Parting ways with superstars in their prime is never ideal or easy, or even something teams plan. Sometimes, though, it's unavoidable. Love and the Timberwolves are at that point, their divorce inevitable and their relationship beyond rescue.
If Love remains in Minnesota through next season, he will reach free agency in 2015 and end this then-seven-year alliance on his own terms. But before he leaves the Timberwolves with nothing, they have the power to profit off his departure, an allaying luxury the Sporting News' Sean Deveney says they're preparing to exploit:
Publicly, the Timberwolves are saying they expect Love to be in training camp with the team next fall. But behind the scenes, as one source put it, the Timberwolves are, “paving the way to make something happen sooner rather than later.” Sooner, of course, would be draft night.
Draft night is soon. Really soon. Trading Love by the June 26 draft would be abrupt. He was suiting up in Minnesota weeks ago. Can't the Timberwolves just wait this out and take their time? The trade deadline isn't until February, after all. What's the rush?
Waiting is certainly an option, just not one worth embracing. The time to trade Love is now, or rather, as quickly as possible.
The sooner the Timberwolves understand this, and the sooner they actually trade him, the less painful this gut-wrenching dissolution will be.
2014 Draft Bonanza
You know what the Timberwolves most certainly can't do if they trade Love after the 2014 draft?
Trade for a 2014 draft pick.
This year's incoming crop of prospects is chock full of potential franchise-changers, the kind of talent teams tank for.
The kind of talent teams did tank for.
Any spot in the lottery is a good—failed regular-season endeavor notwithstanding, of course—place to be. The Timberwolves are already slated to pick at No. 13. Adding another lottery selection to their draft arsenal only helps expedite an inescapable rebuild.
Possible Love suitors have not been limited to contending franchises. At least three of the most interested parties have lottery picks to offer.
According to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, the Sacramento Kings are willing to relinquish the eighth overall pick in any deal. Spears' colleague, Adrian Wojnarowski, says the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics won't hesitate to dangle their top selections in trade proposals. The Los Angeles Lakers can even be added to this list, though they only have their No. 7 pick—and they actually must draft a player first—and nothing else.
Taking this one step further, the Cleveland Cavaliers could also enter the mix.
After winning the lottery for a third time in four years, the Cavs haven't ruled out using their No. 1 pick as a means to obtain another star, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required):
I think the Cavs' preferred route would be a trade that thins out their roster and adds a young veteran who can immediately lift the team's long-term chances. The Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love has been the most mentioned pickup. But the Cavs also have their eye on other bigs, including the Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah, the Portland Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge and the Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford.
Forking over the No. 1 selection for a player who would likely leave after next season isn't the smartest play for Cleveland—feel free to giggle at the concept of trading for Joakim Noah, by the way—but that's not the Timberwolves' problem.
Delaying this process only ruins those options. All of them. The Timberwolves will have no chance to draft in the top eight, top seven or, most intriguingly, first overall.
All they will succeed in doing is prolonging the inevitable by removing valuable cushions that soften blows they'll be forced to withstand anyway.
Plummeting Trade Stock
Some of us don't fully understand why so many clubs are trying to acquire Love.
Sure, his most ardent suitors want Love, the player. They want his 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. They want the player who was the seventh ever—and first in nearly four decades—to maintain benchmarks of 26, 12 and four, respectively.
Kevin Love averaged 55.9 Pts + Reb + Ast per 48 minutes last season. Most by an NBA player since Jordan in 1990. pic.twitter.com/0ZPdAK2jT3— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) June 2, 2014
But they also want his Bird rights. That's what Love enthusiasts are really after.
Love is going to reach unrestricted free agency no matter where he plays next season. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, it makes more sense for players to opt out of their contracts and sign brand new deals than it does for them to ink extensions.
This time next year, Love will still be barreling towards absolute freedom. Though his incumbent team will have the inside track on retaining him, other clubs will be lining up with lucrative, four-year contract offers of their own.
That means risk will be involved for every team. Regardless of where he plays, Love can wind up being a rental, someone who leaves his new franchise high and dry and asset-less.
Even now, this will cause teams to curb their best offers. The Golden State Warriors might be less inclined to trade Klay Thompson if they don't have a guarantee that Love is with them for the long haul. The Chicago Bulls won't want to give up some combination of Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Jimmy Butler if Love's stay in the Windy City tracks toward temporary.
And that's with one full season in mind. There's no telling what happens if the Timberwolves wait around until February, when more than half the season is over.
Best offers will become modest offers, modest proposals will become crap proposals, crap trades will be pulled entirely.
See, drawing this out doesn't only prevent the Timberwolves from moving up in the draft and/or landing multiple 2014 first-rounders. It compromises the overall quality of their return—from draft picks to tangible talent—forcing them to settle, conclusively making an already painful process hurt that much more.
The Importance of Now(ish)
There's no time like the present right after the NBA Finals.
Once the Timberwolves are able to trade Love, they must trade him. No exceptions. He's leaving anyway.
Dragging this out stands to hurt them and them alone. It won't impact Love all that much. He'll just flee for brighter lights and more playoff berths next year. It most certainly won't faze Love's admirers either. Most of them will seek refuge in unimpeded chases next summer or in knowing he can be landed at a discount leading up to the trade deadline.
This is all assuming the Timberwolves are concerned about maximizing their return. If they don't care what they receive for Love, then this is no big deal. Trade him now, trade him later—it doesn't matter.
Nonchalance isn't something Minnesota is parenting, however. Per Deveney:
The Timberwolves have put out feelers on what possible offers might be on the table for Love on draft night. Despite their public protestations, around the league, front office executives say that the market for Love is open, but the initial asking price is high. While the Timberwolves would expect lottery draft choices in return for Love—including a high pick in this draft—they also want a young player with star potential, according to a source.
The Timberwolves will also need to gauge Love’s reaction to different destinations. Because Love is under contract for next year and can be a free agent in 2015, any team that trades for him would prefer to have an assurance that he would be willing to sign an extension—and with such an assurance, Minnesota can set a higher asking price.
Rarely are soaring asking prices met demand for demand. Concessions are made in any deal. Requests are denied. Initial offers are stripped down and reassembled again and again. And again.
What should the Timberwolves do with Kevin Love?
The goal of any trade is winning. You want to win the deal. Or at least not lose it.
In the literal sense, there is no winning when trading someone like Love. But there is a difference between getting as much as you can and losing a blockbuster trade outright. Selling Love off to the highest bidder ahead of the NBA draft increases the likelihood that Minny doesn't get totally fleeced.
"I know there's a feeding frenzy out there from a lot of teams, unfortunately they have no say," Timberwolves president Flip Saunders said, per the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda. "I plan on Kevin being here."
Saunders is either posturing and lying, or being serious.
Fans expecting the Timberwolves will make the most of a desperate situation can only hope it's not the latter.