As a result, teams are lining up for his services given that he plans to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein that was shared in May.
Ideally, Love would rather leave the Timberwolves this summer via trade to join a contender and then potentially sign an extension in the 2015 offseason or exercise his player option for the 2015-16 campaign. The sooner he leaves Minnesota, the faster he gets to a winning environment.
One of Love’s preferred destinations is the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have made back-to-back postseason appearances thanks in part to consecutive seasons where they’ve improved their win totals (47 and 51 victories).
Minnesota will explore the idea of trading Love this summer for fear of losing him in free agency the following year for nothing.
Golden State will want to factor in the discussion, given that Love is arguably the best player at his position. What’s more, he is a natural fit talent-wise for the Warriors.
Born to be a Warrior
Love’s talents might make him the ideal player to pair with Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
Love is an impressive post player who will occasionally warrant double-teams. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Love converted 44 percent of his post-up shots last season.
What’s impressive about his back-to-the-basket game is that he doesn’t have any crutches. He relies on his jump shot in the low-post area to set up defenders, and boy does it work. Watch:
Love uses it enough to make opponents fearful that it’s coming. Because defenders tend to expect it after he’s shown the jumper, they usually play him for it. From there, Love can back down his man and go to a right hook shot. Have a look:
The other move at his disposal is the pump fake and explosion to the basket. Lastly, when the man guarding Love tries taking away his hook shot, he’ll spin towards the baseline for an easy path to the hoop.
The Warriors could certainly use that kind of post play considering the fact they don’t have a player capable of consistently producing on the block.
David Lee is Golden State’s best interior scorer, and he doesn’t offer the same type of offensive arsenal in the low-post area. He makes 46.6 percent of his post shots, per Synergy Sports, but he’s only effective against porous defenders. Lee typically backs them down and rises up for a hook shot.
Teams aren’t worried about him repeatedly scoring in the low post. However, that is a concern with Love. Consequently, if he were to play with Curry, the Warriors would have one of the most potent scoring duos in the league.
One of them would regularly face single coverage or perhaps even get open looks against rotating defenses. Keep in mind, Curry drilled 42.4 percent of his treys last season, while Love made 37.6 percent.
Indeed, Love also possesses range, which pulls out big men away from the hoop. Those unwilling to venture beyond the paint to cover Love will watch him bury three-point shots. Naturally, that makes him a devastating pick-and-roll player.
One can never be sure whether he is diving to the basket or floating out to the perimeter. What’s more, Love is one of the best passing big men in basketball, as evidenced by his 4.4 assists per game during the 2013-14 campaign.
When teams trap Curry, Love will be a terrific release valve to beat the pressure and create high-percentage shots. Essentially, Love is a stud scorer and rebounding maniac: He has averaged double-digit boards in every year except his rookie season.
As a result, he would give Golden State a potent offensive weapon to work with as well as someone to clean up misses.
On the flipside, there might be some concern because of his defense.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe outlined his shortcomings in March: "He offers no rim protection, he lollygags in transition defense, he’s not going to make spirited second and third rotations on the same defensive possession, and he often fails to challenge shots in order to secure boxout position—and precious rebounds."
Those deficiencies are very real, and could pose a problem with the Dubs. However, Love’s never played with a defensive anchor like Andrew Bogut. He’s an intimidating force in the paint and does a wonderful job of protecting the basket area with blocks and hard fouls.
Bogut won’t make Love look like an All-Defensive team member, but he’ll look competent enough. David Lee has looked passable as a defender with Bogut covering him, and Love is a hair better than Lee on this front. As a member of the Warriors, Love could be a top-10 player, and that makes getting him practically mandatory.
Gauging Love’s value is a bit of a tricky proposition considering his contract status, but Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes of Golden State probably factor into any deal involving Love.
Any team trading for him will only do so if provided with assurances that he will either re-sign or at least exercise his 2015-16 player option. This leads to an interesting question: Do you still give up the farm for Love if he refuses to commit long-term in a handshake deal prior to being traded?
Although the Lakers only swapped Andrew Bynum in the move (he missed the 2012-13 campaign and struggled to get on the hardwood this past season due to his knees), they still lost a huge asset in the transaction and are still paying for it with a subpar roster.
Let’s assume, however, that Love agrees to sign long-term with the Warriors. The trade that would be best for both teams goes as such: Love and Chase Budinger for Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and David Lee.
Thompson is a sharpshooting 2-guard who converted 41.7 percent of his treys this past season. Furthermore, he’s become a wonderful defender, which earned him the task of defending Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers during the opening round of the playoffs.
He’s a good wing with All-Star potential written all over him because of his two-way play. Fans might not want Golden State to part with Thompson because he’s the second half of the Splash Brothers connection featuring he and Curry. Also, he'll only be 24 years old when training camp opens in the fall.
Barnes regressed a little this season and lost his confidence, according to Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News. Lee’s been a bit of a punch line through the years because of his defense and gargantuan contract (he makes as much as Love per year). Most would be fine with Barnes and Lee leaving in exchange for Love, but Thompson plays with an edge and has proved he can make big shots.
Minnesota should want in on this swap, because of the youth of their incoming pieces. Barnes will be 23 once next season starts, and he's shown flashes that he could be an All-Star in the ilk of Luol Deng. In addition, Thompson and Barnes are signed to cheap contracts (they will earn a combined $6 million next year), and Barnes' deal expires after the 2016-17 campaign.
Thompson becomes eligible for the qualifying offer once the 2014-15 season ends, and the Timberwolves could lock him up to an extension for another four or five years. Lee will replace some of Love's scoring and rebounding, and Minnesota should be a decent team with these three players starting next to Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic.
Is Love worth all of that?
Here’s the thing, though, folks: Love might be a once-in-a-decade type of player. He might not be able to carry a team on his own to the playoffs, but next to an All-Star like Curry, Love will probably be dynamite.
We’re talking about one of the best offensive players in the league at a position that’s practically mandatory to compete for a title in the Western Conference.
Can we allow an affinity for Thompson to hold up the possibility of acquiring the most diverse power forward in basketball? I say no.
Thompson himself seems to agree. “Your job is never secure in this league unless your name is LeBron James or Steph Curry,” Thompson said to Diamond Leung at Inside Bay Area. Thus, he’s a movable piece in a blockbuster transaction, and this certainly qualifies.
After potentially receiving Love and Budinger, the Warriors would be a little over the projected 2014-15 salary cap of $63.2 million.
Golden State would be armed with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.305 million and the veteran’s minimum salary to bring in additional talent. That might not sound like much, but on a team with Curry, Love, Bogut, Budinger and Andre Iguodala, that’s plenty to start with.
The Warriors would already be set in terms of reserve big men with Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights and Draymond Green. Assuming Steve Blake doesn’t re-sign with the Dubs, Golden State would need a backup point guard and perhaps a starting 2-guard and reserve wing player, preferably a defense-oriented guy to replace Thompson.
The front office could look at bringing in Trevor Ariza or Mike Miller as a small forward and just slide Iguodala to shooting guard. Afterwards, the Dubs should make a run at Shaun Livingston.
Livingston can operate as both a backup point guard and defensive player given his 6’7’’ frame and great ability to cut off angles.
Furthermore, there’s a possibility that a few quality veterans might be interested in joining the team for the minimum if they feel the club has enough talent to compete for a title. Think of players scheduled to be free agents such as Boris Diaw, Caron Butler or Vince Carter, to name a few.
We’re talking about a quality team with a higher ceiling than the one the Warriors presently have. So yes, the Warriors should definitely pull the trigger on Love.