The writing has been on the wall since 2012. The Minnesota Timberwolves had to become a contender in short order, and they failed. They failed even to build a playoff team, to give Kevin Love some modicum of hope that things would be different if he just waited a little longer.
We all saw this coming, and hopefully the Timberwolves did too. The writing was on the wall because Love put it there in no uncertain terms.
In 2012, he told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "I haven't been in the playoffs yet. I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs – or it's been one playoff berth – well, it's going to be tough to say, 'Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild.'"
Months earlier, Love had expressed similar frustration to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, saying, "My patience is not high. Would yours be, especially when I'm a big proponent of greatness surrounding itself with greatness?"
At the time, Love's comments might have sounded a little premature. He had only been in the league for four years. Minnesota hadn't yet had much of an opportunity to surround greatness with greatness.
Patience is exactly what Love needed to have.
Now the patience has run out—and justifiably so. Instead of landing a supporting cast capable of contending, the organization has made long-term commitments to the likes of Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic—good players, but not co-stars, not partners capable of helping to carry this team to the promised land.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne recently reported that "Love has made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota, according to sources with knowledge of the situation."
Love wants to play for a winner, and he doesn't want to wait until the waning years of his career to join one (like former Minnesota great Kevin Garnett).
Big cities have also reportedly intrigued the emergent superstar.
Back in March, ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin wrote that "a source familiar with Love's thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it's not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he's enamored with the idea of being 'big time in a big city,' and that list of potential places he'd seek includes New York and Chicago, as well."
That amounts to at least a half-dozen teams that either interest the power forward or are interested in him.
It's tempting to ask what the Timberwolves are to do at a juncture like this, but that's probably the wrong question. The franchise will do what Love wants it to do. He's holding all the cards in this particular scenario.
Love knew what he was doing when he signed an extension with an opt-out clause in 2015. And he knows what he's doing now, forcing the organization to risk losing him for nothing unless it sends him on his way to a destination of his choosing.
"His choosing" because Love can functionally veto any trade he doesn't like. As Wojnarowski notes, "Love has no veto power over a trade, but it is unlikely any team will unload significant assets for him without an assurance he'll re-sign a max contract."
Unlikely, but not entirely impossible.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers were ultimately willing to acquire Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic without Howard agreeing to sign an extension. That decision backfired to some degree when Howard bolted for the Houston Rockets via free agency a year later.
Most teams will look to avoid repeating Los Angeles' mistake, and that gives Love a significant measure of control over where he goes. He can create a short list of destinations with whom he'd be willing to sign an extension, essentially narrowing the trading partners available to the Timberwolves.
That kind of leverage can be dangerous, though—especially if Love makes his short list known. The smaller his list of preferred destinations, the more difficult it becomes for Minnesota to foment a bidding war.
The best scenario for the Timberwolves is one in which there's a substantial handful of suitors. Those suitors would be forced to sweeten their offers when competing with one another, ultimately giving Minnesota its pick of the trade litter.
Each team that Love crosses off that list means one less suitor, one less competitor to drive up Love's price.
On the other hand, Love would like to be sold for as little as possible. That actually gives him some incentive to prevent a bidding war. Remember, every asset that leaves the team of Love's choice is an asset with whom he won't be able to play going forward.
The extent to which the loss of that outgoing matters depends on each respective team's depth of talent and draft resources.
For example, even if the Warriors parted ways with David Lee and Harrison Barnes in order to acquire Love, they would still have a formidable core in Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut. You can see why Love would be interested in such a scenario. Though a trade would rip a chunk of good talent from Golden State's grasp, it wouldn't deplete the team too much.
It's harder to see how a team such as the Celtics could realistically vie for Love's services. Pairing Love with Rajon Rondo would make for a dangerous star duo, but Boston has few other complementary pieces with whom to surround that duo. Chances are young studs such as Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk would be moved in the deal, leaving Boston with a core that include Love, Rondo and potentially Avery Bradley and/or Jeff Green.
Not as promising an arrangement as what Golden State can offer.
If the Houston Rockets could acquire Love without losing Dwight Howard and James Harden, there's plenty to like about that scenario as well. Love would give the team three legitimate superstars and an awfully good shot at contending for an NBA Finals berth.
The allure of playing in Los Angeles may weigh heavily for Love, but it's hard to see him being especially amenable to sticking around the Lakers without a greater guarantee that the team can improve its roster going forward. The organization can count on at least two more seasons of the currently 35-year-old Kobe Bryant—who's signed through 2016—but it has little else to promise Love, little that's concrete in any case.
It may well turn out that there are a number of teams with whom Love would be willing to sign an extension. It's essentially a free agency-come-early situation for the 25-year-old. He can be as selective as he wants to be, in turn determining which packages the Timberwolves can seriously consider.
And in the event a team does trade for him without the assurance of an extension, Love can still force his way out in 2015. Either way, he's in the driver's seat.
Though a "Love story" with Minnesota appears unlikely ever to materialize, the dual-purpose forward remains one of the most desirable players in the league. He's an incredible rebounder with all kinds of range on the perimeter.
This season, he averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds. There was hope that he'd be enticed by point guard Ricky Rubio's future, that guys such as Martin and Pekovic would complete a viable starting lineup.
But the problem has been results. Pekovic was held to just 54 games this season on account of injury. Martin remains a potent shooter with limited defensive ability. Rubio is one of the league's best distributors but an uneven scorer at best.
In the end, the Timberwolves were just 40-42, the 10th-best mark in the Western Conference.
And in the end, they'll pay a heavy toll for their mediocrity. Love is all but already gone, and he'll be the one deciding where he goes.
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