The Phoenix Suns love them some Kevin Love, and given the right package of assets, they could really put a charge into an already ahead-of-schedule rebuilding process by dealing for the disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star.
But it won't be easy.
Competition abounds, and any team with picks or young talent should be making calls to the Wolves with regularity. In fact, more than half the league has already made inquiries, per team president and head coach Flip Saunders (via Sid Hartmann of the Minneapolis Star Tribune).
"We probably have 16 teams that have called us,” Saunders said, regarding interest in Love around the league. “We haven’t called anybody.”
How are the Suns supposed to separate themselves from the pack?
Let's start with the obvious: They have to give Minnesota something (or some things) it wants.
And it's hard to know what the Timberwolves' demands would even be, especially since they're still in this strange phase where, to them, keeping Love around is somehow still a possibility. Logically, of course, it is. Love is under contract through the 2014-15 season, when he can exercise an opt-out clause to become a free agent.
But practically speaking, Minnesota faces the certainty of losing him for nothing in a year if it doesn't ship him out now. Hanging onto him after years of rumblings that he doesn't want a future with the Wolves would be a colossal mistake.
The Wolves are really going to lose Kevin Love after 6 years and no postseasons. It's sinking in— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) June 8, 2014
Recent moves apparently designed to curry favor with Love haven't changed things, either.
Sources briefed on situation say Flip Saunders' decision to coach Wolves will have no bearing on Kevin Love's stance on his future in 'Sota— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 5, 2014
So as the Timberwolves eventually come to grips with reality, perhaps they'll get an offer that piques their interest.
The latest report regarding a potential swap between the Suns and the Wolves isn't particularly informative:
Suns interested in Love deal w/best assets Dragic, Bledsoe & picks.NBA sources say it will take full max deal to control free agent Bledsoe.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) June 7, 2014
Yes, the Suns have interest.
You mean to tell me they'd like a 25-year-old superstar who plays the kind of stretch 4 position they absolutely love?
Get out. Just get right out.
And yes, the Suns have assets to deal. Another non-revelation.
What we don't know—and what we very much need to know if we're trying to gauge Phoenix's chances of making a deal—is what it's willing to surrender. That's something distinctly different from listing its valuables.
Let's say Eric Bledsoe is on the table, just for the sake of argument. The Wolves could do a whole lot worse than pairing a ridiculously athletic, exceptionally physical combo guard with Ricky Rubio in the backcourt.
Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent this summer, which is also something that should appeal to the Wolves. The lack of control they're experiencing with Love right now would seem to make the vice-like power a team has over its restricted free agents particularly appealing by contrast.
A one-for-one deal won't get the job done, though, both because the Wolves will demand more and because Phoenix must give up more salary to make the exchange work under the CBA.
Hypothetically, a deal sending Bledsoe, Channing Frye and one of the Morris twins (either is fine, and let's not pretend as though you can really tell them apart) would work under the cap.
But even then, Minnesota would surely want a handful of picks in the bargain. So perhaps the Suns would throw in a first-rounder in each of the next two years.
Per James Herbert of CBSSports.com, the Suns have selections to burn:
Phoenix has the assets to pull off a deal, too. It owns the 14th, 18th, 27th and 50th picks in this year's draft, and it has future first-round picks on the way from the Los Angeles Lakers and the Wolves. The best-case scenario for Minnesota would be trading Love for a star and young players or picks -- the Suns can make that happen.
This wouldn't be a bad deal for the Wolves, all things considered. And if it took sending Goran Dragic in place of Bledsoe, Phoenix would probably withdraw some of its other sweeteners and give that possibility some real consideration.
In a vacuum, it'd be hard to know whether that package would be more enticing than what, say, the Golden State Warriors could offer. If Klay Thompson and David Lee were on the table, Minnesota would have to give that combo some attention. But Golden State doesn't have the draft picks Phoenix does.
The same is largely true of the Chicago Bulls, who K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune suggests could send Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and either picks or the rights to Nikola Mirotic to the Wolves. Minnesota would get a nice group of present assets, but the future picks might not be enough from a team like Chicago that figures to contend for a top spot in the East going forward.
The Boston Celtics have more picks than anyone, but the live bodies they have can't compete with what Golden State, Phoenix and Chicago have to offer.
Ultimately, it seems like Phoenix has the best combination of assets available if Minnesota wants both short and long-term help.
So, really, all the Suns have to do to put themselves in the best position to win the Love sweepstakes is decide whether they're really willing to send off so many promising (and relatively inexpensive) assets. If they are, they've got a great chance of landing a legitimate superstar who could fit in perfectly alongside Dragic.
And if you thought Love was dangerous in a pick-and-pop with Ricky Rubio, just imagine the havoc he'd cause in that set with the far more dangerous Dragic stretching the defense.
At this point, you'd probably expect to see discussion about what the Suns need to do to make sure they're the destination Love would prefer—like making smaller trades for supporting pieces, or playing hardball with the Wolves so there's enough talent left on hand to keep Love happy.
But that's not part of this conversation. It's part of a different one that starts with the question: Where will Kevin Love want to stay?
It doesn't have anything to do with where he'll go.
Love doesn't have a no-trade clause in his contract (only four players do), so the Suns "making Love happy" has no bearing on what the Wolves do, or to whom they're willing to deal him.
It's fair to talk about Love's willingness to re-sign with whatever new team he lands on, and that's a valid concern. But it shouldn't be a factor in the narrow discussion of how the Suns can lure the Wolves into pulling the trigger.
Besides, I think we can all agree that amid the uncertainty surrounding Love, one thing seems unassailably absolute:
Kevin Love is going to opt-out & be free agent no matter where he’s traded (or not). He makes more cash like that. #Timberwolves— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) May 27, 2014
In other words, everyone vying for Love should be doing so with the knowledge that he'll become a free agent—no matter what.
So, the Suns can make a very appealing offer by packaging Bledsoe, some useful additions as salary filler and a handful of their first-rounders. If the Timberwolves are serious about staying competitive and rebuilding at the same time, that's the deal to take.
The only question is: Are the Suns willing to gamble so much of their future on someone they know could leave them just as easily as he would the Wolves?
I guess we'll find out the answer soon enough.