People have always been enraptured by the unknown. Being mysterious is seen as sexy. What we don't have is always more alluring than what's waiting at our own doorstep.
Our entire sense of being is kept going by desire and hope. That there's a better job. That there's a better love. That someday we'll be the lucky dolt on the news with a winning lottery ticket.
I bring hope and human nature up only because it is the only logical way to explain why Kevin Love is still, as of publication, a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Love is a 25-year-old three-time All-Star who was a second-team All-NBA selection last season. Whether by box score stats, the deepest advanced metrics or the plain old eye test, Love is one of the five or six best players in basketball. He finished third in win shares, 11th in real plus/minus and was one of two members of Minnesota's roster to rank among the 10 best players at their respective position—Nikola Pekovic being the other.
What Love lacks defensively—he and Pekovic were the NBA's worst rim-protecting duo, per SportVU data—he makes up for as the league's best offensive big man. He became the first player since the ABA-NBA merger to score 26 points, grab 12 rebounds and average four assists per game last season. He's at once a 37.6 percent shooter from three-point range and the NBA's third-leading rebounder.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Love ranks in the 93rd percentile in points per possession. The video scouting service breaks down plays into 11 different categories. Love ranks in the 72nd percentile or better in all but one (isolations). The only legitimate argument against Love being the NBA's best power forward is if you consider LeBron James a 4. That's it.
Love is also readily available for trade. He's told Timberwolves management, specifically head coach and president Flip Saunders, that he will opt of his contract next summer and has no desire to work on a long-term extension in Minnesota. Love has a player option in his contract for 2015-16, thanks to the brilliant handiwork of former general manager David Kahn, and plans to use it to extradite himself from this playoff-less abyss.
Thanks to his upcoming free agency, Love also has a stranglehold on his trade market. No team will give up major assets without assurances that Love will sign a long-term deal this summer—or at the very least give them an upper hand. All Love has to do is leak it through back channels that he has no plans to play with a certain suitor long-term, and poof. They're gone.
The leaks and strong-arming have left the Timberwolves with two potential choices: Cleveland and Golden State.
On the surface, both teams have the assets in place for a blockbuster. The Warriors have promising young players in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. They also have David Lee, who would give Minnesota 70 percent of Love's production while allowing Saunders to compete for a low playoff seed in the Western Conference.
The Cavaliers have enough assets to make two Kevin Love trades. They have the last two No. 1 overall picks in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. They have a promising young power forward in Tristan Thompson. Dion Waiters, a wild-shooting knucklehead whose body language rarely gets cheerier than "mildly perturbed," is a starter on the Needs a Change of Scenery All-Stars.
Cleveland also has all of its first-round picks and ones coming from Memphis and Miami from past trades.
Yet the Cavs and Warriors are determined to play this weird game of asset chicken.
For reasons that defy logic, Golden State has refused to include Thompson in trade discussions. ESPN's Marc Stein has consistently pointed to Thompson as the remaining point of contention. Everything else—Love, Kevin Martin to Golden State and Lee, Barnes/Thompson and some other asset to Minnesota—seems to be in place. The deal is one separation of the Splash Brothers away from being complete.
The Cavs don't have to do any of that. They have the trump card. Dangle Wiggins, the most hyped prep prospect since returned prodigal son LeBron James, and Saunders would take a two-for-one coupon at Sizzler to make the cap numbers work.
Bennett's trade value is at its nadir after perhaps the worst rookie season for a No. 1 pick ever, and neither Waiters nor Thompson are talented enough to be the principal return.
Wiggins? Wiggins gets it done.
And yet there are conflicting reports on whether Cleveland is willing to take the plunge. Bob Finnan of The News-Herald reported Wiggins has been made available at the behest of James, who wants Love to team with him in Cleveland. That runs contrary to numerous published reports and the word of Cavs head coach David Blatt.
"There's no reason for worry on his part because Andrew's not going anywhere as far as I know," Cavs coach David Blatt told reporters Saturday.
Only one question comes to mind: Why?
Why on earth would the Warriors not part with Thompson, a good two-way player who won't come close to Love's echelon even at his career apex? And why wouldn't the Cavaliers add Wiggins, who is a decade LeBron's junior and unlikely to be a difference-maker until James is grasping at the last threads of his prime? Has no one taken the six seconds necessary to look at the championship door waiting to be Sweet Chin Music'd down?
The answer is rooted in our human nature. We know who Love is as a player at this point. He's probably never going to have a year that statistically matches his 2013-14 campaign. It was historical for a reason. The Dubs and Cavs also know Love keeps a home in Los Angeles and that market is always going to have an appeal. They know acquiring Love necessitates keeping an elite rim protector forever. They can map out Love's career path in their head.
Thompson and Wiggins are (relative) unknowns. Thompson is a career 41 percent shooter from three-point range who has increased his scoring each of his three NBA seasons and worked his tail off to become a good perimeter defender. Given the dearth of quality shooting guards around the league, Thompson might be two seasons away from being the best two-way player at his position.
Wiggins is all potential. We have no earthly idea how good he'll be—except his ceiling is on that same generational plane as Anthony Davis. He's a dunk contest champion waiting to happen, a smart and agile perimeter defender and the type of talent who could become the Simba to LeBron's Rafiki.
Notice the verbs. Could. Might. The implication is that Thompson and Wiggins might, maybe, could be, someday, if this happens or that happens, be one of the NBA's best players. They're striving for something that Love—who at age 25 is just over a year older than Thompson—already is.
Even the semi-logical arguments against a Love trade hold little water. For the Cavs, adding Love does not solve their need for interior defense and puts a greater onus on LeBron to defend the opposing team's best player every night. A major check in Wiggins' box is that he's going to be a very good perimeter defender from his opening night.
But how many times do we have to hear the greatest lesson in basketball—put talented players together and they'll figure it out—before someone starts heeding it?
LeBron, Wade and Bosh seemed like an awkward fit when they came together. They made it work. Kyrie Irving, LeBron and Love give the Cavaliers an offense-first core, but it gives them three of the 20 best offensive players in basketball. Smart teams know their weaknesses and fill around the margins. And one of the NBA's greatest pastimes is players taking a pay cut to play with LeBron.
One caveat: If the Warriors or Cavs can finagle a Love trade without Thompson or Wiggins, well, duh. Do it. The argument for attempting to keep Thompson or Wiggins out of a potential Love trade is the same reason you eventually have to relent. It's always better to have the greatest number of good basketball players on the same team. (Again, duh.)
But Saunders knows he has time. The Dwight Howard trade didn't go down until mid-August. The Thunder unloaded James Harden right before the season started. As this process drags itself out, the Wolves' power only increases.
Love doesn't want to float through another lame-duck season in Minnesota, and his camp is going to start applying pressure. So will players involved with these talks who want to get on with their damn summer.
It's all a waiting game to see which team blinks first. Just know the one that doesn't will regret it.
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