Despite Desires, Kevin Love Has No Control over What Happens Next

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

For a guy locked into a contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves through the 2014-15 NBA season, Kevin Love sure is acting like he's in charge of his own destiny.

Even with the summer's annual free-agent frenzy yet to officially begin, you can't go five seconds without seeing some new report on Love's dissatisfaction in Minnesota, his desire to leave and, strangest of all, which teams he'd like to play for next season.

The latest example came on June 11, when Love was a guest on ESPN's SportsNation.

There, he talked about Phil Jackson's capacity to make the New York Knicks an alluring destination, though he did so in deliberately vague language that stopped just short of serving as a naked plea.

Nonetheless, Love was again successful in communicating his desire to leave the T-Wolves—even if he did so without saying it explicitly.

Love also said he'd let his agent handle things when asked if he wanted out of Minnesota, a typically deflective response players in his situation commonly offer. Fortunately for all involved, former NFL lineman Marcellus Wiley is a host on SportsNation, and he cut right through the nonsense, confronting (h/t Love with a delightful dose of reality.

"See, that agent-speak can work in front of most people, but your agent works for you. So you dictate terms," Wiley shouted with a knowing smile on his face. "So what are you going to tell your agent, Kevin Love?"

Brilliant. Not because Wiley was unearthing some hidden truth—we all know Love is the one calling the shots here—but because he laid everything out in the plainest terms possible.

That's how agents workthey do what their clients tell them to do.

Love could only laugh, ducking the question with the following refrain: "No matter what happens, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win."

Having now established what Love does control, we can proceed to the discussion of what he doesn't—and that's pretty much everything from right now until he actually opts out of his contract in the summer of 2015.

To be fair, I guess we have to point out how Love exercised control by making it so unpalatable for the T-Wolves to go through a full year with a disgruntled star that trading him became the only viable option.

According to's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, he did that earlier this month when he communicated his future plans:

Kevin Love has made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

That act was basically where Love's power over the situation terminated. He got the ball rolling, but he has no say over where it stops.

We often ask, "Where does Kevin Love want to play?" We wonder, "Where should Kevin Love go?"

The truth is, there couldn't be less relevant questions.

It doesn't matter where he wants to play or what city best serves his needs next year because Love doesn't get to decide his destination. He exercised what little leverage he had in this situation by threatening the T-Wolves with the prospect of walking away for nothing in 2015.

Love started this entire process, but he won't have anything to do with finishing it.

If anything, Love has actually hurt his chances of escaping to a desirable locale. No, that's not just because the T-Wolves could be forgiven for spitefully trading him to some expansion team in Siberia.

It's because as this situation has shaken out, Love's refusal to stand honestly behind what amounts to a trade demand is probably turning off a few potential suitors.

What's more, the likelihood that he'll opt out—no matter where he goes—makes him a gamble most teams won't view as worth the risk.

If it takes first-round picks, young stars with team-friendly contracts and big-money players to get Love in a trade, you can bet the team acquiring him will want more than a one-year rental. Maybe that's still a trade worth making for a team that believes Love puts it over the top for a championship, which is why clubs like the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls make for interesting options.

But even they won't want to divest themselves of valuable assets for such apotentiallysmall return.

And just so we're all clear on a key point, Love has precious little incentive to opt in to the final year of his deal. While it might expand the pool of potential trade partners, it puts his future in unnecessary jeopardy.

Grantland's Zach Lowe breaks down the situation:

Love could grease the wheels by opting into his contract for 2015-16, promising to do so as a condition of any trade, or simply informing any suitor that he would likely re-sign if things go well. The new collective bargaining agreement has basically removed the possibility of an extension or extend-and-trade helping any team feel more secure about keeping a star. The rules are such that a max-level player has no financial incentive to extend his contract under almost any circumstance.

Signing an extension before hitting unrestricted free agency would be foolish from Love's perspective. As Lowe mentioned, the CBA allows for much larger extensions for free agents. So just forget about that possibility.

Opting in would also delay Love's huge, multiyear payday for another season, which brings on risks of injury, declining performance and any number of unforeseeable factors.

Basically, Love is like a high school superstar in the era before the NBA instituted the age limit. Think of him like LeBron James in 2003. Guaranteed to go No. 1 in the draft, James' value could't have been higher. Going to college would have done nothing but expose him to risks and potentially decrease his value.

Love is certain to collect a maximum extension when he becomes a free agent. His value can't get any higher.

Why would he ever opt in to a contract that postpones his chance to cash in?

Next summer, Love will be in total control of his situation. He'll be able to opt out and choose from a handful of teams clamoring to pay him max money as a free agent. There'll be prime destinations with cap space then, including the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks—two teams, by the way, with no ability to trade for him at this moment.

Now, though, he's at the mercy of the awkward circumstances he's created for himself.

Teams want him, but they're understandably reluctant to give up too much for a guy they can't be sure they'll control for more than a year.

Love is handling his current situation the same way many would-be small-market escapees before him handled theirs. This shouldn't serve as a knock on what he's doing or even how he's doing it—even if there's a temptation to pillory a millionaire with the gall to want a higher-quality working environment.

Instead, consider this a reality check.

As Love's saga plays out and free agency hits its fever pitch in a few weeks, let's all agree to view this situation as it is. And let's also be sure to assign power to the proper parties.

Love has almost no leverage right now, and as much as we like to talk about where he wants to play, or which teams offer him the best environment, those things don't actually matter.

So, next time Love ducks the question of where he'd like to play next year, maybe we should all recognize what we're really watching: A guy who, deep down, knows his answer is meaningless.


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