Timberwolves Must Face Reality, Trade Kevin Love Before Market Dries Up

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 14, 2014

Getty Images

With every passing second, it gets harder to understand why Kevin Love is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Way back in May, Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reported: "Love’s people reiterated to the Timberwolves this past week that they had better trade him or else he’ll leave via free agency when his contract is up after next season."

And since then, Love has done little to squash talk of his desire to escape Minnesota, even offering up one of the least convincing acts of diplomacy in memory on ESPN's SportsNation in June.

"Uh, you know, my agent is handling everything at this point,” he said. “I’m hoping that everything works out for all parties involved," Love said when pressed. "No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win."

He said that, mind you, while still technically under contract with Minnesota.

Despite the reality of Love's impending exit, the Wolves have yet to budge. And as painful as the prospect of trading away the organization's best player may be, further delay will only do more damage to the team. Not just because Minnesota is now flirting with the possibility of bringing Love back for what would undoubtedly be a dysfunctional disaster of a year, but also because as the Wolves hem and haw and hold out hope, the rest of the West is only growing heartier.

Free agency has strengthened the teams that finished ahead of Minnesota last year, bringing Trevor Ariza and flexibility to the Houston Rockets, Shaun Livingston to the Golden State Warriors and Isaiah Thomas to the Phoenix Suns.

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 16:  Isaiah Thomas #22 of the Sacramento Kings shoots the ball against the Phoenix Suns at Sleep Train Arena on April 16, 2014 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

That means a Wolves team that missed the playoffs last year will likely head into this one with an even worse shot at the postseason. Who is Minnesota leaping over in the West now?

The Dallas Mavericks, bolstered by the additions of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler? No way.

The Memphis Grizzlies, with a healthy Marc Gasol and the team's core totally intact? Don't count on it.

If anything, the up-and-coming Suns will be the playoff spectator most likely to crash the party in 2015—not the Wolves.

The point is, Minnesota can't realistically believe, no matter what positive signs its point differential provided last year (seventh in the West, per ESPN.com), that it's in a position to play well enough to convince Love to stay.

That seems to be the plan at the moment, though, and it's one that worked for the Portland Trail Blazers with LaMarcus Aldridge last season. Enough in-season success can make stars reconsider their exit strategies.

May 10, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) looks up during pre game introductions in game three of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Cr

But the circumstances in Portland were different. Aldridge was merely halfway out the door; Love is already down the block.

So far, the Timberwolves have been resistant to trade offers from Love suitors because they haven't been satisfied with the proposed return. They've held out on a deal with Golden State because they've got their eye on Klay Thompson, someone the Dubs haven't yet felt compelled to part with:

And a potential deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers has yet to strike Minnesota's fancy:

The Timberwolves, lacking leverage and running out of time, have so far refused to settle.

This raises a question every member of Minnesota's front office should be asking themselves right about now: How do we feel about losing Love for absolutely nothing?

That's what's going to happen if the Wolves don't act. Whatever small advantage they once had is eroding as the summer of 2015 approaches, when Love will almost certainly make good on his initial promise to skip town.

The Timberwolves' dwindling trade partners know this, which is why Minnesota must strike now—even if it only gets 50 cents on the dollar. The alternative is basically setting those dollars on fire.

The common fallback argument here espouses the value of the cap space the Timberwolves would accrue by playing the waiting game as long as possible before letting Love go. But how exactly does that whole "cap space" scenario typically work out for Minnesota?

I'm struggling to remember a single big-time free agent who has even considered taking the Timberwolves' money—probably because there haven't been any. Minnesota has to draft its stars, eventually retaining them by offering overly generous extensions, a la Ricky Rubio.

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Of course, even when they take that approach, the Wolves don't always get great results. The current situation with Love is a pretty good example of that.

So, if the Timberwolves can only pry Harrison Barnes, David Lee and a future first-round pick from the Warriors, they should pull the trigger immediately. Thompson would be the better get, but Golden State understands how little control Minnesota has over this situation, and it has no reason to sweeten its offer.

As an aside, the Warriors would have been crazy to allow Thompson's inclusion to derail this deal a few weeks ago, and that's basically still the case now. But as the Timberwolves come to grips with their increasingly desperate situation, the Dubs might soon have Minnesota over a barrel.

The Timberwolves need to start fresh and get assets while the getting's good. Well, actually, the getting's been bad for a while now, and they've got their own hesitation to thank for that. But the point is this: Minnesota needs to get something for Love.

And time is running out.