Minnesota Timberwolves Hold Major Advantage in Kevin Love Trade Talks

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love gets ready to play the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, April 13, 2014.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Steve Yeater/Associated Press

A smirk crept across the face of the basketball world before Minnesota Timberwolves team president Flip Saunders had even finished his sentence.

Kevin Love, Saunders confidently declared, remains a part of his team's plans.

"The last I knew Kevin was under contract with us, and I expect him to be playing for us next year," Saunders told reporters, via ESPN.com news services.

The funny thing is Saunders is right. Maybe not about the latter portion of that quote, but certainly when it comes to the former.

Some might dismiss that fact as a simple formality.

After all, Love may have been plotting his escape from 'Sota since his 2012 request for a full five-year max contact extension netted him nothing more than a four-year deal with an opt-out clause after the third season, via ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Chris Broussard.

That summer, Love offered a brutally honest assessment of his situation.

"My patience is not high," he told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. "If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen."

Paul Battaglia/Associated Press

The Wolves have gone 71-93 over the two years since, stretching the NBA's longest playoff drought to a full 10 seasons. Couple that unquenched postseason thirst with Love's reported fascination with the idea of being "big time in a big city," per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, and the Timberwolves' hands appear to be tied.

Minnesota reportedly seemed to feel the same way.

"For the first time, [Saunders] sounds like looking at deals for [Love] is an option," a rival executive told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski in mid-May.

Yet the Wolves still find themselves in the driver's seat when it comes to this discussion. Yes, even with potential suitors arriving by the busload for the chance to land the walking double-double.

Do the Timberwolves have a shot at keeping Love around for the long term? Probably not. This partnership certainly seems impossible to repair.

"Love and the Timberwolves are at that point, their divorce inevitable and their relationship beyond rescue," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale observed.

And, no, the fact that Saunders will assume the coaching duties in Minnesota, as first reported by Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press and confirmed by Stein, will not salvage this relationship.

"As one person close to the situation said on Thursday, even if the Timberwolves had brought in Phil Jackson as coach, Love still would want out," USA Today's Sam Amick wrote.

What's far too often lost in this conversation, though, is that Minnesota is still the merchant here. And a favorable one at that.

This is Economics 101. The supply-demand ratio tilts so heavily in the Timberwolves' favor, they're in complete control of this situation.

They're the ones collecting bids for the all-world talent. They'll be the ones to decide just how that winning bid should look:

It seems unlikely the 59-year-old Saunders would willingly take over a massive rebuilding project, so his move back to the bench could be seen as a boost to the Love suitors with win-now pieces in hand.

In other words, offers may need to be built around current players as opposed to picks. That's potentially good news for clubs like the Houston Rockets (should they be willing to part with Chandler Parsons) or the Golden State Warriors (if they would let Klay Thompson go), but it's probably not what the Los Angeles Lakers wanted to hear.

Both the Lakers and Warriors were listed "among many teams determined to make hard runs at trades for Love," league sources told Wojnarowski. The Yahoo scribe later reported the Rockets were also "pursuing" Love.

Seemingly everyone wants a shot at the 25-year-old, and really, why wouldn't they? He finished the 2013-14 campaign fourth in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5), third in player efficiency rating (26.9) and fourth in win shares (14.3), via Basketball-Reference.com.

Love can do some incredible things inside the lines, but he has no magic power to change his current digs. That control won't be available until next summer at the earliest, when he has the opportunity to venture out into the free-agent market.

With that knowledge, why would the Timberwolves rush to ship him out of town? It's simple—they won't.

"Saunders is in no hurry to make a decision on his power forward," ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan wrote. "He will wait and wait some more, knowing his club can pay Love $26.5 million more than anyone else once he becomes a free agent."

There's a prevailing thought that Love's trade value will decline the longer this drags on, but history doesn't necessarily agree. The Denver Nuggets didn't move Carmelo Anthony until the 2010-11 deadline and still walked away with three former first-rounders, three future draft picks and $3 million.

ESPN.com's J.A. Adande showered the Nuggets with praise for their patience:

This is the reward the Nuggets get for holding out until the end, for refusing to yield to pressure from around the league and a weary NBA media and fandom to just put this to a halt. This whole process dragged on longer and had more false endings than 'The Return of the King.' But the Nuggets benefited from the early start, getting the initial lowball offers out of the way before Thanksgiving, learning what the minimum was and working from there.

There's value to be found in a Love deal this summer, but perhaps that same value would still exist next February. If a team convinces itself that the stretch 4 is the missing piece to its championship puzzle, it might still be willing to pay a high premium at the deadline.

If Love still comes with a long-term agreement, then really the difference is only a matter of months in what could be a four-year (or longer) relationship. The value might drop without that commitment, but the same thing could happen if he's moved without one this summer.

Apr 13, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) runs up the court after scoring against the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-103.

If teams really want him, his price conceivably could rise over time. Once the Wolves start declining a few offers, suitors will get a better feel for what Minnesota is really after. If the interest in landing Love is high enough, the return packages could get even sweeter as these negotiations carry on.

What if the Timberwolves never receive an offer they're willing to accept? Then they're "stuck" employing an All-NBA talent for the 2014-15 season and seeing if he'd really leave all that extra cash on the table.

And that, not a second before then, is when the power would shift over to Love.

Hoop heads might have laughed at Saunders' assessment of this situation, but his confidence exists for a reason. He doesn't have to deal Love—Saunders gets to see what the market will bear for an in-his-prime, elite-level talent.

Having that kind of leverage is a real reason to smile.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.