What If Minnesota Timberwolves Can't Trade Kevin Love Before the Season Starts?

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What If Minnesota Timberwolves Can't Trade Kevin Love Before the Season Starts?
USA TODAY Sports

While it seems like foregone conclusion that Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love will eventually be traded, there's a distinct possibility that the move isn't made in a timely manner.

Part of that may have to do with Minnesota being unable to acquire recently signed rookies like Cleveland Cavaliers swingman Andrew Wiggins or Chicago Bulls forwards Doug McDermott or Nikola Mirotic, but there may be another aspect at play as well.

As crazy as it might seem, Minnesota may be prepared to start the season with Love and play hardball with teams until they get the exact offer they want.

While you would think that Minnesota's leverage would actually decrease as the season goes on, as an acquiring team would be getting fewer games from the star forward, Minnesota might be willing to take the chance, however slim it is, that the team starts off hot.

Although it's a different situation and Love has been much more adamant about leaving, the incessant trade talk surrounding Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge died off almost completely when the Blazers came out as one of the league's best teams to start last year.

It's possible that the relationship is beyond repair and that Minnesota wouldn't dare risk Love leaving for nothing in free agency, but even the threat of Minnesota being able to keep Love might increase their ability to get a better offer for him.

That, of course, is a dangerous risk to take, as Minnesota can't really afford to be called on a bluff in this situation. Here's Marc Stein on ESPN.com:

Minnesota's Taylor insisted again recently that he wanted to keep Love and that the Wolves are prepared to open the season with Love on the roster. But sources say numerous rival teams think Minnesota ultimately knows it has to 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.

If the Timberwolves haven't traded Love by the start of the season, it seems likely that something went wrong. Either the reported offers were removed, or maybe more likely, they weren't nearly as good as the ones being floated in the media.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

It's an unenviable position for Timberwolves coach and president Flip Saunders to be in, particularly given his role. No coach in his right mind would want to trade Love and make his job harder, but Saunders has to weigh the risk of losing Love for nothing next offseason.

As it stands right now, it's awfully hard for the Timberwolves to be optimistic about retaining Love. Here's Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press:

If the Timberwolves are still hoping they can persuade Kevin Love not to opt out of his contract after next season, they can give up hope.

The all-star forward is adamant about leaving, either by forcing a trade or on his own. For a variety of reasons, there is no chance he will change his mind.

Had the Wolves, however, given Love a maximum five-year contract instead of four years in 2012, he would not have wanted out of Minnesota.

Unfortunately for Saunders, he's still having to clean up for the mess former general manager David Kahn made. The damage has already been done, and so now it's about finding the best way to control it. 

Is marching into preseason and training camp with Love, who probably wouldn't be happy after non-stop attention and questions about his future, really be the ideal situation?

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Can the Timberwolves expect to create a winning environment with a franchise-altering trade looming over their heads? How would Love handle it? An even more public and adamant trade demand would only lessen Minnesota's leverage, and it seems as though there's certainly more potential for this to get ugly before it gets better.

For the most part, Love has stayed out of the media this offseason and hasn't submarined Minnesota's hope of getting back a solid return for him.

Here's what Love said on ESPN's "SportsNation" earlier this offseason about what he wants: 

My agent is handling everything at this point...I'm hoping that everything works out for all parties involved...No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win...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.

Unfortunately, the time for Minnesota to make the playoffs and have an earnest chance of keeping Love was probably last year. The Timberwolves played well and certainly showed positive strides, but their inability to win close games doomed them in a brutally competitive Western Conference.

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Again, it's important for Saunders and the Timberwolves to realize that the ship with Love has almost certainly already sailed. Right now there seems to be somewhat of a bidding war for his services, so it might be the time to strike. 

While it's hard to imagine that Love will run out of suitors at any point this year, right now could very well be when his value is at its highest point. 

If the Timberwolves fail to trade Love before the start of the season, they run the risk of losing leverage, losing potential trade partners and losing long-term assets.

Even worse than that, however, is that the longer Minnesota waits to deal Love, perhaps the more willing he'll be to play out the string and become a true free agent in the 2015 offseason.

There are a lot of ways this scenario with Love can unfold, but avoiding that particular result should be Minnesota's top priority this offseason.

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