Minnesota Timberwolves Must Not Let Kevin Love Saga Drag into Next Season

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Minnesota Timberwolves Must Not Let Kevin Love Saga Drag into Next Season
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are either at a breaking point with Kevin Love, or they've already left it behind.

Past blunders—everything from the big man's mishandled contract extension to the team's inability to quench Love's playoff thirst—have already determined the future. The only question is how long these divorce proceedings will need to play out in the present.

The sooner the better, for everyone involved.

"There's no point in remaining at the forefront of this nightmarish adventure any longer than circumstances demand," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale noted. "Subjecting themselves to months and months of additional rumors and hearsay...hurts the Timberwolves and Love more than it will ever help either of them."

Patience will not be rewarded. The Timberwolves need to have this issue resolved long before they break camp for the 2014-15 campaign.

Minnesota's ticking clock doesn't have a lot to do with maximizing trade value. There is no such thing as a bearish market when a 25-year-old, three-time All-Star goes up for auction. If a team wants any part of Love's 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists, it will pay a premium for those numbers at any point between now and the trade deadline in February.

For the Wolves, as with all other small market franchises that have employed nomadic superstars before, this is all about mitigating damages.

That doesn't mean building a bridge back to Love. That has already been torched beyond repair.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported that Love has informed the Timberwolves he will opt out of his deal next summer and "has no interest in a contract extension" to stick around.

Armed with that knowledge and the warning signs Love had sent out in his past, Minnesota has slowly accepted its fate. The Timberwolves, an executive told Adrian Wojnarwoski of Yahoo Sports, were "looking at deals" involving Love for the first time. Another source, via Sean Deveney of Sporting News, said Minnesota has been "paving the way" for a draft-night deal.

Not surprisingly, potential suitors have been publicly arriving by the busload. And they seem far more ready for serious business than one could have imagined.

Some assumed no one would want Love without first securing a long-term commitment from the league's quintessential stretch 4. While that would certainly be a preference, it's apparently not a requirement for everyone.

The Sacramento Kings, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, informed the Timberwolves they'd be willing to move on Love without that assurance. Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, via 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich Show, said his team would trade for a superstar without an agreement on re-signing, sending a few winks Love's way without specifically naming him.

The Phoenix Suns have been linked to Love since the ESPN.com scribes' initial report in May, but it remained unclear what they'd be willing to part with in a potential trade. Spears recently pulled back the curtain on the Suns' plans, seemingly inferring that none of Phoenix's assets are off the table:

Finding something of substantial value in return for Love will not be an issue. Neither will be finding him a comfortable landing spot capable of providing him the type of NBA lifestyle he's after.

The important thing is settling on an acceptable value for the return package for Love. Keeping him around simply is not a viable option, not even with the built-in advantages afforded to the Wolves as Love's current employer by the league's collective bargaining agreement.

"He has made clear that he is willing to turn down the extra year, and the extra cash, to leave Minnesota and join a contender after his contract expires next summer," Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins wrote.

Despite that writing on the wall, Minnesota maintains a certain amount of leverage in these talks. The Wolves' hands are not tied—they still have control of this situation.

But there is an expiration date on that control, and everyone across the basketball world can see it. Minnesota will have to make a move at some point, to pick up something to show for Love's individually brilliant, collectively frustrating tenure with the franchise.

"You can't just let him walk," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said, via Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press. "Try to get a couple of good, young players or a few draft picks."

No one knows exactly what the Wolves are looking for on the trade market, but history suggests teams in Minnesota's situation all go after the same things: draft picks and young prospects.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Danilo Gallinari highlighted the package the Denver Nuggets received from the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony.

The Wolves, who have unsuccessfully tried to piece together a roster around Love, might need the type of reset button a trade like this could offer.

"The Wolves need to build a successful franchise brick by brick," Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune wrote. "...Love’s departure will give team president [Flip] Saunders an opportunity to prove he’s savvy enough to trade Love for value, and to build the team through the draft, the way it should have been built all along."

The Wolves could certainly target a treasure trove of picks as Souhan suggests, or they might chase more win-now players to help ease the concerns of a potentially apprehensive Ricky Rubio. Whatever they decide, the important thing will be that they've made a decision and started pushing past this uncomfortable Love Affair.

Minnesota cannot break camp with a disgruntled Love still on the roster.

Flip Saunders returning to the bench hasn't warmed Love to the idea of a future with the Timberwolves, according to Stein, and the public complaints by the executive-coach about the frustrations of his star player might push Love further out the door.

The Western Conference, already the NBA's survival of the fittest, won't be getting any lighter over the summer. If the New Orleans Pelicans can stay healthy or the Kings can find another piece, playoff tickets may be even harder to come by in 2015.

The Wolves won't enjoy many on-paper victories once Love vacates the state, but this team could carve its niche as a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts team. That approach requires great chemistry, though, and it's hard to imagine the Timberwolves finding that as long as Love is plotting, but still waiting for his escape.

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Not to mention the roster turnover that dealing Love could bring.

He's sure to fetch multiple pieces on his own, plus there's a chance he departs with another pricey contract (Kevin Martin or Chase Budinger perhaps?). That type of overhaul would be far easier to handle with a full training camp to plug those new pieces into Minnesota's short-term and long-term plans.

For Saunders the coach, the chance to win Love over on the hardwood has to be massively appealing. After watching from the executive suite, the winningest coach in Timberwolves history surely has an idea of how to employ one of the premier talents the franchise has ever seen.

But Saunders the executive has to be the voice of reason. Minnesota's future rests not with Love, but with the pieces it can get back in return for the walking double-double.

That breaking point has passed. It's time for the Timberwolves to embrace their next construction project.

 

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