The running theme of this offseason thus far for Boston has been trying to create a package that would return the Minnesota Timberwolves’ star, while sacrificing as little future assets as possible.
Minnesota isn’t going to fold easily this time, though. After decidedly losing the Kevin Garnett trade in 2007, the franchise and fans are wary of sending another star to Boston. While the general manager is different, ownership hasn't changed and neither have the ticket and merchandise-buyers.
Flip Saunders, Timberwolves president and part-owner, recently announced that he would also become the team’s next head coach—ESPN's Marc Stein confirmed the report. It appears Saunders wants complete control over Minnesota, and more specifically whatever happens this summer with Love.
The obvious item that comes to mind are his recent quotes about Love’s weekend jaunt around Boston.
Rajon Rondo says he talked to Kevin Love for about "39 seconds" onSunday and did not make a sales pitch for #celtics— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) June 2, 2014
The Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes reported that Saunders told a bunch of reporters that Love’s visit was blown out of proportion.
“The last I knew Kevin was under contract with us, and I expect him to be playing for us next year,” Saunders told reporters in Minneapolis on Sunday. “I don’t really dictate where guys go on vacation or what they do. They can go wherever they want to go.”
Saunders then brought up a rather harsh memory for Celtics fans by mentioning the Tim Duncan draft.
So, if the Celtics pull off this trade with Saunders, it is going to require a ton of assets and some finesse on Danny Ainge’s part. Communications won't run as smoothly as they did with ex-Minnesota GM and ex-teammate of Ainge, Kevin McHale. The obvious dangers lie in sacrificing too many pieces to get him, but there are a few more things to keep in mind should the deal go down.
These hidden dangers could require four meddling kids and a hungry Great Dane to uncover.
Immediately, the Celtics have to worry about trading a huge package for a one-year rental. Fans would like to think Ainge is smart enough to require a promise from Love that he would re-sign after the year, and he is, but then the issue of the cost of doing so comes up.
Love will make $15.72 million next season and has a player option for 2015-16. If he opts out, Boston will have to put forth a substantial financial commitment to keep him in town.
In the meantime, Love won’t be Boston’s only priority. Rondo doesn’t have an option to decline. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent when the 2014-15 season runs out.
It's highly likely that both players will require max deals to keep. The Celtics will be able to afford that up front, but it will severely limit what they can do to fill out a contending roster around them.
Especially when you consider Boston could be paying Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green a combined $19.3 million still. Of course, one of those two may be included in a trade for Love or someone else.
Love and Rondo will have between seven and nine years of experience, qualifying them for a max deal worth 30 percent of the salary cap, (which was $16.44 million this season).
That will likely be north of $52.1 million tied up in those four players.
For what it's worth, the #Celtics can still trade for Kevin Love. But the package just got much trickier in regard to additional picks.— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) May 21, 2014
While the rest of the world will never know entirely what goes on in Ainge’s mind, it would be interesting to know if this was his plan all along.
Did he pull the trigger on that mammoth Brooklyn Nets trade thinking he would be putting the hard sell on Love, or any major star, just one year later?
Boston has both the fortunate advantage and unfortunate disadvantage of having successfully gone down this road before. Ainge turned an awful 2006-07 into assets to immediately acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. A handful of months later, Ainge was raising the Larry O’Brien trophy on a duck boat in 2008.
The Celtics know how to work it seemingly just right. Acquiring those stars made it easy to convince quality role players to come in on the cheap. P.J. Brown, James Posey, Eddie House and the like welcomed a trip to Boston, where those established stars were residing.
However, does a Love-Rondo tandem have the same kind of pull a 2007 Pierce-Garnett-Allen triumvirate did? I would tend to think not, at least at that level. Love hasn’t won a thing, and Rondo’s title happened his sophomore season. Sure they are attractive teammates to play with, but they're not as trustworthy of getting fading vets a legitimate title shot.
While going all-in last time around was undoubtedly a brilliant move on Ainge’s part, this situation is entirely different. In this case, it may not be a bad idea to wait out the rebuild and attempt to get back to the top a different way. Winning a race to the middle doesn’t do anyone any good.
Also, what must be kept in mind by Celtics fans preaching about the 2007-08 plan, is that it really wasn’t a one-year fix. Boston won the Atlantic Division in 2004-05 but went 33-49 the following year, before bottoming out in 2006-07.
Another hidden danger lies behind a very loud, visible danger. Anyone who pays minor attention to the league knows that Love has yet to play for a postseason team. For all six years of his career, he has seen his team in the Western Conference’s bottom-eight.
The loud danger is just that: Love hasn’t won a thing in the NBA. He reached a NCAA Final Four and has an Olympic Gold Medal, and the Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference debate can rage on, but when it comes down to facts, there is a hole. So the visible danger is that he may not be a winner.
The hidden danger lies beneath that and was unearthed by a small Ricky Rubio quote from a Spanish website and radio station, Basket Americano.
Ricky Rubio on Wolves teammate Kevin Love: “The numbers he puts up are incredible, but we need a different leader” http://t.co/w33Nsvwa9S— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 19, 2014
According to translations by CBS and reported by CBSSports’ Matt Moore, Rubio is quoted as saying: “He is a special player, the numbers that he puts up are incredible, but still the leader has to be somebody else.”
If it were simply the situation, with being in the Western Conference on a team that has made countless errors in recent years, the lack of a playoff appearance could be explained away.
However, given Rubio’s statement, there is added weight to Love’s lack of team-wide NBA success. If he can’t gain the trust of his teammates there, Boston likely wouldn’t be very different.
Not to mention that Rubio is similar to Rondo in a lot of ways. He isn’t nearly as talented as an overall player, but the styles and creativity do coincide. This isn’t the usual case of Boston seeking a free agent or trade piece because, “Imagine how good they would be with Rondo getting them the ball!”
Love and Rubio have been on the same roster for three years, and that didn’t change much of his overall luck.
Basketball is a team sport, and right now Love is the poster boy for why that is so very true.
If Boston does make this desired move, it will be a better basketball team. However, there are hidden dangers that could reveal themselves down the line.
For those with a vested interest in this team, it is best to illuminate them as best we can. That way we don’t get startled when those meddling kids pull the mask off Love.