First and foremost, they must accept that there is nothing realistic they can do to retain him beyond next season. After resigning to the inevitable, they must then accept that what they want and what they can actually get for Love are two different things.
There is no way to win when trading a superstar. The Denver Nuggets didn't win when they traded Carmelo Anthony. The Orlando Magic didn't win when they traded Dwight Howard. There is only making the most of a bad situation.
Right now, the Timberwolves are in a terrible situation. Love wants out, and despite outright denials and attempts to downplay this well-chronicled soap opera, the Timberwolves aren't in good shape. They have a decision to make. They can either trade him soon or lose him for nothing next summer when he reaches free agency.
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
Which route will they traverse? The Sporting News' Sean Deveney says they have privately decided to flip Love for pots of gold, pretty pennies and lands filled with milk and honey:
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.
Draft picks and potentials stars sound about right. This is what happens when established superstars hit the chopping block. Incumbent teams ask for the world and invariably settle.
Certain deals will be more favorable than others, and there is no exact science to severing ties with fussy luminaries, but compromises must be made without fail each and every time. The Timberwolves won't be an exception. They will have to prioritize one over the other.
Players or draft picks. Which is it going to be?
The Case for Players
Dealing Love would symbolize a number of things. Above all else, it would typify one obvious and unfortunate reality: The Timberwolves aren't done rebuilding.
This is true now. Comfort isn't found in a 40-win, lottery-dwelling season, even if it can be slung as progress.
But this rebuilding effort takes a jillion-trillion-zillion steps back if Love isn't part of it. The NBA remains a superstar-driven league, hence Minnesota's high asking price and repeated attempts to undo the mess former president David Kahn made. Without Love, the Timberwolves are nothing. Less than nothing.
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
First-round picks, no matter how promising, do nothing to resolve the situation immediately. They're intangible talent. They're not faces or names. They're future assets of undetermined value.
Players, on the other hand, are more definitive pieces. This is case- and player-specific, of course, but it applies here. When you can put a name, face and NBA numbers to an asset, that's huge. It suggests you're not starting over, that you expect to recover quickly.
Take the Nuggets. They sent Melo to the New York Knicks for a wealth of players. One year later, in the brutally competitive Western Conference, without their All-Star, they won 57 games.
That's ideally how you want to rebuild. The Nuggets took young, yet somewhat-established talents like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov and complemented them with tenured players and offseason acquisitions in time to remain a contender.
Minnesota can go a similar route. Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, we know there are a number of teams interested in Love that will accentuate their proposals using players over draft picks.
One such team is the Golden State Warriors, who can offer some combination of Klay Thompson, David Lee, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Lee is a two-time All-Star who replaces much of Love's rebounding, playmaking and—most importantly—scoring. Thomspon, Green and, while sporadically, Barnes have all shown they can hang on both ends of the floor at the NBA level.
Most would say at least one of them (Thompson) has star potential. If the Timberwolves can work out a package headlined by some of those players, the hope would be they can remain competitive and vault back into playoff contention soon enough.
Same goes for the Chicago Bulls. They have draft picks to offer, but the Timberwolves can seek to rebound quickly by prying some mixture of Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer, Nikola Mirotic and Jimmy Butler from Chicago. They know who those players are and what they're supposed to do.
Another contender planning aggressive play for a Kevin Love trade, sources tell Yahoo: Houston. Kevin McHale has strong bond with Love.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 18, 2014
Swapping Love out for mostly draft picks doesn't offer the same luxury. The Timberwolves must wait and hope for their picks to develop. For any selections that fall outside the 2014 draft, they must also wait to see where they fall.
That's a lot of waiting.
Too much waiting for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for 10 years running.
The Case for Draft Picks
Mystery is part of the intrigue with draft picks.
Rookies or talents to be unearthed at a later date cannot complain. They cannot leave, like Love is trying to do.
Minnesota isn't a premier market. Free agents don't flock there furnished in overpriced fur coats and brandishing snow tubes and indelible simpers. Minneapolis really is a beautiful city. Some of its residents created Oregon Trail. You're welcome, world.
