5 NBA Teams That Could Sneak into Kevin Love Trade Sweepstakes

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 28, 2014

5 NBA Teams That Could Sneak into Kevin Love Trade Sweepstakes

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    Multiple clocks are ticking on the Kevin Love trade front, which seems unofficially officially whittled down to a two-team race.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves, Love's current employer, still have options, but keeping the double-double machine around past next summer—when he's expected to opt out of his current contracthas lost its pipe-dream status.

    "The All-Star forward is adamant about leaving, either by forcing a trade or on his own," wrote Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "For a variety of reasons, there is no chance he will change his mind."

    That's music to the ears of Love's suitors, a group that now may only include the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst that the Cavaliers "remain the front-runner" for Love, while the Bulls were named Cleveland's "main current threat."

    As likely as it seems that Love will wind up with either of these two Eastern Conference giants, this latest news should serve as a slight source of hope for the dark horses in this race. NBA rules prevent both the Cavaliers (Andrew Wiggins) and Bulls (Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic) from dealing their biggest trade chips until 30 days after the prospects signed their rookie contracts.

    As the ESPN analysts noted, this waiting period "would appear to give other suitors a window to put together an offer that could trump" those currently sitting on Minnesota's table.

    In other words, this delay could open the door for those teams that were voluntarily or forcibly removed from this race. It could also bring new bidders to the auction, giving a handful of teams hope to sneak into this sweepstakes.

Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics aren't new to this race. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that Boston found itself at or near the front of this pack.

    Around the same time that word leaked of Love getting restless in Minnesota, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski called the Celtics "an increasingly intriguing destination" for Love. "The Celtics believe they can sell Love on becoming the next big Celtics star, and all the adulation that comes with that for a franchise that has won 17 NBA championships," Wojnarowski wrote.

    When Love made a surprise appearance in Boston shortly thereafter, some wondered whether it was a simple vacation or an unofficial recruiting trip.

    The talk of Love as a future Celtic has quieted considerably since. The only things being said on the topic now are far from optimistic.

    As league sources told Comcast SportsNet's A. Sherrod Blakely, "There's no waiving of the white flag just yet, but the Boston Celtics appear ready to move on from their pursuit of Minnesota star Kevin Love."

    Still, there's a chance this window of opportunity changes the Celtics' course once again. Their mountain of future draft picks hasn't gotten any smaller, and their collection of prospects expanded on draft night (Marcus Smart, James Young).

    If Love saw something he liked during his visit, maybe there's a way for him to help Boston back near the front of this race. Still searching for a quick-fix solution to their rebuilding project, the Celtics could use these coming weeks to make one final run at the league's quintessential stretch 4.

Charlotte Hornets

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    The Charlotte Hornets can't satisfy Kevin Love's appetite for being a big-city star.

    However, they could make a convincing argument that they're positioned to help him experience the kind of winning he's craved for years.

    With a pair of playmakers on the perimeter (Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson) and a steady source of low-post production (Al Jefferson), the Hornets have the pieces to make Love's on-court life easier.

    They don't have an Andrew Wiggins to tantalize the Timberwolves, but they could form a trade package offering both quantity and quality. Charlotte could dangle a long-term replacement at the 4 with either sophomore Cody Zeller or rookie Noah Vonleh, while giving Wolves president-coach Flip Saunders some win-now relief on the wing in the form of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Gerald Henderson.

    Following last season's 43-win performance, the Hornets are chasing the same thing as Love: sustainable postseason success. Owner Michael Jordan said earlier this summer he's hoping to "attract some other superstar" after guessing right on Jefferson last year, via Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, and Love would certainly scratch that itch.

    The Hornets have some obvious hurdles to clear—convincing Love to spend his future in a smaller market, fielding a comparable offer to those already sitting on Saunders' desk—but the potential reward makes it well worth the risk.

    With so much to win and so little to lose, the Hornets have to at least make the effort.

Denver Nuggets

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    Whenever the Wolves decide to part with Love, they'll need something (or somethings) to excite their fanbase.

