Are Sacramento Kings on the Right Track with Kevin Love 1-Year Rental Plan?

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Are Sacramento Kings on the Right Track with Kevin Love 1-Year Rental Plan?
Jim Mone/Associated Press

Setting aside a single, sublime stretch in the early 2000s, the Sacramento Kings have, for the better part of their history, remained locked in their role as NBA also-rans.

Where the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors have long dominated the discourse, the Kings are California’s little basketball brother—an NBA backwater steeped in the sounds of cowbells and boos.

That’s the unfair stereotype, anyway. In reality, the Kings' recent saga, which saw the previous owners, the Maloof brothers, try in vain to steal the franchise away, solidified beyond reproach their fans' unyielding love and loyalty, loveable losers and all. 

But with one potentially monumental move, new owner Vivek Ranadive has a chance to finally resurrect a long-buried franchise.

According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Kings have expressed interest in trading for the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love “without any assurance from Love he'd re-sign with them."

It’ll never work, of course. That is, unless it does.

Short of transforming the Kings from lottery staples to overnight playoff team in waiting, if successful, the gamble could prove a strategic game changer for years to come.

First, some basics from Spears’ story:

The Kings are willing to give up their eighth overall pick in this year's NBA draft and a combination of players for Love, even though he would not be expected to sign a contract extension before next season – if ever, with the rebuilding, small-market franchise, the source said. Sacramento envisions Love and DeMarcus Cousins playing alongside each other in the front court. Swingman Rudy Gay has a player's option for next season.

The Kings know they'd have to gamble on convincing Love to re-sign, given that the franchise is rebuilding and Love is looking to play for a contender after never reaching the playoffs with the Timberwolves. Love's suitors also figure to include a number of bigger markets, including the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls.

Obviously, which “combination of players” the Wolves are willing to accept stands as the single biggest X-factor in this, as yet wholly hypothetical equation. After all, giving up too much would only increase the likelihood of Love’s eventual departure.

The Kings could opt to work out some sort of sign-and-trade involving Gay, although it’s unlikely the Wolves will be eager to make the much-maligned forward—for all his undeniable talent, the scourge of efficiency denizens—anything resembling a franchise cornerstone.

Another X-factor from Minnesota’s perspective lies in the prospect of packaging the No. 8 and No. 13 picks in an effort to move further up in the draft—far enough, perhaps, to draft its star of the future.

There’s also the possibility of Sacramento finding a third party to help grease the wheels, perhaps with additional picks or expiring contracts.

Still, whether or not Sacramento can actually execute Ranadive’s glorious gambit is secondary to the move’s philosophical underpinnings: the idea that you can convince a player of Love’s All-Star caliber—through wile as much as wins—to actually stick around.

Indeed, what if the Kings were somehow able to land Love and keep Gay? Throw in DeMarcus Cousins, you have the makings of perhaps the league’s best frontcourt, to say nothing of a probable playoff team. Judging by a recent interview with TrueHoop’s Jared Dubin, Ranadive has given more than a little thought to how he envisions his team seizing on the league’s position-free revolution:

I want to basically play a new brand of position-less basketball. I want to have these super-athletic, young guys that can run and feel out the game. Guys like Rudy Gay, and Derrick Williams, these are guys who can play the 1-2-3-4 positions. There’s work to be done on offense but I think we’ve made progress.

The interview is loaded with nascent nuggets like this, painting a picture of an owner as concerned about the numbers and production on the court as he is those on the account ledger.

Would making the playoffs (or perhaps even winning a round) be enough to convince Love to stay, particularly when his rumored favorite—the Lakers—are on the cusp of a years-long rebuild?

It’s impossible to say. But if you’re a mid-market team like the Kings, doomed to play second free-agent fiddle to the Los Angeleses and New Yorks of the NBA world, isn’t the potential reward—outlandish though it may sound—more than worth the risk?

The NBA has entered a brave new world, one where star-caliber players wield unprecedented power in how, and on what terms, their careers unfold. Likewise, extensions and sign-and-trades afford teams the opportunity to part ways with a player if it’s made known, whether through agents, anonymous sources or social media, that he has zero intention of sticking around.

At the same time, the same impulsive instinct that compels a player to seek quick-fix solutions and win-now situations could conceivably be swayed anew by even a seemingly fleeting taste of success.

Ranadive, it seems, understands this psychological nuance.

David Sherman/Getty Images

If Love somehow led the Kings to the Western Conference semifinals only to walk away anyway, would the resulting reputational damage be enough to hinder his chances at a five-year maximum contract? Probably not.

But what if you’re the Lakers? How willing—or eager—would you be to fork over the farm for a player with not one, but two pernicious pocks about his house?

What kind of chance do the Kings have of landing K-Love?

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Sacramento might not boast the beatific glam and glitz of L.A. Then again, how many instances are there of players making their offseason homes far away from their place of employment? You’d have an easier time counting cars on the 101.

When all’s said and done, Ranadive’s advances are likely to land with nary a thud. And yet, perhaps it was always less about pulling off the impossible than showing everyone—from Kings fans to league rivals—that he’s willing to think three miles outside the box.

That this could all be a ploy on the part of Ranadive to drive up Love’s asking price, thereby upsetting the West’s top-heavy balance of power is, it should be noted, eminently possible.

Me? I prefer the alternative: In a league whose on-court product so often seems cheapened by the cynical dealings conducted where the dollars meet the dockets, there’s something righteously refreshing about Ranadive even daring to breath such rarefied air.

Particularly for Kings fans, who’ve finally found an owner bold enough to tell one of the NBA’s most celebrated superstars, “This is where you belong. You just don’t know it yet.”

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