Timberwolves Playing Risky Game by Turning Away Kevin Love Suitors

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 26: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves on the court during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 26, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

Delaying Kevin Love's inevitable departure has put the Minnesota Timberwolves in a sticky, risk-ridden situation.

President and coach Flip Saunders has remained steadfast in his refusal to rush this process after Love's displeasure went from theory to fact, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Large contingents of fans and pundits thought flipping him ahead of the 2014 NBA draft was the smart play. It would have allowed the Timberwolves to capitalize on a deep draft class while also securing more established assets in return.

But the draft came and went, and Love is still with the Timberwolves. 

Certain reports have Love being traded soon. Wojnarowski says the Cleveland Cavaliers would be an option if a certain four-time MVP chose redemption over sandy beaches:

Everything emanating out of Minnesota, though, speaks to a much different process:

More waiting. The Timberwolves are waiting. Biding their time. Waiting and waiting and waiting. 

And waiting.

And banking on the benefits of waiting to make for a productive, compensatory exit.

There's just no guarantee that after all this waiting the Timberwolves won't wind up suffering the same fate they're trying to avoid. 


The Good

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 14: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors before a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 14, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Saunders and friends don't want to get hosed in negotiations, which is completely understandable.

Love's value will never be matched asset for asset, rebound for rebound, but other teams have secured nice returns on superstars. The Denver Nuggets arguably fleeced the New York Knicks when they traded Carmelo Anthony. That superstar dump has become the standard for all situations like these, hence Minny's continued hardline stance.

Proposals leading up to the draft weren't even close to overwhelming. Chad Ford of ESPN.com (subscription required) had the Chicago Bulls dangling Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and picks Nos. 16 and 19, and the Golden State Warriors were offering a package headlined by David Lee that did not include Klay Thompson, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein.

Worse still, the Boston Celtics, armed with the No. 6 pick, couldn't muster an offer that exceeded Chicago's, per ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan. They were considered heavyweights early on. That they couldn't beat the Bulls' mediocre package says a lot about how unimpressive theirs was.

Dragging this out into free agency makes sense to that end. Desperate teams that whiff on star free-agents LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh would, in theory, up the ante and fork over additional talent.

Chicago could be among the teams that gets desperate later on.
Chicago could be among the teams that gets desperate later on.Gary Dineen/Getty Images

One of those teams could be the Bulls, who still have assets like rookie Doug McDermott, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and future first-rounders they can include. They might be driven to increase their offer, as Grantland's Zach Lowe explains:

Chicago will be crushed if it comes out of this summer empty-handed, and the Bulls always offered the best fit for Anthony, even if it would have been tough to open up the cap space required to chase him without the cooperation of the Knicks via sign-and-trade. ...

... Chicago can still make a monster offer for Kevin Love, and in the meantime, it can either snag about $12 million in cap room by amnestying Boozer or use the midlevel exception to find another complementary piece.

Once the Timberwolves get one team to tip their hand and relinquish substantial assets, others follow suit.

Afraid they'll miss out on Love entirely, the Warriors could resign to including Thompson in any trade. Potentially armed with James, the Cavs could relent and use Andrew Wiggins to headline a possible deal. Dark horses bearing draft picks, salary-cap relief and impact players could crawl out of the woodwork.

This power play could work out. Waiting could get the Timberwolves everything they want and need in Love's departure.

Or their patience and inaction could backfire.


The Bad

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 6:  Phil 'Flip' Saunders, President of Basketball Operations of the Minnesota Timberwolves is named Head Coach of the team by owner Glen Taylor during a press conference on June 6, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  N
David Sherman/Getty Images

While the Timberwolves wait, there are teams that have fallen out of the running. 

Past offers, as the Sporting News' Sean Deveney relayed, failed to impress:

The Timberwolves will also need to gauge Love’s reaction to different destinations. Because Love is under contract for next year and can be a free agent in 2015, any team that trades for him would prefer to have an assurance that he would be willing to sign an extension—and with such an assurance, Minnesota can set a higher asking price. ...

