Is a Kevin Love Trade Really Worth the Massive Price?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 22, 2014

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 14: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during a game 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 and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves have NBA royalty on their roster in Kevin Love.

The 25-year-old three-time All-Star rebounds like the bigs of yesteryear and stretches the floor like post players of tomorrow. He took the rebounding title in 2010-11, posted a Top Five player efficiency rating in three of the last four seasons and held a Top Four scoring average in two of the last three.

He's the type of transcendent talent a team doesn't move until it runs out of options. Wolves owner Glen Taylor told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press that he doesn't feel the franchise has yet crossed that bridge:

I should never say never because who knows what might come up? But that's not our plan.

...At this point, we're not talking to any teams. I haven't heard from Kevin or his agents or anything like that. We're assuming that Kevin will be here next season, and we're working with that scenario. This isn't the time for us to do anything but to prepare for next year.

Those preparations will eventually shift to finding Love a new NBA home. He's a flight risk in every sense, with frustrations that have mounted for years and a contract he can shed next summer.

Minnesota has to entertain offers for its franchise face, and when it does, it will seek a king's ransom in return. Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press reported Love's price tag "would include a high first-round pick in this year's draft and a solid veteran or two."

Would Love's quality justify parting with that quantity of assets? Is the six-year veteran worth the bidding war that's surely playing out behind closed doors?

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There is no universal answer to that question. His going rate varies widely across the basketball landscape.

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls, along with the Golden State Warriors, are said to be "among the potential trade destinations that intrigue Love," as's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported.

Love wants to win, and coach Tom Thibodeau's team seems to do just that under any circumstance. Despite getting just 10 games out of Derrick Rose in the last two seasons combined, the Bulls have still posted a 93-71 record over that stretch.

On paper, the fit is perfect for both sides. The Bulls can't score (tied for 27th in offensive efficiency), which Love does at an MVP level (26.1 points on 45.7 percent shooting). Love doesn't always play the opposite end of the floor, where Chicago tallied the second-best efficiency mark with Carlos Boozer in the starting lineup.

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24: Joakim Noah #13 and Carlos Boozer #5 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on January 24, 2014 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agre
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Short of the inclusion of Rose or Joakim Noah in a deal for Love—neither of which would happen—it's hard to see how Chicago could build an offer too rich for its own good. With the knowledge that Love wants to play in the Windy City, the Bulls should form their offer as such. They could assemble a compelling package without gutting their roster, as ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg noted:

The Bulls have assets to interest Minnesota, if not intrigue it. They have the 16th and 19th picks in this draft, a conditional future first-round pick from Cleveland and the rights to talented Real Madrid forward Nikola Mirotic. They have [Taj] Gibson, who is close to being an untouchable, and shooting guard Jimmy Butler, both of whom could imbue Minnesota with veteran leadership and toughness. Boozer could be a throw-in for salary-cap reasons.

If the Bulls can hang on to either Butler or Gibson, they should pull this trade off yesterday. Even if both are needed to facilitate the trade, it's still a call Chicago should probably make.

Love would ease the offensive burden on Rose, and the former MVP would reciprocate the assistance. Love's ability to space the floor would give Noah more real estate to work with on the offensive end, while Noah's rim protection would safeguard Love at the opposite side.

For Chicago, Love is worth anything short of a ridiculous asking price.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Can the Cavaliers convince the Timberwolves to turn the Love sweepstakes into a lottery drawing? Would anyone else bother showing up if they did?

For the third time in the last four years, the Cavaliers hold the No. 1 overall draft pick—climbing all the way to the top spot with just a 1.7-percent chance of making that leap. Unlike last summer, that's definitely a good thing.

For starters, it gives the Cavaliers perhaps the top trade chip in the race for Love.

But even a player of his caliber can only command so much with an uncertain future. Swapping the shot at a potential star (Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker) for a one-year All-Star rental is as risky as it gets. It's also a gamble the Cavs may not have to make.'s Rob Mahoney mapped out a path to bring Love to Cleveland without sacrificing the top pick, instead costing the franchise Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson and a 2016 first-round pick (top-10 protected). Along with Love, Mahoney sent reserve guards J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved to the Cavs.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

It's a quantity-over-quality deal, with the belief that Waiters, Bennett or that first-round pick becomes something of quality.

If Cleveland can bring in Love and keep the top pick, that's as easy a call as an NBA executive can make. But even if that pick is required to fuel this trade, it's still a move the Cavs at least have to consider.

