In other words, when the Timberwolves inevitably resign to trading Love, he could wind up on the Chicago Bulls.
After amnestying Carlos Boozer, signing Pau Gasol and bringing in Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls should be ready to roll, their rotation healthy, their roster polished. Only they may not be done making moves just yet, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst:
Sources say that the Bulls, though, have re-entered the race and would appear to be the biggest threat to the Cavs thanks largely to the Golden State Warriors' resolute unwillingness to add longtime Wolves target Klay Thompson in any deal.
Although the full extent of the Bulls' offer wasn't immediately known, it is believed Minnesota would seek a package from Chicago featuring forward Taj Gibson and defensive ace Jimmy Butler in addition to other assets. The Bulls shelved their Love interest while trying to sign Carmelo Anthony away from the New York Knicks but, according to sources, have re-emerged as contenders.
Love is a familiar target for the Bulls. ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan reported they made an offer for the double-double machine in June. Chad Ford of ESPN.com (subscription required) backed that up, revealing the Bulls baited Minnesota with a package built around Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and the No. 16 and 19 picks ahead of the NBA draft.
Focus inevitably shifted to Carmelo Anthony in free agency. When it was clear he was returning to the New York Knicks, the Bulls went after Gasol.
Trading for Love was an afterthought by this point. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the conversation. This side of the draft, both the Bulls and Timberwolves moved on.
But while interest and chatter waned, one thing never changed: If the Bulls want Love, they have the means to get him.
Assets on Assets
Do the Bulls actually want Love? Especially now?
Some are already calling foul on Chicago's purported interest. Acquiring Love made sense when Boozer was still on the roster and the Bulls were looking for additional bodies up front. Mirotic and Gasol give them those bodies, making their interest in Love questionable.
“I would like to know which side let that out,’’ a source told the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, essentially suggesting the latest chatter is some agenda-driven ploy.
And it very well could be.
Landing Love, even if it comes at the expense of Gibson, messes with Chicago's rotation. Gasol would have to come off the bench and Tom Thibodeau would be forced to stagger minutes up front. Love cannot play small forward. It would be a defensive nightmare.
This is similar to the problem Chicago is facing now. Gibson, Gasol and Joakim Noah cannot share the floor for long stretches at a time. Someone has to come off the bench, and it's going to be Gibson. But that's an easy fix because he's been a career reserve.
Selling the 34-year-old Gasol on bench duty figures to be harder. He already accepted an annual eight-figure pay cut. Though his minutes must be monitored, will he really accept a diminished role?
Yet, despite skepticism, there is no doubting Chicago's assets. If the Bulls want to become major players in the Love sweepstakes, they can. It's that simple.
Waiting this long didn't impede their offer. If anything, it helped.
Snell's stock is through the roof after a strong summer league performance, as is rookie Doug McDermott's. Mystery continues to surround the sweet-shooting Mirotic, which is part of the intrigue. And there's Gibson, who exploded during the playoffs and earned Sixth Man of the Year consideration.
Jimmy Butler also holds serious value. He's not necessarily expendable, but he is eligible for an extension. With the prospect of paying him top dollar to stick around beyond next season looming large, the Bulls can make him available as well.
Building a proposal around some combination of Butler, Snell, Gibson, Mirotic and McDermott—the latter two cannot be traded for 30 days—and a future first-round pick gives the Bulls an offer that rivals or exceeds those of their competitors, per CBS Sports' Matt Moore:
The Bulls have the players, space, and future assets to make a major push for Love, better than the Warriors, even if they relented on their ridiculous insistence to not include Klay Thompson in the deal. A package including two No. 1 overall picks from Cleveland is still superior to what Chicago can offer.
The only team that can theoretically offer more is the Cleveland Cavaliers, provided they've made Andrew Wiggins available. Chris Broussard of ESPN.com alleges the Cavs are willing to part with him, but The Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski says differently:
Andrew Wiggins has not been offered for Kevin Love. Klay Thompson has not been offered for Kevin Love. This is where things stand.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) July 18, 2014
Even if Wiggins isn't untouchable, though, the Bulls are tracking toward a unique opportunity.
Position of Power
A person familiar with negotiations told The Associated Press (via USA Today) that Wiggins will sign his rookie deal with the Cavaliers. Upon putting pen to paper, he cannot be dealt for 30 days.
Inking his rookie pact won't stop the rumors or disqualify Cleveland from negotiations, but it does devalue the Cavs' immediate bargaining power while paving the way for other suitors, giving them one month of near-worry-free breathing room.
Although the Bulls face similar obstacles with Mirotic and McDermott, they, unlike the Cavaliers, have enough pieces on their own to work around them. The temporary unavailability of Mirotic and McDermott won't impact them the way Wiggins' 30-day moratorium affects Cleveland.
Not for 30 days, no. Wouldn't be a nice thing to do even then. RT @MinistryofBball can trade Mirotic if they sign him?— Mark Deeks (@MarkDeeksNBA) July 4, 2014
Moving forward with some combination of Gibson, Snell, Butler and picks is enough to peak Minnesota's interest. Mike Dunleavy may have to be included to make salaries match, and the Bulls cannot absorb numerous—or even one—bad contracts from the Timberwolves, but said offer would be founded upon something other than salary-cap relief.
This is a stay-competitive offer the Bulls would be peddling. Given their infatuation with Klay Thompson, that appears to be what the Timberwolves are looking for:
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
Hitting reset is the smart play in Minnesota. But if the Timberwolves are hellbent on receiving players who can make an impact now, Butler and Gibson fit the bill better than Wiggins and anyone else—Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, etc.—the Cavaliers are packaging.
GMs would feel so lucky to get the No. 1 pick for an unhappy, leaving star, but this is the rare GM who also coaches the team— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) July 23, 2014
On the off chance our assumptions of Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders are wrong, there's still reason to doubt the Cavs factor, even after their latest nonguaranteed-contract-hoarding binge:
In Murphy, Lucas and Thomas, Cavs get three non-guaranteed contracts to facilitate trades -- or a trade. Another step toward Kevin Love.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 22, 2014
If the Timberwolves are actually smitten over Wiggins, and the Cavaliers are actually using him as bait, this deal would be done or feel inevitable. It's not; it doesn't. So either the Cavs aren't offering Wiggins or the Wolves want more established players.
In any case, once Wiggins signs his deal, Golden State becomes Chicago's greatest threat.
The Dubs are only a serious Love contender if Thompson is involved, and to this point they remain steadfast in their refusal to include him:
On Love/Klay, @ThompsonScribe said it best: GSWs decided the potential value upgrade from DLee to Love wasn't worth giving up Klay T.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) July 22, 2014
Which teams are left after them? The Denver Nuggets? Maybe. The Boston Celtics? Possibly. Superstars like Love draw attention. There will be other suitors—just not ones who can give the Timberwolves what Chicago can.
If They Have Interest, They Have the Means
All this, in a way, puts the onus on the Bulls.
This isn't an issue of them having enough to become relevant admirers. It's about them being willing to flaunt what they've got, to take a chance on Love.
Are the Bulls legitimate threats in the Kevin Love sweepstakes?
"Everyone looks at all the possibilities," Thibs said of the NBA's offseason, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. "Everyone is trying to improve their team, so it makes it interesting. But the important thing is that you also have to look at the guys that you do have."
Days removed from putting (what was thought to be) the finishing touches on a contender, are the Bulls actually willing, actually interested in making another splash? That remains unclear. But if they want to try, they can. If they want to try, they stand as good a chance as anyone else at being successful.
That is, in the scheme of which teams to watch out for, what matters most.