And that's bad news for the Los Angeles Lakers.
At the very least, it's awkward news with lasting repercussions. Love isn't a member of the Lakers, yet the two parties have been joined together on so many occasions, he might as well be. One general manager even told ESPN's Chris Broussard (subscription required) that Love signing with Los Angeles in 2015 free agency was "a 100 percent certainty."
To some extent, Love wants the Lakers. And the Lakers want him. Neither party will openly admit it—tampering, much?—but it's true. Their union even seemed inevitable for a while, something that was fated to happen in due time.
Skyscraping dreams crumble hard, though.
Love has thrown a wrench into Los Angeles' strategy. Calmly waiting for 2015 to facilitate his escape from Minnesota may no longer be an option. The All-Star forward's status quo has changed.
So the Lakers' plans must too.
One of the main problems with signing Love as a free agent lies within his inability to wait. He's done waiting. He wants to win now.
Deep into the NBA playoffs—which Love has been forced to watch from home once again—Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski revealed that the stretch forward didn't plan on remaining in Minnesota beyond next season. Though ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne said he stopped short of asking for a trade, how else are the Timberwolves supposed to interpret this?
What Love basically said was: "Look, I don't like you. I'm going to leave you. You don't have to trade me, though. Feel free to let me leave for absolutely nothing next summer."
Ideally, that's exactly what would happen for the Lakers. But the Timberwolves aren't that bonkers this side of David Kahn's tumultuous reign.
Owner Glen Taylor has denied the team is shopping Love, because he has a sense of humor—or because the Timberwolves aren't actively shopping him at the moment. At some point, however, they will. They must.
"I'm not in a position where you would say absolutely I wouldn't do it, because what if something that I can't even speculate (on) happens?" Taylor told the Pioneer Press' Charley Walters. "You'd say, 'You're nuts, Glen.' Maybe some team puts a value on him that's different than we suspect."
Whatever it is that compels the Timberwolves to trade Love—his desire to leave, an unbelievable offer or some combination of both—chances are it's going to happen. If Love isn't happy, the Timberwolves aren't going to waste time and energy on a lost cause.
When they do make him available—if they haven't already—torrents of teams are going to assemble packages. Between Wojnarowski and Stein and Shelburne, we know that the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors, in addition to the Lakers, are all interested.
Marc Berman of the New York Post later threw in the New York Knicks. Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer says the Cleveland Cavaliers are in play. David Aldridge of NBA.com told us to keep an eye on the Washington Wizards. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports tossed in the Sacramento Kings for good measure.
Whoa. Beard power is apparently the best power.
All of those teams can offer more than the Lakers. They have the seventh overall pick to dangle. And that's it. They don't have enough to trade for Love.
It's not going to happen...right now.
Free Agent-ing for Minnesota
If there's one thing we know about contrived escapes, it's that they take time.
A long time.
Often too much time.
Dwight Howard's on-again, off-again, then on-again-until-it-was-off-again relationship with the Orlando Magic lasted forever. Seasons changed. People grew old. My grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren paid off their 30-year mortgages.
Occasionally, you get the Deron Williams-type situations, where free agents-to-be are traded quickly, quietly and to a team like the Brooklyn Nets prepared to pay them way too much money rather harmlessly. Most of the time, you get Melodrama, Catechrisms (shaddup), Dwightmares.
In anticipation of Love falling into one of those categories—or creating his own Love Triangle (promise, I'll stop now)—the Lakers can stock their roster with pieces the Timberwolves will want later on.
Like, say, after Dec. 15, when most newly signed free agents are eligible to be traded.
Signing players for the sole purpose of trading them within a specific deal to a particular team three or more months down the line is risky and complicated business. But it's a dark, danger-ridden alley the Lakers must journey down if they're still enamored with Love.
Who are those free agents?
That's the complicated part.
Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, Spencer Hawes, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat are among the most prominent free agents outside Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Maybe the Timberwolves want a floor-spacing 7-footer like Hawes to replace Love, or a defensive-minded Deng on the wing, or a fiery Stephenson who can teach Ricky Rubio it's OK to frown.
The key is finding someone the Timberwolves would like and are subsequently willing to pay. Los Angeles doesn't want to hand Deng $10-plus million annually if Minny thinks that's excessive.
Subliminally catering to the Timberwolves' free-agency desires is clearly easier said than done. Short of team president Flip Saunders handpicking which players the Lakers should sign, they'll be operating in the great abyss. It will also be difficult to convince prospective targets they'll still be in Los Angeles come Christmas.
A safer option has the Lakers perusing those amenable to one-year contracts.
Whomever they draft seventh overall can be shipped to the Timberwolves eventually. Pair that rookie with a well of expiring contracts, and the Lakers will have the ability to absorb Love's deal along with other long-term pacts Minnesota doesn't want—assuming the Lakers don't go free-agent crazy, of course.
Salary relief and a No. 7 pick doesn't solicit the same interest as a package built around David Lee and Klay Thompson; Cleveland's No. 1 pick, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson; or Andrea Bargnani and Raymond Felton anything and everything the Celtics are offering, but if this saga drags into December, Love's leverage will grow quicker than his beard.
And the Lakers, being the clever schemers that they are, will have hope.
At the Same Time...
The Lakers cannot bank on things to go their way completely, because the Timberwolves know they have to act.
As Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley writes, the Timberwolves are fresh out of options and will inevitably seek to capitalize on Love's departure:
Those preparations will eventually shift to finding Love a new NBA home. He's a flight risk in every sense, with frustrations that have mounted for years and a contract he can shed next summer.
Minnesota has to entertain offers for its franchise face, and when it does, it will seek a king's ransom in return. Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press reported Love's price tag 'would include a high first-round pick in this year's draft and a solid veteran or two.'
Love's high price tag is an obstacle for the Lakers, even though they cannot offer enough to trade for him. In order to get the most out of any package, the Timberwolves are better off dealing him soon, when his next team will have an entire year to sell him on its future.
Make no mistake, Love is going to hit free agency. It doesn't matter where he ends up. The collective bargaining agreement makes it so hitting free agency is the more financially beneficial option. If he does anything, he'll opt into the last year of his deal to help facilitate a trade. That's his most extreme course of action.
Most of the guesswork is removed, though, if he's sent somewhere that gives him an immediate opportunity to win. The Lakers won't look so attractive next summer if the Warriors own his Bird rights, or the Celtics, or the Bulls.
Love has to accept less—less money, less years—if he doesn't re-sign with the club that owns his Bird rights. He's more likely to spurn the cash and extra year of financial security if he's still in Minnesota than if he's in a big, playoff-bound market.
That prohibits the Lakers from planning their future around Love too much. Were he sent to Cleveland, Phoenix or Sacramento—any team he will willingly leave next summer—they can bide their time and wait for free agency.
More prestigious organizations change things.
Any trade that lands Love on a faction he's unlikely to abandon forces the Lakers to change directions completely. Knowing their options in 2015 are no longer as impressive, they could decide to spend big this summer, build a two-year placeholder around Kobe Bryant and worry about the future then.
Or they could keep preserving funds and continue to go all-in on 2015.
Or they could resign themselves to two more years of sub-contending basketball and chain their future to Kevin Durant's free agency in 2016.
They could do any number of things if Love is traded. One way or another, they'll have to do something—something drastic.
Something that significantly impacts their future.
"We're assuming that Kevin will be here next season," Taylor told Walters, "and we're working with that scenario."
And so are the Lakers.
Yet they must also be primed for the alternative: Love's impatience turning their already hazy future into a butter-thick fog swaddling a dead end-filled maze.
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