With the Kevin Love era over, the Minnesota Timberwolves may not be very good in 2014-15, but they will certainly be entertaining to watch.
OK, so the All-Star power forward is still technically a member of the T-Wolves, but as Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Aug. 7, a trade is in place to send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for the last two No. 1 picks, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett:
Sources: Cavs have agreement for Kevin Love, including long-term contract commitment. Wiggins, Bennett, pick to Minn. http://t.co/r2KmO5owwY— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 7, 2014
It will become official Aug. 23, a month after Wiggins signed his rookie contract, and since Woj can do no wrong, we'll operate under the belief that Love is no longer a part of this team.
Losing the double-double machine hurts. There's no arguing that. As Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney detailed, trading a player of Love's caliber rarely works in the favor of the team on Minnesota's end:
Alas, the T-Wolves already had a very nice young core in place, and bringing in Wiggins, an explosive potential game-changer on both ends of the floor, and Bennett, a nice buy-low candidate after his atrocious rookie campaign, can only improve a very bright future.
Bleacher Report's Greg Swartz gave his thoughts on Minnesota's new tandem:
Best of luck to @22wiggins. Was nothing but class. Anthony Bennett will surprise people, been working hard to get in shape.— Greg Swartz (@CavsGregBR) August 7, 2014
Wins may be difficult to come by at first, but can we for a second just acknowledge how ridiculously fun it is going to be to watch this team?
Last season, they averaged the fourth-fastest pace in the NBA, per NBA.com. There's a new coach in Flip Saunders, but with the Wolves' unbelievably athletic backcourt, they would be wise to get into transition as much as possible. With Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Wiggins, it's going to be Showtime North.
There will be no trio more exciting to watch over the next five years.
Rubio is an elite passer, while LaVine and Wiggins are already two of the best athletic specimens in the league. CBS Sports' Matt Moore applauded the selection of the former during June's draft:
Timberwolves: Zach LaVine: A-Raw, but can get above the rim and is extremely versatile. As he develops,coud become the face of the franchise— Matt Moore CBS (@MattMooreCBS) June 27, 2014
The learning curve might be a bit steep, but at the core of this roster is a group of young, talented players who have the look of burgeoning stars. At the very least, the Wolves are going to be well worth your time and money on NBA League Pass.
You can find their full 2014-15 schedule here, courtesy of NBA.com.
Vegas doesn't like Minnesota's chances without Love. According to Odds Shark, the T-Wolves are 150-1 long shots to win the NBA title.
That's the 13th-longest odds in the Western Conference for a team that finished 10th in the standings a season ago.
Cleveland Cavaliers (At home)
When: January 31, 8 p.m. ET
Timberwolves fans will have an interesting decision when Love returns to the Twin Cities for the first time in a new uniform.
Do they cheer him? He has served as the team's best player for much of the past six seasons, averaging 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds over 364 games. The T-Wolves didn't make the postseason during his time there, but it's a little frightening to imagine what they would have looked like if he wasn't around.
Do they boo him? Love made it abundantly clear he wasn't willing to return once his contract expired, essentially forcing Minnesota's hand and moving the franchise down the pedestal in the West, at least for now.
Either way, it's going to be a tense reunion.
When: November 15, 8:30 p.m. ET
This was very quietly one of the best rivalries of the past season. The T-Wolves took three out of four against the Mavericks, with each contest being decided by eight points or fewer.
The best of the bunch came in March with both teams fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the West. Dallas ended regulation on a 19-6 run to force overtime, but a jump hook from Love with 17 seconds remaining propelled the Wolves to a scintillating 123-122 victory.
With Love's departure, the teams have moved in opposite directions this summer. The Mavs have done their best to make improvements, adding Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton.
Still, while the competitive balance may not be at the same level, these teams proved last year that when they are on the court together, you better make sure you watch.
When: November 21, 8 p.m. ET
While the Cavaliers are the most popular championship pick, at least according to the oddsmakers, the NBA title still runs through the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio has kept its roster pretty much the same from last year. Tim Duncan exercised his option, free agents Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner re-signed, and the Spurs stole point-forward Kyle Anderson at the end of the first round in the 2014 draft.
With the addition of Anderson, who fits San Antonio like a puzzle piece, Duncan and Tony Parker continuing to produce well into their 80s and Kawhi Leonard likely building off his Finals MVP performance, it's not a stretch to say the Spurs will be better in 2014-15. Considering they just dismantled LeBron James and the Heat in one of the most dominant Finals showings in recent memory, that's a scary thought.
It's been quiet, but the Spurs have enjoyed a tremendous offseason, as Quixem Ramirez noted:
Spurs won title, re-signed Patty/Boris, Pop extension, LeBron left, Bosh doesn't go to Houston. Couldn't have scripted it any better.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) July 11, 2014
It's undoubtedly the biggest test of the season, but it's one the T-Wolves have passed as of late. Last season, they beat the Spurs by 19 at the Target Center in April and let an eight-point fourth-quarter lead slip away in December. Over the past three years, they have split 10 games against San Antonio.
Despite the difference in expected win totals, these matchups are seemingly always close.
A repeat of last season's 40 wins is unattainable without Love, but this is still a very intriguing team.
How many games will Minnesota win in 2014-15?
The T-Wolves have a couple of soon-to-be stars in Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, while Gorgui Dieng was tremendous down the stretch last year. Throw in Wiggins, whose ceiling is an MVP candidate, LaVine and Bennett, who have the talent to turn into legitimate starters, and Glenn Robinson III and Shabazz Muhammad, who can develop into role players, and there's a lot to like in Minnesota.
While the present is cloudy—it's difficult to win in this league with so much youth—the future is blindingly bright.