Last time the Minnesota Timberwolves were forced to trade the NBA's best rebounder and most disgruntled superstar, they landed Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair and two first-round picks.
Seven years later, Minnesota is looking to acquire more while parting with less. Analytics might say otherwise, but Kevin Love is no Kevin Garnett.
While Love has put up video-game like numbers over the past four seasons, combining three-point shooting and rebounding like no player before him, he has not once led his team to the postseason. Garnett led the Wolves there for eight straight years, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
So, if the return package for Garnett included one good (though still largely unproven) player in Jefferson and an assortment of washed up vets and easy-to-part-with future role players, the asking price for Love should be similar.
As Love dangles himself above the NBA trade market, he has caught the attention of the Golden State Warriors. Meanwhile, Flip Saunders and the rest of Minnesota's front office is setting Love's value at Klay Thompson and David Lee.
I'm selling this one. I'm also selling the notion that Saunders is not set on trading Love, but that's a different conversation.
As for the Thompson and Lee package, to believe in it requires one of three things. One—a negative opinion of the Golden State front office, two—an inflated sense of Love's value, or three—a lack of appreciation for Thompson and Lee.
Essentially, the Wolves are asking Golden State for a two-time All-Star power forward who puts up 20/10 games at nearly the same rate as Love along with a 24-year-old who surpassed Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade this past season as the best two-way shooting guard in the league.
It's not impossible that the Warriors would make this move. With last year's Andre Iguodala trade and this year's firing of Mark Jackson, Warriors owner Joe Lacob has demonstrated an impatience that could again manifest itself in a grossly over-generous package for Love. But with a new coach and a top consultant who both don't support trading Thompson, along with a franchise player who is already upset and doesn't want to lose another key piece and close friend, it's hard to believe Lacob would force this to go through.
Selling on a Love-for-Thompson-and-Lee trade doesn't mean selling on any Love trade, or even selling on a Love trade going down before the draft.
In fact, the draft might be Saunders' best chance to get maximum value for his big man. When you think about the landscape of Love's suitors, trading him during or before the draft makes sense.
Love is unhappy. His heart is already out of Minnesota, and bringing him back next season would be awkward for both sides. The only real reason to do so would be stubbornness because the fact is that his value is only going to decline as time moves forward.
Teams will draft. Teams will trade. Teams will sign free agents. If a team doesn't get Love soon, they will simply proceed without him, knowing full well that the clock is ticking closer and closer to midnight on July 1, 2015, when Love becomes an unrestricted free agent.
A team like Golden State has no reason to give up such a valuable young asset in Thompson when it can spend the next 365-plus days looking for ways to move Lee and clear the necessary cap space to sign Love next summer.
That's exactly why moving Love before the draft is the best route for Minnesota. No team will give up that much for Love if he doesn't want to re-sign there, and if he does want to re-sign there, that team has no reason to give away top young assets to get him.
But don't count out the sleepers—in this case, the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, I'm buying the possibility of Love going to the Cavs.
I should note that while details about the talks between these two teams have been confirmed, Love has expressed interest in a potential move to Cleveland.
Since news of Joel Embiid's broken foot came out, the Cavaliers no longer have a clear-cut first pick candidate. And with LeBron James on the market, bringing in Love doubles as not only a great move but a recruiting ploy.
Trading Love and the No. 13 pick to Cleveland for the No. 1 pick and two players—any combination of Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and Tristian Thompson—would allow the Cavaliers to keep the cap room to sign LeBron to a max-deal. It would also give them a tantalizing pick-and-roll duo of Kyrie Irving and Love regardless of LeBron's decision.
For the Wolves, they would not immediately replace Love at the 4 like they want to with Lee, nor would they get a proven young talent like Thompson, but they would get three young players with good potential, one being any player of their choosing from this exceptional draft class.
Even if Love does not go to Cleveland, moving him for draft picks is a great route for the Wolves to pursue. Moving Love to the Boston Celtics for Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, the No. 6 pick and the No. 17 pick would also make sense.
Minnesota could, for example, add Julius Randle at No. 6, Nik Stauskas at No. 13 and Shabazz Napier at No. 17. Now you're talking about Ricky Rubio, Stauskas, Green, Randle and Nikola Pekovic as a starting five to build around with a killer bench of Napier, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Sullinger and Gorgui Dieng.
I am selling this actually happening because Saunders seems too stubborn, and that's a shame. Because if Minnesota holds out past the draft, there will be complications for the organization.
For one, the Wolves won't really know who to draft at No. 13. Do they add a power forward like Adreian Payne or Dario Saric because they plan on moving Love, or do they add a guard like Stauskas, James Young or Gary Harris?
If they do draft a power forward, Love's trade value takes a hit because it hints that the Wolves do not plan on attempting to make things work with him. If they grab a guard, they will be more desperate to land a 4 in a Love trade.
Which brings us back to the Warriors. While I am completely selling Minnesota landing Thompson, I am still buying Oakland as Love's most likely destination.
Here's the most likely scenario regarding the NBA draft and Love: the Wolves do not move Love on or before draft night, hoping to hold out and get Lacob to bite and give up Thompson (or hoping another team soars in with a Godfather offer). This offer never comes from Golden State or elsewhere.
As free agency commences and teams start to feel that waiting Minnesota out is the way to go, Saunders and company will realize they have to move Love before his trade value declines any further.
At this time, Warriors GM Bob Myers gets Saunders on the phone and offers him Lee, Harrison Barnes and a future first-round pick.
Not only is this not the dream package of Thompson and Lee, but it isn't even as good as what they could get on draft night. But once that's in the past, Saunders has to pull the trigger. At least he gets a very good replacement for Love, a high-potential young player who played great in the 2013 playoffs in Barnes and a future first-round pick, however low it may be.
And really, it would still be more than the Wolves got for Garnett back in 2007.
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