The draft pick brings hope, but Love adds proven production. He's the type of talent that could warm Kyrie Irving to the idea of a long-term future in Cleveland, giving the Cavaliers a pair of young, explosive scorers whose offensive skills should blend well.

If everything goes right on the Love and Irving contract fronts, the possibilities for this franchise's future are incredibly inviting. Pipe dreams perhaps, but they're pipe dreams worth pursuing at (virtually) any price.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics might have been in on the Love talks long before the rest of the basketball world was tipped off.

They've been hinting at pursuing a big fish with the subtlety of the Indiana Pacers' transparent quest for home-court advantage.

"I think this June there could be some fireworks," Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said in March, via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. "I think this June we’ve got so many pieces to this puzzle that we might be able to shake loose a real piece or two for this team going forward."

The Celtics are overloaded with coveted assets in the futures market. "Boston has multiple picks to offer in the next several years as part of a total package for Love, as well as the salary-cap space to perhaps take back an unwanted contract from Minnesota," wrote Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Boston has draft credits to collect for the next five years, along with some young prospects like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk for Minnesota's rebuilding project. The Celtics are in the middle of their own rebuild, but they're already running low on patience.

A win-now talent like Love seems to be exactly what they're after.

What the Celtics really need to ask themselves, though, is whether they're only a win-now piece away from competing for something of substance. It makes no sense to mortgage the future for what may wind up being a very mediocre present.

"The Celtics might have to sacrifice as many as five players to get his services, and they still wouldn’t be a finished product," Washburn wrote. "The lineup of [Rajon] Rondo, Love, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Vitor Faverani/Olynyk is not going to come close to winning the Eastern Conference."

Building around a Rondo-Love tandem sounds promising, but it won't be easy. Assuming Love opts out of his deal after the 2014-15 season, both players would enter unrestricted free agency.

Shelling out significant cash to a pair of second-tier stars would be tough, particularly when current and future supporting pieces would have been sacrificed to get this duo together.

The price isn't necessarily concerning for the Celtics, but the fit seems a curious one at best.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have been running the Love race since before it even started.

Besides the obvious advantages L.A. has in every facet of the recruitment process (weather, market, history), the former UCLA star appeared to have a special kind of affinity for the city. "Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers," an Eastern Conference executive told CBS Sports' Ken Berger in January.

The only person who didn't seem to see his future through a purple-and-gold-tinted lens was Love himself.

"People think it's so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota," he told GQ's Steve Marsh in March. "And I'm not s------g on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation."

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4:  Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves stands on the court against the Los Angeles Lakers on February 4, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

Clearly, a grain of salt was needed to digest these words. People had a reason to think a Gopher State future for Love is "far-fetched." Still, the way in which he publicly assessed the Lakers' current standing in the NBA hierarchy is perhaps telling.

That's not to suggest Love would decline a chance to go back to L.A., but rather to note he may not force his way there as many expected.

The problem is the Lakers could have a hard time luring him this offseason without his help. L.A. fell to the seventh spot in the draft lottery, a tough spot to sell as the centerpiece in a major trade.

"Flipping a rookie...for star-level talent was going to be hard enough with a top-three selection," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote. "It's impossible to do at No. 7 unless the Lakers have the requisite tangible assets to candy-coat their offer."

The Lakers have three players on the books for next season: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. The first is untouchable, the second is unmovable and the third is undesirable. Already out first-round picks for 2015 and 2017, L.A. simply has nothing to give.

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers watches from the bench as his teammates take on the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Even if it did, Love might not be the right player to target. It wouldn't be easy committing that kind of dough to an offensive specialist when the most talented player on the roster (and most expensive one in the league) doesn't have the body to play the opposite side of the floor.

If the Lakers make a move on Love, it shouldn't come before next summer. Then, Bryant's salary will be one year closer to expiration, and the unnamed lottery pick will be giving Love, along with the rest of the hoops world, a glimpse into L.A.'s future.

Houston Rockets

It would be such a Daryl Morey-led Rockets move to swing a deal for Love.

Despite landing superstars James Harden and Dwight Howard in consecutive offseasons, the Rockets are still casting their lines in hopes of landing yet another big fish.

"We're going to have cap room to bring in a terrific free agent and I think next year we'll be a lot better than we were this year," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander told Fox 26 Sports' Mark Berman.

