Are Boston Celtics Emerging as Clear Favorite in Kevin Love Trade Sweepstakes?

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor IJune 3, 2014

USA Today

It’s one thing to hear the rumors about Boston as a potential landing spot for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love.

It’s a whole different thing to see him cruising around the city and taking in the sights with his agent.

If Boston Celtics fans weren’t in a frenzy and reading the tea leaves previously, they certainly will be now. Love’s weekend tour of Boston, even if it was nothing more than a vacation, seems to lend at least some legitimacy to the belief that he would re-sign with the Celtics if he was traded there, or that he would be open to signing with the team as a free agent in 2015.

Kevin Love had a quite a weekend in Boston. My @BostonGlobe story: http://t.co/CeMDFAgTmg pic.twitter.com/xXOzVV4eMv

— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) June 2, 2014

Still, Celtics fans need to guard their hearts a bit in “The Summer of Love” and not interpret this as a slam dunk quite yet. While Boston certainly has the draft picks to put together a competitive offer, the lack of young talent or a championship-caliber supporting cast could very well make this more of a dream than a reality.

Admittedly, it’s easy to get caught up in at all, but it’s important to remember that Love isn’t a free agent this year. Aside from coming out and saying “I won’t re-sign if I’m traded here” and scaring potential suitors away, Love has relatively little leverage in choosing his next team at this current juncture.

That could all change if Love doesn’t get dealt before the deadline this upcoming season and opts out of his deal to become a free agent in 2015, but it’s hard to believe that the Timberwolves will fail to see the writing on the wall. Love can simply walk in 2015 with no compensation, and according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, that realization may be sinking in with team president Flip Saunders:

"For the first time, [Saunders] sounds like looking at deals for [Love] is an option," one rival executive told Yahoo Sports.

The Boston Celtics, Golden State WarriorsLos Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns are among many teams determined to make hard runs at trades for Love, league sources said. Boston and Los Angeles plan to make high-lottery picks in the 2014 NBA draft available in offers for Love, sources said.

The Timberwolves have plenty of incentive to deal Love, and a bidding war should ensue. Unless Love and agent Jeff Schwartz, who was with him in Boston, tell all other teams that he’ll only re-sign long-term with Boston, Love will be heavily sought after by a number of teams.

That being said, it is important for Boston to know that Love would re-sign if he acquired via trade, as it removes much of the risk of making such a deal. With that knowledge, Celtics GM Danny Ainge can put all his assets out on the table with a sort of verbal guarantee from Love, whereas other teams may be hesitant to make a full-blown offer without that agreement.

While we don’t know if Boston will receive that confirmation from Love, the reports from this weekend certainly give you the impression that it seems likely.

Here’s Baxter Holmes from the Boston Globe with more:

Fairweather, a former ESPN producer and radio co-host, found Love to be so interested in Celtics history that he gave him a 90-minute DVD that details the team’s illustrious past, a gift Fairweather said Love very much appreciated.

Love showed such reverence for Bird, Fairweather said, that at one point Love pointed out how he believes that Bird’s No. 33 ought to be retired by every team in the NBA. Love also said he planned on talking to fellow UCLA alumnus Bill Walton about what it was like playing for the Celtics.

While the appreciation for the history in Boston from Love and an apparent admiration for Larry Bird are good signs, in a trade, it’s about Saunders and Minnesota’s objects of desire more than anything else. Minnesota will be looking out for its own best interests, and not Love’s.

And that’s where things may get a little bit tricky.

As far as the major-market teams go, Boston certainly does hold an advantage. The Los Angeles Lakers have Kobe Bryant and no one else, which means they’ll almost completely lack trade assets aside from the seventh pick in this year’s draft. Boston can easily crush any offer on the table Los Angeles puts up.

The same can be said for the New York Knicks.

Again, the lack of future draft picks gives Boston the nod, as the Celtics have 10 first-round picks in the next five years. One would assume that Love would fit better next to Rajon Rondo, a pass-first point guard, than he would with Carmelo Anthony, a post-oriented 4 who gets a good deal of his touches in the same places Love does. It’s possible that Love won’t give the “OK” to the Knicks in regard to re-signing for the future.

NEW PHOTO: Kevin Love & Rajon Rondo hugging it out outside the Fenway EMC Club Sunday afternoon. pic.twitter.com/XAChHwjmHL

— Only In Boston (@OnlyInBOS) June 2, 2014

It’s important to note that thanks to the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics will have the best load of attractive draft picks to offer. That much is for certain, but there are other assets to account for outside of draft picks.

The Chicago Bulls, for example, are a major-market team with intriguing trade chips to offer. The Bulls have two first-round picks in the middle of this year’s first round, a future first-round pick via the Sacramento Kings, an expiring deal to help the Wolves shed salary in Carlos Boozer and a legitimate two-way forward to replace Love in Taj Gibson. Add in highly regarded international stash Nikola Mirotic, a power forward as well, and you can see how a trade between these two teams could go down rather easily.

That brings us to a greater point.

With Nikola Pekovic on a long-term deal and Ricky Rubio next in line to be locked up, we can’t automatically assume the Timberwolves are ready to blow it up and rebuild in a Love trade. They may look to stay competitive and receive contributors in return. Jeff Green is a decent player, but can he really be the headlining talent in a trade for a transcendent star like Love?

Of course, it’s not just Chicago that could join the fray and trump Boston’s offer. The Houston Rockets have young players (Terrence Jones, Chandler Parsons), expiring deals (Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin) and all their future first-round picks. If Love wants to throw his weight around to try to pick his next spot, playing with James Harden and Dwight Howard wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

Even a team like the Phoenix Suns could probably rival Boston’s potential trade offer for Love. The Suns have three first-round picks this year, last year’s lottery pick Alex Len to dangle, either or both of the Morris twins and all their future picks, including a choice 2015 selection from the Los Angeles Lakers.

This isn’t all to put a damper on Love’s visit to Boston or what Celtics general manager Danny Ainge can do in trade negotiations. From a Celtics fan’s prospective, it’s exciting to see Love shake hands with Rondo and to visit some of the city’s most notorious haunts. There’s no downside to it all, and it’s easy to dream on what a star core of Love and Rondo could do on the court.

But as Saunders reminds us in Holmes’s piece for the Boston Globe (rather defensively, it should be noted), Love isn’t a free agent quite yet. He’s still under contract, and that limits some of his pull:

“The last I knew Kevin was under contract with us, and I expect him to be playing for us next year,” Saunders told reporters in Minneapolis on Sunday. “I don’t really dictate where guys go on vacation or what they do. They can go wherever they want to go.”

With regard to the teams that are interested in Love, Saunders said, “I know there’s a feeding frenzy out there from a lot of teams. Unfortunately, they have no say. I plan on Kevin being here.”

If you had to handicap the race at this point, the Celtics would certainly seem to be a favorite to land Love in 2015 free agency.

But what if Love is traded before next offseason? That seems like the most likely scenario at this point, and simply put, there are other teams that can leapfrog Boston easily and offer up a better combination of young talent, cap relief and draft picks.

The Celtics certainly appear to be a top contender to land Love, but it’s an overreaction to recent events to consider them the clear-cut favorite at this point.