the Warriors as a destination that "intrigued" Love, and it's not hard to understand why. The trio of Love, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson would stretch nearly any defense beyond its limits on the perimeter. With a young core in place, Love could be the piece that vaults the Warriors into the top tier of the brutal Western Conference.
However, the Warriors do not have as many assets as other potential suitors, as the New York Daily News' Frank Isola highlights:
Could Warriors do David Lee and Harrison Barnes for Kevin Love? Houston has players to trade, Boston & Phoenix have loads of picks.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 19, 2014
Consequently, ESPN's Ethan Strauss believes it may take the Warriors' second-most important asset to pry Love away from the Timberwolves:
"You can't include Klay in a trade for Love" Warriors fan is "You can't include Eric Gordon in a trade for CP3" Clipper fan— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 19, 2014
Giving up Harrison Barnes is a given in any package, but the Warriors would surely prefer to retain Klay Thompson. Unfortunately, Golden State does not have a first-round pick this year, having given away their first-rounder to Utah to shed the onerous deals of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson.
Considering that the Dubs are a likely playoff team moving forward, their own non-lottery pick is unlikely to entice the Timberwolves. Thus, as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News opines, Minnesota would likely need to place a premium value on David Lee for any deal to work:
My swift conclusion: If Minnesota likes David Lee (or his contract), the Warriors might have traction in any potential Love talks.
That means: Minnesota has to consider Lee as VALUE, as something worthwhile to get back in return for any Love deal, not just as salary ballast.
If Minnesota does not view Lee and his remaining $30.5M over the next two years as VALUE… it’d be difficult for the Warriors to get involved in this one.
It's difficult to imagine the Timberwolves would accept the 31-year-old Lee as the centerpiece of a deal, even if they do need some veteran leadership. Barnes has also disappointed after being a revelation as a stretch power forward in last year's postseason victory over the Denver Nuggets. In his sophomore campaign, Barnes has posted essentially the same numbers as he did his rookie season.
Therefore, Thompson would likely be a prerequisite to match the packages that other teams can offer. A leading core of Curry, Love and Andre Iguodala might improve the Warriors slightly, but it would still keep them mired in the West's second tier.
The Houston Rockets might represent the best destination in terms of satisfying both Love's desire for contention and Minnesota's trade requirements. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski recently highlighted Houston as a potential landing spot. With Love's ex-coach in Kevin McHale and young trade chips like Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik, no other borderline championship contender sits in a better position:
The only teams that can offer Minnesota more for Love than the Rockets can/will are teams that don't meet his desire to join a contender.— Jerome Solomon (@JeromeSolomon) May 18, 2014
After last season's "Twin Towers" experiment failed with Dwight Howard and Asik, Love would provide a much more complementary skill set. Terrence Jones saved Houston's lineups with above-average play as a starter, but the Rockets could still use an upgrade at the 4.
Moreover, the Rockets' emphasis on high-efficiency shot selection—three-pointers, shots in the paint and free throws—dovetails nearly perfectly with Love's skill set. Love's 59.1 true shooting percentage highlights his ability to stretch the floor from three, as well as his efficiency in the restricted area.
Houston cannot outbid everyone, and it is certainly possible that Love would want to leave the brutal West in favor of better prospects for immediate contention in the East. Parsons would also add to Minnesota's surplus on the wing, though excising Chase Budinger from the roster via trade would be welcome.
A package of Parsons, Asik and a pair of low first-round picks appears slightly superior to any non-Thompson Warriors package, and inferior to a package with Thompson included. However, general manager Daryl Morey has been active in recent superstar bidding wars, and he makes the Rockets a legitimate consideration.
The Celtics may not be a contender, but in Rajon Rondo, they have an established All-Star in his prime, unlike the Lakers or the Knicks (if they fail to re-sign Carmelo Anthony). Moreover, with a cavalcade of draft picks and a couple of intriguing young pieces, it seems unlikely that any other team can outbid Boston.
Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Celtics had become an "intriguing destination" for Love. The Celtics will have a premium pick in hand in 2014, not to mention unprotected first-round picks from the Clippers in 2015 and the Nets in 2016 and 2018.
Moreover, in Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics could also offer a pair of young prospects that come with similar stretch 4 capabilities as Love. Obviously, neither player is close to Love's abilities, but Sullinger in particular could possess a borderline All-Star ceiling. Per 36 minutes, Sullinger averaged 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds in just his second campaign.
Of course, the Celtics would not be surefire contenders, even with Love in tow. As Michael Pina argued in a roundtable discussion on CelticsHub.com, Boston could be an exciting team, but one with a second-round ceiling:
It’s difficult to answer this question without first knowing what Ainge gave to Minnesota, but generally speaking the answer is probably not. Will Boston be fun, exciting, and competitive? Yes. They’ll make the playoffs and maybe even win a round, but contending title contention would still be a couple years away with Love and Rondo as the two best players.
Of course, 2014-15 would not be the endgame, as a Love-Rondo tandem would be an intriguing destination for a third star. Boston's roster is essentially barren beyond a few role players they could keep, so a third All-Star would be necessary to challenge Miami and Indiana.
Nonetheless, in terms of pure cargo, the Celtics can outstrip every other bidder. If Love is intrigued by playing with one of the game's best passers and an organization with championship pedigree, he could be wearing green next season.