The thing is, Houston doesn't have significant cap space. It barely has any financial wiggle room at all with more than $59 million already on the books for next season, via

What the Rockets do have are assets, along with the belief they "can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deal," per Wojnarowski. That contract could be pegged for Carmelo Anthony or even Rondo, but Love figures to be at least near the top of their wish list.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

"Rest assured that Houston will be lobbing frequent calls to Minnesota to test the Wolves' resolve, since Love would complement Howard better than pretty much anyone else you could nominate," Stein wrote.

Houston's best trade offer starts with (extreme) budget contributor Chandler Parsons and draft considerations. Another young big like Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas would give the Wolves something with potential. Omer Asik's salary ($8.4 million cap hit) is likely needed to complete the deal, but that's a tough pill for Minnesota to swallow given the near $15 million he's actually owed.

The price to pay isn't actually too bad on the Rockets' end. If they're set on finding a third star, Parsons will have to be sacrificed to bring that player on board. Plus, like Stein said, Love's ability to spread the floor is exactly what Howard needs on the offensive end.

Defensively, this core could have significant issues. With heavy financial commitments to Howard, Love and Harden, it wouldn't be easy to address them, either.

If Morey sees championship potential in this trio, though, it wouldn't break his bank to put it together.

Phoenix Suns

It's hard to come up with a price too rich for the Suns' blood. It's possible (Goran Dragic plus Eric Bledsoe), but not with any reasonable request the Timberwolves might make.

The Suns are saturated with draft picks. They grabbed an extra two for this year's draft and are slated to pick up another pair next summer.

The current roster lacks top-level talent, but there are intriguing prospects up and down it. Dragic and Bledsoe (now a restricted free agent) are the most attractive trade bait, and either would lighten the load of the draft picks being shipped out.

Of course, this explosive backcourt is the reason that Phoenix might entertain swinging for the fences with Love. Exchanging either for the veteran All-Star might wind up being a lateral move, not forward progress, so the Suns would have to tread lightly in conversations involving either guard.

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Build an offer around a boatload of picks and bolster it with several young players (like the Morris twins, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len or Miles Plumlee), and that should be enough to get Phoenix into the conversation.

Then, the conversation would need to shift over to Love and the Suns. Sources told Stein that Phoenix has "strong interest in trading for Love, but the 25-year-old's interest in joining the Suns is unclear."

If Dragic or Bledsoe is involved in the package headed to Minnesota, Phoenix must receive a long-term commitment from Love in advance. If a combination of picks and prospects proves to be enough, the Suns will have to consider pulling the trigger even without that commitment.

One year alongside this type of talent in Jeff Hornacek's successful, stat-friendly system could be all the convincing that Love needs to stick around.

Golden State Warriors

Not only are the Warriors on Love's reported short list, but the All-Star big man has seemingly found himself on that of new Golden State coach Steve Kerr.

"I think this team could use a stretch 4," Kerr said, via Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. "I think a shooting 4 could really make things difficult on the opposition."

As if defending a team with sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson weren't already difficult enough. Not only would the Splash Brothers have more room to maneuver with Love on the floor, but slashers like Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes could make use of the extra space as well.

The potential hang-up here, of course, is that not every one of those players would be around to team with Love. The Dubs have draft debts to pay off through 2018, so their potential trade offer would have to revolve around current pieces.

David Lee would almost certainly be shipped out to help match salaries, while former top-shelf prospect Harrison Barnes would travel right alongside him. Considering what other teams can offer the Wolves, let's just say Golden State's two-man combo is a little underwhelming.

Thompson might put the Warriors' offer over the top, but the team wants to keep its backcourt intact. Where things get dicey for the Dubs is that there might not be a deal without Thompson.

Golden State still thinks it can get something done.

"You know we'll be aggressive," a Warriors source told Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "We usually get our guy."

Might that mean the Warriors can find a way to keep Thompson and get Love? If Minnesota waits until after the draft, Golden State could then offer its 2015 first-round selection. It wouldn't figure to be a great pick, but maybe it wouldn't have to be if there are Barnes and/or Lee fans in the Wolves front office.

The Warriors sound ready to go all in, and a major move for Love would result in exactly that. They have to hope the end result is a title, though, because they would have nothing—no draft picks, no prospects, nothing—coming for the foreseeable future.

If Thompson survives the cut, this just might be a title team. Without him, the Warriors might have too many holes and no way to fill them.