Now, it's easy to dismiss such notions as so much sources-say cynicism. After all, this wouldn't be the first or the last time an agent or team representative has leaked information with the explicit intent of shifting the stakes and upping the ante.
But if the Nuggets truly are poised to orchestrate a trade for Love, they should do it without so much as a second’s hesitancy—even if it means losing him sooner than later.
The first step, of course, is actually landing him. On this front, Denver has stiff competition indeed, with the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls (per ESPN’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst) all strongly in the hunt for the 25-year old forward’s services.
According to a recent report by Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, the Bulls have offered Minnesota Taj Gibson, rookie Doug McDermott and foreign prospect Nikola Mirotic, easily trumping a proposed package from Cleveland centered around recent No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
If Denver has any chance of leapfrogging the Cavs and Bulls, it’ll have to pay handsomely.
That package, coupled with a smattering of draft picks or cash considerations, might be enough to get the deal done.
At that point, the focus immediately shifts to what could prove an even tougher row to hoe: convincing Love to stick around.
By giving up so many assets just to acquire the three-time NBA All-Star, Denver’s odds of wreaking postseason havoc would, almost by necessity, take a big hit. If the Nuggets bowed out in the first round or—worse still—missed the playoffs altogether, you can bet Love wouldn’t be long for the Mile High City.
"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win," Love told ESPN’s SportsNation back in June (via ESPN.com). "At the end of the day, I've played six years, haven't made the playoffs yet, that burns me and hurts my heart, so I really want to be playing."
That might sound like boilerplate public-relations speak. But if you’re Denver—or Minnesota, for that matter—the onus is clear: Unless you surround me with winning pieces, I’m gone.
Still, if the Nuggets somehow succeed in their dark-horse coup, even given the resulting dearth of assets, they boast more than enough talent to at least crack the Western Conference playoff fold.
A starting lineup of Ty Lawson, Randy Foye (or rookie Gary Harris), Danilo Gallinari, Love and JaVale McGee isn’t going to shatter single-season win records. What it would do, however, is give Love his first taste of the postseason.
Then you just have to hope he’s hooked.
Assuming the Nuggets extend a max offer sheet to Love next summer, that would leave roughly $10 million in cap space, plus whatever exceptions might be available—and that’s assuming they renounce the team options of both Foye and Timofey Mozgov.
Needless to say, finding a championship piece for $10 million a year is highly unlikely.
Essentially, Denver would be banking on one of three things coming to pass: The Nuggets enjoy significant next-level leaps from some of their young players; they somehow parlay some of their existing pieces or their remaining cap space into a top-tier player; or Love simply loves the city enough to be part of the team’s long-term plans.
But what if the Nuggets don’t intend to keep Love to begin with? Indeed, it’s not difficult to imagine a situation where Love’s value actually increased between now and the February trade deadline. As such, it’s conceivable Denver could use Love to acquire more assets—in particular, draft picks—than it might have for the individual assets it used to first acquire him.
Unfortunately for the above-mentioned suitors, this logic applies most readily to the Wolves themselves. From The Washington Post’s Thomas Johnson:
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is still maintaining that he wants Love to stay put. The Cavaliers can trump just about any offer with their assets, so with that in mind, why not wait until the trade deadline to see what the uber-athletic Wiggins can offer? Then again, with GM LeBron running the show, that might not be an option
For the Timberwolves, there is no rush. They should use the first half of the season to form their own conclusions about Wiggins and hope they get off to a strong start like Portland last season. Meanwhile, if the Cavaliers face any early season adversity, it would only increase Minnesota’s leverage.
Unlike with the Cavs, with whom Love has said through a source (via ESPN’s Chris Broussard) that he would indeed re-sign at the end of next season, the Bulls, Warriors and Nuggets have yet to be given similar shrift.
No matter if you’re the Nuggets. Pull the trigger anyway.
The roster, as it stands, is something of a mess, with a relative dearth of guards (Lawson's excellence notwithstanding) and a glut of small forwards making for an awkward triangle fit under second-year coach Brian Shaw.
Still, for as much as Love would jolt the recently moribund franchise, Denver must view landing the gifted forward as a means rather than an end in itself. After all, in basketball as in life, it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.
With a roster custom-built for Western Conference mediocrity, the Nuggets could certainly use a player of Love’s quantum caliber—even if it means dealing him to hasten a much-needed rebuild.