The Minnesota Timberwolves are well aware they don't have to trade Kevin Love unless they decide doing so is a good idea.
After all, Love is under contract through the end of the 2014-15 campaign, when he can opt out of his deal with the 'Wolves and hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. Minnesota has some leverage, as it can just wait until later in the season, when the trade deadline leads to more desperate offers and there's a chance—however slight—Love decides he actually wants to stick around.
The 'Wolves also don't actually risk losing him for nothing.
Keep in mind they're going to be getting back players in any trade for the All-Star power forward. Players are generally saddled with contracts, which means the 'Wolves are potentially losing financial flexibility by agreeing to take on any players, some of whom will likely have multi-year deals attached to them.
If Minnesota doesn't trade Love, it maximizes the amount of expiring money it has at its disposal, thereby doing the same to the cap room it enjoys in the summer of 2015, an offseason loaded with high-profile free agents.
Keeping that in mind, should the 'Wolves bite if the Cavs and Dubs make the best offers they realistically can?
Deal with the Warriors
Golden State has refused to include Klay Thompson in any package for Love's services throughout the offseason. Maybe. We think...
Lately, there's been nothing but conflicting reports about what the Bay Area front office is willing to do in order to land Love.
Mercury News' Tim Kawakami reports that the Warriors aren't including Thompson in any discussions:
Warriors source flatly denies a report that they are offering Klay Thompson to Minnesota. "It's not true," the source said minutes ago.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) July 18, 2014
However, Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports takes the opposite stance:
The Golden State Warriors recently included shooting guard Klay Thompson in trade talks for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star power forward Kevin Love, a source told Yahoo Sports.
The framework of the proposed deal is Love and shooting guard Kevin Martin to Golden State for Thompson and power forward David Lee, the source said.
'No deal is close,' a league source involved in the trade talks told Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. '[Pieces] change all the time.'
Let's go ahead and assume that Thompson is included, though. In fact, let's use the same framework that Yahoo's source suggests, adding in Corey Brewer and Harrison Barnes to sweeten the deal even further. That means the Dubs are receiving Love, Kevin Martin and Brewer for Thompson, David Lee and Barnes.
So, should Minnesota pull that trigger?
Thompson is quite a talent, coming off a season in which he averaged 18.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent beyond the arc. The 24-year-old has already established himself as one of the premier marksmen in the league, and that's a skill that will translate wherever he goes.
During the 2013-14 season, only three players throughout the Association managed to hit at least 40 percent of their downtown attempts while qualifying for the three-point crown and taking at least six per game, according to Basketball-Reference.com:
- Stephen Curry
- Klay Thompson
- Gerald Green
However, Thompson isn't just a sniper. The rest of his offensive game is still developing, but he's already established himself as a quality defender. Despite the lack of blocks and steals, he's become a player capable of settling down and taking on an impressive wing player throughout the duration of his time on the court.
Not only were the Warriors 2.3 points better per 100 possessions on defense with Thompson on the floor, as shown by Basketball-Reference.com, but 82games.com shows that he held opposing shooting guards to a player efficiency rating of only 12.4.
Amazingly, that was his least impressive mark against any position.
Thompson held the other team's point guards, small forwards and power forwards (where he played very sparingly) to respective PERs of 8.3, 10.5 and 12.2. He's become one of the more underrated perimeter defenders in the NBA.
Taking on Lee's contract—which runs through 2015-16—would be painful for Minnesota, but acquiring the services of a two-way player like Thompson and the lofty potential of Barnes would make up for that.
Deal with the Cavaliers
"The Cleveland Cavaliers have finally shown a willingness to put Andrew Wiggins in a trade for the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports," explains Jeff Zillgitt.
It's a report that has been confirmed by ESPN's Chris Broussard: "The Cleveland Cavaliers are now offering No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in attempts to trade for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love, league sources have confirmed."
All the while, Cavaliers head coach David Blatt has maintained that Wiggins is not going to be going anywhere.
"That's why they call them rumors," he said after a game against the Houston Rockets in Las Vegas, per Broussard. "Sooner or later, in one's career, you're going have to deal with it. So if he has to deal with it now, then so be it. It's the summer league. He's learning everything as he goes along."
Oh, and it gets more complicated:
Cavs G/F Andrew Wiggins has not been made available to Wolves or anyone, multiple league sources tell @CSNNW. They're not budging right now.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 19, 2014
Just as we did with the Warriors and Thompson, let's assume that Wiggins really is made available. How in the world could the 'Wolves turn down a chance to get their hands on a potentially transcendent prospect, one who has routinely flashed his upside during his Las Vegas Summer League outings?
They couldn't. Except they might have already.
"At one point, a trade seemed close to happening, but Minnesota wants more than the Cavaliers are currently offering, sources said," reported Broussard on Friday night. The current offer, according to his ESPN article, involved Cleveland parting with Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick.