Yet it still isn't a preferred destination. Players the Timberwolves are pursuing, then, must be under contract for years to come or acquired via a sign-and-trade deal so they can avoid episodic theatrics identical to what's happening now.
Therein lies the beauty of draft picks. Novices don't have that type of leverage or ego. If the Timberwolves play their cards right and draft a stud, chances are they can retain him without issue for six or seven years. Remember, players don't typically leave after their rookie contracts. Too much posturing is involved.
Even a cyclically displeased star like Love has been under wraps for six years. That's enough of a safety net, enough time for the Timberwolves to redefine the perception of their team's culture.
Embracing the unknown isn't always good, though. Selections can be botched. Ask Kahn. But the Timberwolves are in a unique position where they can remove much of the uncertainty.
Many of the teams interested in acquiring Love will be dangling 2014 first-rounders. The order has already been determined, so the Timberwolves won't be bogged down by ambiguous protection and placement.
Having slipped one spot to sixth in the draft in last night’s NBA lottery, a move that coincided with the odds, the Celts will now dive headlong into the trade market in an attempt to see if they can accelerate their reconstruction project. They will look at all available targets, Love among them.
There's nothing too sexy about the sixth pick, but how about the first? Andy Katz of ESPN.com says the Cleveland Cavaliers have already shown interest in Love. Though ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan said Love has no intention to play for Cleveland, this is the general idea.
The Timberwolves can trade for draft picks while knowing almost exactly who those selections turn into. This isn't limited to Boston and Cleveland either.
Wojnarowski says the Sacramento Kings are willing to relinquish their No. 8 pick. Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears was told the Phoenix Suns, who are armed with multiple first-rounders, wish to enter the fray as well:
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
Team president, general manager and coach Flip Saunders can go after future first-rounders. But he also has the chance to stockpile imminent first-round selections in a wildly deep draft class—a rare opportunity that may prove too good to pass up.
Which Way Should 'Sota Go?
Trading for players is appealing, but it's not all it's cracked up to be.
Not for the Timberwolves.
Turning Love into tangible talent could help in the interim. Depending on who they acquire, the Timberwolves will remain (slightly) relevant and perhaps expedite their renewed rebuilding efforts.
But again, this is case-specific. A team like the Nuggets was different. They were trying to remain contenders. Minnesota would be trying to preserve a mediocre faction.
Draft picks help the Timberwolves more. They need to start from scratch by targeting selections they can draft and develop and aren't able to leave Minnesota anytime soon. That the Timberwolves will have Love admirers lining up with 2014 draft picks only makes this decision easier.
And in the absence of blossoming prospects or established stars, other players have to be included. Those players are usually on expiring contracts and can help the Timberwolves send back one or more of their less desirable pacts.
Bringing in other players only adds to their salary commitments. Thompson must be paid. Parsons must be paid. Butler must be paid. Lee, Boozer, Gibson, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin are already being paid.
Investing substantial coin in players before knowing how they fit in isn't always a smart practice. They could flop on a new team and within a foreign system. Then what are the Timberwolves left with? Rookies and future selections are cheaper in that sense.
Now, balance is important. The Timberwolves will look for a team that can offer players, picks and financial relief. That's a given. And maybe they find that team. Perhaps it all works out.
Which is a more important element to any Kevin Love trade?
When it doesn't, when that perfect trade isn't available, they'll have to compromise, settling for one over the other.
We know what that one should be.
"Just like I told (Kevin) Garnett, he didn't have a right to be frustrated," Saunders said of Love during an interview with KFAN 100.3 in Minneapolis-St. Paul (via ESPN.com). "Why does any player have a right to be frustrated? You're either part of the problem or part of the solution."
Love's now-exposed motives are part of the problem.
Finding a solution lies not within Minnesota's ability to replace him or hasten its rebuild, but its willingness to piece together draft picks and start over the right way.