... Minnesota has, thus far, been underwhelmed with the potential return it could get for Love, which is not a surprise given that we are still more than three weeks away from the draft—the market for a Love trade is still taking shape.

Bad offers only get worse now.

The Celtics are a perfect example. The Timberwolves have no business trading for Marcus Smart. That No. 6 pick could have been used to fill an actual void. Boston's use of it devalued its offer.

Trading with the Houston Rockets is absolutely out of the question now. The Timberwolves were interested in acquiring Chandler Parsons via a sign-and-trade according Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. Parsons would have given them a burgeoning talent on a freshly inked long-term deal, but that scenario is dead.

Once Parsons put to pen to paper on the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Stein says the Dallas Mavericks tendered him, he was no longer trade bait.

Instead of adding even more pieces to their trade offer, the Chicago Bulls could go a different route. Amnestying Carlos Boozer allows them to open up enough cap space to sign a rotation player or two. They may decide they're better off building upon the current core as opposed to gutting it for one player.

Knowing the Timberwolves aren't fielding mind-boggling offers, the Warriors could remain unbending in their decision to retain Thompson. At that point some combination of Lee, Harrison Barnes and a future first-round pick may be the best Minnesota can do. 

If that.

No matter where Love lands, he's still a flight risk. It makes more sense for him to explore free agency next summer, when he can sign a four- or five-year max contract, than it does to sign an extension or opt into the last year of his deal.

Any team he's traded to could see him become a rental. That includes preferred destinations like Chicago, Golden State and Boston.

Free-agency journeys create temptation. Other teams will guarantee Love the world. What club wants to mortgage its present and future on someone who may submit to promises of grandeur? 

Certain teams can justify rolling the dice now, when there's an entire season to steer Love in one direction. But that list dwindles by the day once training camp starts. 

Interested teams are suddenly left with less than a year to sway Love. If Saunders forcibly retains him up until the trade deadline, suitors have but a couple months to sell Love on their situation.

Imagine what the offers will be at that point. Driven to get something, anything, for Love's exit, the Timberwolves would have to accept a below-market deal—one that lacks a balance of financial relief, future assets and established talent—so they aren't the ones left empty-handed.

What's the point of that?


The Ugly

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Different tunes would be sung if this relationship was salvageable. 

Except it's not. It's beyond repair. Love is going to leave next summer if he's still a member of the Timberwolves, ensuring they see nothing in exchange for laboring through a season fraught with rumors and speculation and uncertainty and confusion and utter chaos.

Distractions are an understated part of all this. Love has already bellowed the praises of different teams, leaving no doubt that his heart lies somewhere outside Minnesota. 

"I don’t think the Cleveland [trade rumors] are outlandish at all," he told The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre. "They have a great young foundation."

Insert another team into that statement. Any other team. That's blanketed diction. 

It wasn't a window into Love's soul, nor does it imply the Cavs are his team of choice. It's a sign, a clue—subtle confirmation that he won't surrender to Saunders' agenda quietly. And Saunders does have an agenda:

There's no point in the Timberwolves dealing with that sort of Love-said, reports-contend drama. They're still a rebuilding team. They haven't made the playoffs in a decade and disturbances like these are detrimental to team dynamics.

Speculation doesn't just affect Love, remember. Other players—throw-ins, financial collateral damage—will be tossed into the rumor mill, and then the Timberwolves are dealing with the psychological aspect such vagary creates. 

All the while they would be waiting, slow-playing the hell out of a soap opera that calls for urgency, hoping their risk-infested gambit pays dividends, fully aware there's a good chance it leaves them close to or actually empty-handed, lamenting months of dormancy.

Inaction that could have been avoided instead cost the Timberwolves an opportunity to make the most of a progressively ugly situation.



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