Could the Boston Celtics' Future Hinge on Kevin Love Trade?

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Could the Boston Celtics' Future Hinge on Kevin Love Trade?
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There will be no standing pat for the Boston Celtics this offseason.

Not after going 25-57 in the wake of parting ways with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers last summer. Not with enough draft picks over the next four years to field a full squad. Not with Rajon Rondo twisting in the wind.

And certainly not with Kevin Love up for grabs among those teams with the assets and the wherewithal to bring him aboard.

"This is a big summer for us," Austin Ainge, the Celtics' director of player personnel and the son of general manager Danny Ainge, told the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett. "We’ve got to find a way to get us better some way."

Taking Love off the Minnesota Timberwolves' hands would go a long way in that regard, though the odds of the Celtics doing so are far from favorable at this point.

The last time the Celtics snagged an All-Star from the T-Wolves, they went from (almost) worst in 2006-07 to first in 2007-08, courtesy of Garnett joining forces with Pierce and Ray Allen in Beantown. Back then, Boston had a loaded war chest from which to formulate a formidable package that would pry Garnett from Minnesota.

Al Jefferson, Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair were all young, intriguing talents. Ryan Gomes, though still shy of his prime, was ready to contribute right away. Theo Ratliff's contract made the money work. Two first-round picks greased the skids. All in all, the Celtics gave up seven players (plus picks and cash) for one, making it the most lopsided transaction in NBA history.

Albeit one that was worth every player and penny spent by the C's. They won the franchise's 17th championship in year one of the "Boston Three Party" and came within a win of No. 18 in year three.

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To be sure, Love now isn't on the same level that KG was then. Garnett was a former MVP, a once-in-a-generation-type player who dominated the game on both ends of the floor and carried the woeful Wolves to eight straight playoff appearances.

Love, on the other hand, has yet to so much as sniff the postseason. He ranks among the game's most prolific rebounders, though his skills in that regard hardly qualify him as a great defender. He's not particularly fleet of foot, and he doesn't protect the rim to any appreciable degree.

This isn't to suggest that Love is just some schlub who's tired of losing and bitterly cold winters—and not necessarily in that order. The three-time All-Star is a one-man wrecking crew on the offensive end. He's a terrific shooter (.362 from three for his career, .376 from three in 2013-14), an even better post-up player and one of the best passers in the league for a player of his size (6'10", 243 lbs).

Pair him with Rondo, and the C's would find themselves back in the playoff picture in the East, with a store of chips yet to be cashed for more complementary talent. Rondo and Love may not be enough on their own to thrust Boston back into title contention, but a duo of that caliber would be more than just a nice step in the right direction.

To that end, acquiring Love could come with the added benefit of convincing Rondo to stick around for the long term. Rondo will be a free agent in 2015 and, at 28 right now, might not be so keen to suffer through more miserable seasons like the one he just endured.

Not if he can find a better place to spend the remainder of his prime, assuming he can still perform at an All-Star level after recovering from an ACL tear. And not if the Celtics can get a good return on Rondo before he (presumably) bolts. As ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg considered:

To be sure, the idea that Boston must trade Rondo if they can't land Love is misguided. There are plenty of ways for the team to build around Rondo and other stars.

But if Boston truly believes the only way to right this ship for the long haul is to endure a slow rebuilding process, one that might force Rondo to flee on the open market next summer, then it could be in the team's best interest to consider moving him on draft night to maximize the return.

Love could mean the difference between Rondo being a Celtic for life and Rondo suiting up for someone else in 2015-16, if not sooner. Boston has hardly (if ever) been a hot spot for marquee free agents. Rondo, with his notoriously difficult disposition, probably won't be the one to change that—and certainly not on his own.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

In truth, the Celtics' holes are beyond the plugging abilities that even Love brings to the table. They'd still need no worse than a decent rim protector and a reliable wing scorer—at least more reliable than Jeff Green—before they could reasonably expect to escape the East's middling morass. Then again, those are the sorts of pieces that might be found elsewhere in separate deals.

The bigger concern for Boston here, the one on which everything else hinges, is the team's ability to actually convince the T-Wolves to part ways with Love. Minnesota's brass, led by team president/head coach Flip Saunders, has been no better than a reluctant partner to any transaction involving Love thus far. All indications are that he wants this team to win right away, that he won't abide by the Wolves' playoff drought creeping into year 11.

The Celtics' package—the Nos. 6 and 17 picks in this year's draft, a future first-rounder and Kelly Olynyk, per the Boston Herald's Bulpett—wouldn't likely flip Saunders' thinking in any meaningful way. Boston can only do so much to beef up its offer without any difference-makers (other than Rondo) at its disposal. And if Minny wants to get back on the winning track, it probably won't be satisfied with adding more future picks to the mix.

The Wolves could extract more appealing packages from other suitors. The Golden State Warriors seemed close to acquiring Love before their refusal to part ways with Klay Thompson got in the way, per The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes.  

The Chicago Bulls may well be the front-runners as a result. According to ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required), the Bulls have put a package of Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and the Nos. 16 and 19 picks in the 2014 draft on the table.

Chicago, though, may be more inclined to keep its options open for Carmelo Anthony. That would leave the Denver Nuggets as the next team up. Per ESPN's Marc Stein, the Nuggets have already proposed to send Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and the No. 11 pick to Minnesota for Love and Kevin Martin.

 

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If Saunders isn't satisfied with what's available, he could decide not to trade Love before the start of the 2014-15 season. The Wolves control Love's rights until next summer, when he'll be free to opt out of his current contract and become an unrestricted free agent. They may find it in their best interests to retain Love for now and try to convince him to stay by way of a resurgent season, just as the Portland Trail Blazers did with an unhappy LaMarcus Aldridge in 2013-14, rather than take back pennies on the dollar for their most prized player.

After all, players of Love's caliber don't grow on trees. As such, the T-Wolves owe it to themselves and their fans to either get as much as they can for Love now or do everything they can to keep him later.

In the meantime, the C's can't be counted out entirely from the Love sweepstakes. So long as he's on the market, Boston will have a shot at him if the team so chooses.

Chances are, though, that Boston won't be on the receiving end of any Love blockbuster, unless Ainge can arrange for another team or two to offer up proven commodities that Minny likes in exchange for some of the nine first-round picks that the Celtics own over the next four years. Ainge is a masterful dealmaker in his own right, but even he can only do so much to please all parties when the web comes to entangle three, four or even five teams in total.

Just don't expect that degree of difficulty to keep Ainge and the Celtics from trying. Another long, painful rebuild might ultimately be in the cards for Boston, but there will be no waiting around for the Celtics to find out this summer.

 

Tracking the trade wings on Twitter, per usual. 

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