Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for Kevin Love and Timberwolves' Inevitable Split
Nothing about this ongoing, well-chronicled soap opera is certain—except Love's departure. One way or another, he's going to leave.
The "why" is already known. He's unhappy, hardened and frustrated by six years of lottery finishes and losing records. If his displeasure was supposed to be hush-hush, it's the worst-kept secret of anything ever.
It's the "who, what, when and where" that remains to be seen.
Who will come out on top in this internal war of wills, the Timberwolves or Love? What, if anything, will he be traded for? When will this end?
Where will Love wind up?
Answers to those questions can be provided in any number of ways. Some will be good for Love, some won't. And vice versa for the Timberwolves. A few scenarios can benefit both parties, while others will hurt everyone involved.
Anything that happens is going to culminate in the same end. It's how Love and the Timberwolves get there that matters most.
Best-Case Scenario for Kevin Love: Long-Term Partner
Wouldn't it be nice if Love's next team were his last team? Or at least the one he would stick with for the foreseeable future, as in beyond next season?
Love himself concurs.
The All-Star forward isn't trying to leave Minnesota just for the sake of leaving Minnesota. He wants to go somewhere that promises a playoff berth, to a club he wants to re-sign with in free agency.
Remember, the collective bargaining agreement implores Love to explore free agency no matter where he finishes next year. He stands to make more money by opting out of his contract rather than signing an extension.
Teams that fit his apparent criteria—namely big-market appeal and league standing—include the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne.
The Los Angeles Lakers are considered a destination of choice as well, primarily because Love was born in Santa Monica and attended UCLA. Marc Berman of the New York Post previously threw the New York Knicks into this fray too, because the Big Apple is, you know, big.
In an ideal, Love-is-loved world, he would be dealt to one of those teams, turning his 2015 free-agency travels into something less ambivalent. Instead of looking for another new home, he could play out next year on a contender and land the five-year max contract he didn't get from the Timberwolves in 2012 from that same team.
Oh how wonderfully spectacular that would be for the bearded superstar.
Worst-Case Scenario for Kevin Love: Lottery Purgatory Part II
What would be worse than Love enduring another season in Minnesota?
Making a lateral move.
It makes little sense for Love to play for another lottery-dwelling team, or one that he doesn't plan on re-signing with at next season's end. If maintaining the status quo were his primary goal, he'd be content remaining with the Timberwolves for another year.
Per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, the Kings are prepared to relinquish their eighth overall pick without being assured of Love's return in 2015-16. They haven't made the playoffs since 2006. Andy Katz of ESPN.com says the Cavs would dangle the first overall selection in this year's draft if it meant landing Love. They haven't clinched a postseason berth since 2010.
Hints of Love's displeasure with certain suitors is subsequently bubbling to the surface already. Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston has been told Love has no interest in playing for Cleveland.
What's it matter, though, right? Love can leave after next season anyway. No harm, no foul.
Technically, this is true. But by leaving Cleveland, Sacramento or another club next summer, he would be spurning two franchises in one year, a la Dwight Howard. That's not good for his image, no matter how justified his frustrations may be.
Winding up somewhere he doesn't plan to stay long term also forces him to accept less than a five-year pact in free agency. Teams that don't own his Bird rights can only sign him to four-year deals.
Basically, if the Timberwolves stray off Love's "list," it leaves him trapped within the exact same situation he's clearly hoping to escape.
Best-Case Scenario for Timberwolves: Freedom of Choice
What's best for Love and what's best for the Timberwolves are two very different things.
If the Timberwolves decide to trade Love, they won't care where he ends up, so long as they're compensated handsomely for their superstar's services. The Sporting News' Sean Deveney reveals that they've already set the bar exceedingly high for what they want in return:
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.
Dealing Love consigns the Timberwolves deeper into their already-unstable rebuilding process. Starting over is never easy, especially when you're subtracting a recurring All-Star from an unfinished product.
Finding the right balance of young talent and draft picks is paramount. They need to find players who complement what's leftover of their core, who can coexist with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin. And then they need to secure draft picks and ensure they're not permanently pinned to who and what they're left with.
Negotiating perfect swaps isn't possible. The Timberwolves will have to make concessions at some point, skewing the parameters of any trade in one direction.