    Denver Nuggets mile-a-minute power forward Kenneth Faried is not the most talented player tied to these talks, but he definitely fills the excitement criteria. The 24-year-old lives above the rim, either wreaking havoc on the glass (career 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, via Basketball-Reference.com) or dazzling fans with his finesse-plus-ferocity finishes.

    Faried isn't a cornerstone, but he could be a piece of Minnesota's puzzle. That ability to make an immediate impact forms the crux of Denver's potential trade package.

    According to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, the Nuggets have offered a combination of Faried, Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo. While none of the three really moves the needle for Minnesota, collectively they could give Saunders something to work with from day one.

    If the Wolves believe they have their franchise player in Ricky Rubio, they could be intrigued by offers that surround the flashy point guard with complementary players. All three of these players like to run, and all three are capable of playing disruptive defense, which could be the theme of a Rubio-led team.

    Wojnarowski called the Nuggets "a strong contender for Love" just last week, so there seems to be some interest on Minnesota's side. Whether Love would share that interest remains unclear, but the Nuggets would have a full season to convince him to stay.

    "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," wrote Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan. "What it would do, however, is give Love his first taste of the postseason."

    If Love makes this a basketball decision, the Nuggets have enough help to warrant some consideration.

Golden State Warriors

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    There's a chance the Love Train has already passed the Golden State Warriors by.

    For the longest time, it seemed like the Warriors held the trump card in rising swingman Klay Thompson. Sources told Stein earlier this month that a trade "would have been clinched by now" had the Warriors been willing to part with Thompson.

    To date, they haven't been. This late into the proceedings, it's possible that stance will never change.

    "They've made a decision, at least it seems like they have, that Klay is an investment they don't want to give up," Stephen Curry told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. "That speaks volumes to what he has been able to do in his career and his potential."

    Curry could be right, or perhaps the Warriors' brass haven't found a Love trade to their liking yet. If Minnesota hopes to shed a weighty contract in the process (Kevin Martin or J.J. Barea), maybe that's the reason nothing has moved on this front.

    Or maybe the Warriors are hoping they'll somehow stumble on a deal for Love that doesn't include losing Thompson. That's obviously the best-case scenario for Golden State, although it's one that has never seemed realistic.

    The question now is whether Thompson still holds trump-card status.

    One source told Windhorst and Stein that "the Wolves -- especially owner Glen Taylor -- actually now prefer a package headlined by Wiggins to a Thompson-led haul for Love."

    The thought process is simple. Wiggins has superstar potential and a rookie contract. Thompson's ceiling sits somewhere around "really good player," and he's up for a contract extension this offseason.

    If Wiggins has moved to the top of Minnesota's board, maybe this waiting period gives Golden State a last-gasp hope of pulling something off. Assuming, of course, that's even the ending the Warriors are after.

Phoenix Suns

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    If the Phoenix Suns played in a major market, they might be turning top-shelf players away. With a cheap, young, talented core, a potential coaching star in Jeff Hornacek and a 48-win campaign to bolster their recruiting pitch, the Suns have so much to offer a potential star.

    Minus that market appeal, though, the Suns have had a hard time attracting NBA elites to the desert. They took a shot at landing both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony this summer, per Wojnarowski, but didn't come away with either one.

    There's a good chance their pursuit of Love will produce the same outcome. As Stein and Shelburne noted, "the 25-year-old's interest in joining the Suns is unclear."

    That explains why Phoenix hasn't played a bigger part in this story. The franchise is well-equipped to pull off a blockbuster deal, with a horde of draft picks, prospects and rising stars (Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic) all at its disposal.

    "In theory, the Suns have the assets necessary to both entice Love to sign on and send value to Minnesota in return," Bleacher Report's Ben Leibowitz observed.

    Everything is on the table from the Suns. Spears reported that even Bledsoe or Dragic could be had in a Love deal.

    Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, is reportedly eyeing a max contract, and if the Wolves give it to him, they'll have him tied up for the next five years. Dragic has a $7.5 million player option for 2015-16, via ShamSports.com, but his $7.5 million salary for next season could be among the league's best bargains.

    The Suns have so much to give if Love is willing to give them a chance. If that hurdle gets cleared, the Wolves might have a hard time spurning the Suns' advances while waiting on the clocks of Wiggins, McDermott and Mirotic to expire.