Kevin Love Saga Puts Timberwolves at Yet Another Franchise Crossroads

D.J. FosterContributor IJuly 24, 2014

Apr 13, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) runs up the court after scoring against the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-103. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

It's not very often a team is faced with the most important decision in their history, but that's exactly the case for the Minnesota Timberwolves when it comes to star forward Kevin Love.

For storied franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics, it's nearly impossible for them to do anything that would rank among the most important moves made.

That's not the case for the Timberwolves, though. No championship banners hang in their arena, and there is no rich history of dominance. For the most part, since their inception in 1990, Minnesota has maintained mediocrity, popping up on the NBA radar only when an elite talent like Kevin Garnett dragged them there.

That's the scariest thing about trading Love now. Minnesota has traversed the NBA path without a true star in the post-Garnett era, and they've seen how difficult it can be. Trading Love, even if it seems all but necessary at this point, might mean signing up for another decade of searching for a talent on his level. 

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 14: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots a free throw against the Golden State Warriors on April 14, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Here's Marc Stein at with more on the hesitation to move Love:

Wolves owner Glen Taylor insisted again last week that he wanted to keep Love and that Minnesota is prepared to open the season with Love on the roster. But sources say numerous rival teams think that Minnesota will ultimately part with Love before the start of the new season, given the extremely public nature of Love's unwillingness to commit to the Wolves beyond this season.

The good news here is that Minnesota won't be left out in the cold, so to speak, unless they choose that path. There will be many suitors for Love, both now and at the trade deadline, so the focus now is about maximizing the return. 

The question is, will Minnesota's past experience with the Kevin Garnett trade paint their future with the Kevin Love deal?

The Timberwolves truly did receive a great haul of assets in that deal, including a young promising star in Al Jefferson, draft picks and young players that were recent first-round picks, but we all know how that played out.

The draft picks, of course, were bungled. The young players didn't amount to anything. Jefferson turned into an All-Star-caliber player, but not before he was dealt away.

Even though that trade was nearly 10 years ago, the names in Minnesota's organization are familiar ones. Flip Saunders, who coached Garnett, is the head coach, general manager and team president now. Glen Taylor is still the owner. They remember what the Garnett trade did.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 30:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics grabs Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the game on March 30, 2012 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

With that in mind, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Minnesota covet more established talent in a trade for Love. And that's the crossroads the franchise is at. Will they go after high-ceiling assets like future first-round picks and young players, or will they take an offer consisting of more proven entities? It doesn't have to be an either/or situation, but it will be telling which way the Timberwolves lean.

While it's always scary when the head coach also controls so much of the front-office decision-making process, the patience exercised thus far can only be viewed as a good omen. Here's Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

The Timberwolves have told teams exactly what they want for Love, and they won't make a deal until they get just that — be it Klay Thompson from Golden State or No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins from Cleveland. Right now, the Timberwolves have leverage, and are using it.

With multiple bidders in the race, the Timberwolves can afford to put a high price tag on Love. Given the type of talent they'd be giving up, they basically can't afford not to hold out and squeeze every last asset they can in a deal. 

But what will the Timberwolves look like without Love? Nikola Pekovic is still on contract and is one of the best post scorers in basketball, and Ricky Rubio should be locked up long-term. If the Timberwolves fill in the blanks correctly around them, they could contend for the playoffs.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Kevin Martin #23, Corey Brewer #13, Ricky Rubio #9, Kevin Love #42, and Nikola Pekovic #14 of the Minnesota Timberwolves walk on court during the game against the New York Knicks on November 3, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

For what it's worth, that's something the Timberwolves were never able to do with Love. Even with that being the case, current success probably shouldn't be placed over the outlook for the future. Teams without true stars generally don't make much noise in the playoffs, and neither Rubio, Pekovic or any veteran player the Timberwolves would receive in a deal will likely qualify.

But again, the Wolves can't really do much of anything other than try to land a deal that will give them every opportunity to be a championship-quality team down the line. Love could have been a part of that, but those days are almost certainly over. 

Here's what Kevin Love told earlier this offseason:

In his last public comments on his future with the Timberwolves on June 11, Love stopped short of confirming that he's determined to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.

"My agent is handling everything at this point. ... I'm hoping that everything works out for all parties involved," Love said.

There's just too much at risk for Minnesota to foolishly believe that a season of even unexpected success would keep Love around. The future of the franchise depends on what comes in the return for Love, and that simply can't be nothing.

As unpleasant as it might be, Minnesota knows what they have to do.

There's no player who can replace the production that Love brought, but there are assets who can provide the franchise with the same, if not better, potential for a brighter future.