Forced to choose, they should favor draft picks. Acquiring actual players is enticing, but if the Timberwolves are indeed searching for the next big star, amassing draft selections is simpler.
Developing players—like Chandler Parsons and Klay Thompson—must be offered new contracts to stick around. Paying players who aren't guaranteed to fit into their new system equates to an expensive dice roll. In the event they trade for a more established player, the chance remains that he, too, will want out eventually.
Rebuilding through the draft is a better option for this team. Rookies don't hold the same clout as tenured talents. They can be retained through their rookie deal—and usually beyond—without much issue.
Picking up six, seven or more years of wiggle room is invaluable for small-market teams that rarely stage free-agency takeovers.
Worst-Case Scenario for Timberwolves: Bending to Love's Leverage
The amount of leverage Love actually holds is unclear.
Although it's easy to say Saunders should trade him anywhere he pleases, this process isn't that simple. Minnesota can only ignore Love's wishes as much as incoming offers allow.
Look to a team like the Phoenix Suns. Spears says they're prepared to use prime assets such as first-round picks, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to pry Love from Minny. But as Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes explained, their generosity is tethered to Love's interest in playing for them:
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.
Once the Wolves find that answer, they'll understand what they're up against. If offers are significantly curbed by teams flush with assets—like the Suns—they'll be compelled to accept well below Love's market value from another organization.
Compromises are inevitable. Settling too much, however, is dangerous. Love cannot be traded somewhere just because. The Timberwolves have a future to think about.
One that becomes much more difficult to plan for if Love is dictating the terms of his departure.
Mutual Best-Case Scenario: Quick Resolution
Rushing into anything isn't smart. But neither is delaying the inevitable.
The Timberwolves are under no obligation to end this stagecraft quickly. Like SB Nation's Tom Ziller pointed out in May, they can wait:
There's no particular rush to get this done now. Given Minnesota's moderately successful 2013-14 season, it's probably prudent to wait until January and reconsider while bolstering the club for the here and now in the interim.
Putting aside the extended and sensationalized chatter both parties would trudge through between now and next season's trade deadline, Love's value isn't going to skyrocket by waiting.
Interested teams know this ends only one way: with Love leaving. Somehow, someway, he's going to exit Minnesota. The longer this drags out, the clearer this becomes.
And the clearer it becomes, the less Love is worth in the trade market. Teams that remain unsure of his desire to re-sign won't deal anything of significant value for a half-season rental.
Squads he wants to play for won't offer anything substantial when he's months away from free agency either. They can just sit tight and sign him outright next July. Drawing this out also precludes the Timberwolves from nabbing another valuable draft pick in this year's loaded class.
Plus, the chatter. There's no point in remaining at the forefront of this nightmarish adventure any longer than circumstances demand.
Subjecting themselves to months and months of additional rumors and hearsay and conjecture and flapdoodle hot takes hurts the Timberwolves and Love more than it will ever help either of them.
Devising a quick exit strategy and imminent fresh start is the way to go for everyone involved.
Mutual Worst-Case Scenario: 2015 Free Agency
Seeing this through to summer 2015 is worse than the Timberwolves bending to Love's leverage.
It's worse than Love being sent to a team he has no desire to re-sign with.
It's worse than slow-playing his exit and waiting until the trade deadline.
It's worse than everything.
Holding onto Love promises the Timberwolves a whole bunch of nothing. Literally. Love will leave without allowing them to receive any compensation in return. And then poof. The Timberwolves are confined to the anguish and turmoil of starting over, sans any building blocks they could and should have received.
Love, meanwhile, gets to sign with whomever he pleases. But he's unable to get that fifth year, the one that's eluded him since he entered the league in 2008. Worse still, it's possible he will have added a seventh consecutive postseason-less season to his nonexistent playoff resume, infusing additional merit into arguments that posit he's an empty-stats superstar.
"And it’s something that I don’t know yet, so I don’t know what to say to him," Rubio told NBCSports.com's Brett Pollakoff. "But of course, if I talked to him I’d say that I love to play with him and we can do great things tougher."
Convincing him to stay isn't an option. One season's worth of improvement won't be enough, rendering Rubio's comments futile.
Ending this progressively complicated disaster before next summer is of the utmost importance. A conclusion will preferably be reached soon.
Offering closure anytime before hell freezes over and the Timberwolves and Love defame one another's image any further, though, will suffice.