Is Arron Afflalo Trade Just Stepping Stone to Kevin Love for Denver Nuggets?

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Is Arron Afflalo Trade Just Stepping Stone to Kevin Love for Denver Nuggets?
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Say hello to the Denver Nuggets, Kevin Love. They really, really like you and, by acquiring Arron Afflalo from the Orlando Magic, are officially wearing their intentions on their sleeve.

Like he tends to do, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his trademark bombs on us:

Sam Amick of USA Today confirmed the news:

Don't pretend you know what the Magic are doing here. This is either a precursor for something bigger and more sensible, or a tacit resignation that Afflalo wasn't worth as much as they thought.

But never mind the Magic. We're not here to judge or detect ulterior motives in poorly camouflaged trades...for them.

No such promises can be made with regard to the Nuggets, because that's exactly what we're here to do—look at this trade as a prelude to something bigger. Something better.

Something Love-ly.

 

Not a Coincidence

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Understand that no one here—including myself—is some soothsayer who sleeps with crystal balls beneath their pillows and is able to channel the innermost most thoughts of Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly.

Afflalo could be in Denver to stay. He spent three years with the Nuggets before being shipped to the Magic as part of that four-team Dwight Howard trade in 2012. Adding him to the rotation—especially after the career year he just had—has its advantages.

But come on. That's not the only thing this trade is about. Housing Afflalo's essentially expiring contract is supplementary to the Nuggets chasing Love.

The Minnesota Timberwolves superstar isn't happy where he is now. And he's available. And he's particular about where he winds up next. He apparently squelched a trade that would have landed him with the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to ESPN.com's Andy Katz

Any team looking to acquire Love must understand that he's going to become a free agent no matter what. Attractive locales aren't excluded. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, it behooves players to explore free agency.

Interested teams are taking a risk by trading for him—one the Nuggets embrace.

Per the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett: 

Funny how things work out, right? The Nuggets reportedly promise the Timberwolves a player they don't even have yet and then trade for said player days later. And we're supposed to chalk that up to pure coincidence? Totally unrelated happenstance?

In the words of Dr. Evil:

"If we are involved in trade discussions," Connelly told The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla, "I want you guys in the media to be the last to know."

Connelly cannot come right out and say anything. He just can't. Fortunately, he doesn't have to.

This is about Love, make no mistake. That Afflalo won't be a long-term investment should they fail to get Love—unless they want to re-sign him—is the real coincidence.

Why else would they make this move right before the 2014 NBA draft? So the Magic could have flexibility? No. It's so they could have flexibility and package Afflalo with Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and their—wait for it—No. 11 pick in this year's draft.

Timing is everything, and by timing this trade the way they did, the Nuggets tipped their hand.

 

Matchless Offer?

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To be sure, this isn't a flawless hand. 

The Nuggets' efforts could wind up being for naught. The Timberwolves could trade him somewhere else. They could find a better offer. 

Related: They probably won't.

Two of the biggest threats to the Nuggets' not-so-secret endeavor are the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls, neither of whom seem willing, or even have the assets at their disposal, to match or top what Denver is peddling.

Coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls are enamored with Carmelo Anthony, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley. Love may be a better fit as someone who's younger and a proven passer, but he's a blip on their Anthony-fixated radar.

Golden State appears to have the assets to rival Denver's proposal, assuming it's open to trading those assets, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne:

The Golden State Warriors have hit an impasse in their trade pursuit of All-Star forward Kevin Love due to what is being described as an "organizational split" on the willingness to part with prized shooting guard Klay Thompson, according to sources close to the process.

First, a moment to reflect on the Warriors' perplexing stance:

Moment's over.

And Golden State's steadfast refusal to make Klay Thompson available may be, too:

Withholding Thompson makes sense if the Warriors know there isn't a better offer out there. Nabbing David Lee, Harrison Barnes and a future first-rounder while dumping some salary isn't a bad package for the Timberwolves if nothing else is out there.

But something else is out there. The Nuggets are out there, waiting, angling, assembling the most lethal offer to date.

Even if the Warriors finally relent and include Thompson, their offer isn't better. Not without a sweetener. Or two. Or more.

Building a package around Afflalo, Faried, Chandler and that No. 11 pick for Love alone is phenomenal left untouched. It also brings the Nuggets within striking distance of taking back one of Minny's less favorable deals. All they need to do is throw in one of their reasonably priced or expiring pacts and presto, they're able to take a Chase Budinger or Kevin Martin off the Timberwolves' hands.

Returns on Love won't get much better for the Timberwolves.

Not even if the Warriors start feeling generous.

 

Worth the Risk

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Let us acknowledge the bearded elephant in this room: Love's free agency.

There is no guarantee Love wishes to remain with the Nuggets long term. Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster seems to think there isn't a chance he'll stay in Denver:

The Nuggets might have a better chance lucking into a major star at pick 11 than being able to find one willing to stay long-term via trade. Most teams draft their own stars, and being outside of the top-five doesn't necessarily mean you can't find elite talent. Paul George was the 10th pick in the draft. It's rare, for sure, but not impossible.

Trading for Love and keeping him long-term certainly seems much more improbable than finding a prospect with gobs of potential in this deep draft. UCLA guard Zach LaVine has plenty of raw ability. Ditto for a guy like Arizona forward Aaron Gordon. 

Valid points. None of them, though, are deterring enough for the Nuggets to turn back. 

If Love leaves in free agency next summer, he leaves. If he opts into the last year of his contract as part of any trade and leaves in summer 2016, whatever. The Nuggets won't be the winners of this deal if they cannot retain him, but they won't be worse for wear either.

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Somewhat quietly, the Nuggets have assembled one of the worst salary situations in the NBA. Pulling the trigger on this deal increases their flexibility moving forward, especially if they're not forced to take back a Martin or Budinger.

Chandler has two years left on his deal, Afflalo will be up for a new, lengthy contract next summer and Faried is eligible for an extension now. Put this way, the Nuggets actually save tens of millions of dollars in future salary if they complete this deal and don't keep Love.

Neither Faried nor Afflalo push the needle enough for the Nuggets to confidently invest big bucks in. Flipping them for what could be nothing isn't ideal, but then again one year of Love isn't nothing.

Bart Young/Getty Images
Love is worth whatever risk is involved for Denver.

One season after winning 57 games, the Nuggets flopped. Addled by injuries and a confusing roster, they won just 36 games in 2013-14, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Love gives them an opportunity to reinvent the rotation and elevate their ceiling.

That's not nothing.

It's something. It's a whole lot when considering the alternative—another year of confusion, sans the chance of possibly retaining a top-10 superstar.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports.


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