What more could the Timberwolves want? Turning down any package including Wiggins is absurd, much less one that's also giving them two more assets with such high values.
Not only is a first-round pick—even a protected one—always intriguing, but Bennett has looked like a completely different player in Sin City. In addition to playing healthy and no longer dealing with the shoulder injury that plagued him during his rookie season, he appears to be in the best shape of his life, both physically and mentally.
Even though he had an awful first go-round in the Association, he was still a No. 1 pick and has plenty of upside.
Then there's Wiggins. The same Wiggins who did this in Vegas:
Love is already an All-Star and one of the 10 best players in the league. He's only 25 years old and may not have reached his ceiling yet, even if it seems unlikely he ever develops into a quality defender. However, he's only going to spend—at the most—one season in a Minnesota uniform before leaving.
Instead, the Cavs could turn him into one of the best prospects in recent memory.
Before the 2014 NBA draft on June 26, ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) ranked the Kansas product the No. 10 prospect of the last 15 years:
If Wiggins had left for the NBA straight after high school, he would've been four or five spots higher on this list. Blessed with elite athletic ability and size for his position, he came out of high school ranked as one of the best prospects ever. The less informed started calling him the next LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. While his comp was really closer to a Tracy McGrady or a Paul George, the hype surrounding Wiggins was enormous.
His performance at Kansas dinged his reputation. While he was dominant at times (especially toward the end of the season), too often he looked passive and didn't display the killer instinct that NBA teams covet in a prospect. Regardless, many scouts believe he is an elite prospect who could be a transcendent player once he refines his offensive game.
Wiggins may not have played in an official NBA game yet, but he's in possession of elite upside, upside that comes on both ends of the court. If the opportunity to get that talent on a Minnesota roster presents itself, turning the package down is nonsensical.
Not parting ways with Love when Wiggins, Bennett and a first-round pick are all on the table? Well, what's a stronger word that nonsensical?
Which Side Is Offering the Better Deal?
Essentially, this comes down to whether the 'Wolves value Thompson or Wiggins more.
Let's just forget about the supporting pieces, because that pushes things way too far in Cleveland's direction. Barnes' potential has been tempered by his failure to impress during the beginning of his NBA career, and Lee's on-court benefits are just about cancelled out by his egregious salary.
On the other hand, Bennett, as discussed earlier, is full of untapped potential, and a first-round pick is always intriguing.
However, let's keep it to Wiggins vs. Thompson.
And in that debate, Minnesota is inexplicably siding with the latter, per Joe Kotoch of ProBasketballDraft:
Not to burst Cavs fans bubble but if Warriors are willing to include Thompson that trumps Cavs. Wolves prefer Klay bc more ready per source.— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) July 18, 2014
Thompson's NBA readiness is pretty irrelevant here, though. What is Minnesota actually trying to compete for without Love? A finish closer to the playoffs without actually getting in?
This has to be considered a long-term move for the 'Wolves, not one that would enable them to stay moderately competitive right away. Sure, Thompson would increase their win total in 2014-15, but that shouldn't really matter for a team that keeps missing out on the playoffs season after season. Sometimes it's necessary to take a step backward in order to take a bigger one in the right direction.
"Thompson is a fine young player and a pure shooter, but his ceiling is laughably lower than Wiggins'," writes NESN.com's Ben Watanabe. "Plus, getting Thompson would also mean taking on David Lee’s oversized contract from Golden State in the deal. There is no rational argument for Thompson/Lee being a better haul than Wiggins/anybody for Love. None."
Additionally, Wiggins offers the 'Wolves an increased ability to build a strong team because he's operating on a rookie-scale contract for the next handful of years. Plus, he'd make basketball a huge draw in Minnesota for the first time in a while.
According to ESPN.com's attendance figures, only three teams in the NBA filled up a lower percentage of their home arena during the 2013-14 season. That's going to change if Wiggins is putting people in seats, something that Thompson won't do to the same extent. He's already signed a nine-figure deal with adidas, so there's no doubt how much of a draw he's going to be, regardless of which city he's playing in.
Just dive into this interactive graphic, and you can see exactly how much one player can make an impact. Look at LeBron James' impact on the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2003 to 2004, as home attendance spiked from 55.9 percent to 88.9 percent in one year. Even the 'Wolves experienced a big boost when Ricky Rubio came to town.
Thompson won't cause a spike; Wiggins will.
Whom should the 'Wolves favor?
There really shouldn't be a competition here, and if the report from Kotoch is accurate, it's likely just a smokescreen from the 'Wolves. After all, convincing the Cavs they're behind Golden State in the hunt for Love might lead to them increasing the value of their offer so they aren't outbid.
No disrespect intended, but Thompson isn't on the same level as Wiggins, at least not when considering the long-term future. Minnesota has to realize that before it's too late.