Kevin Love and the Anatomy of Forcing an NBA Trade

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2014

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Kevin Love's escape from Minnesota has been a long time coming.

"My patience is not high," the star forward told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears all the way back in the summer of 2012. "Would yours be, especially when I'm a big proponent of greatness surrounding itself with greatness? All these [Team USA] guys seem to have great players around them."

Winning a gold medal with USA Basketball in London that summer seemingly had a profound impact on Love and his increasing desire to win with his Timberwolves.

"It's tough seeing all these guys that are young and older who have all played in the playoffs," Love added at the time. "When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about. If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen."

Writing for ESPN.com at the time, Zach Harper opined that, "It’s easy to see why Love is frustrated with the organization when you factor in his time here. He’s been working hard to turn into an elite player in the NBA, while the Wolves’ record has barely seen any improvement from his rookie season."

Indeed, Minnesota hasn't ventured into the postseason once during Love's six campaigns with the team, last qualifying for the playoffs in 2004.

Soon enough, Love will have something to talk about with his playoff-savvy cohorts. Soon enough, he'll be surrounded by the "greatness" for which he so desperately yearned.

Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Aug. 7 that, "The Minnesota Timberwolves have reached an agreement in principle to send All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew WigginsAnthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick, league sources told Yahoo Sports."

"The deal cannot be finalized until Aug. 23, because Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, cannot be traded until one month after the signing of his rookie contract," Wojnarowski added.

Love's wait is finally over, and the reward for his patience—or lack thereof—is the opportunity to join forces with four-time MVP LeBron James, to say nothing of a supporting cast that boasts the likes of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.

Once the centerpiece around whom Minnesota attempted to build a winner, the 25-year-old now becomes arguably the league's very best sidekick—a role that may fit him perfectly.

While Timberwolves team president and head coach Flip Saunders will be handsomely compensated, the loss of a superstar talent won't be easy.

The UCLA product is coming off an exceptional season in which he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He's established himself as one of the league's most unique threats, a dominant rebounder who's made 36.2 percent of his career three-point attempts. 

Wiggins and his substantial upside give the Timberwolves hope for a bright future, but the organization will first have to undergo what may be an unpleasant rebuilding process.

How did it come to this? How did Love finally get his way?

A return to 2012 is instructive.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 26: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 26, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
David Sherman/Getty Images

In December of that year, he told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "I haven't been in the playoffs yet. I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs – or it's been one playoff berth – well, it's going to be tough to say, 'Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild.'"

Adding insult, Love felt slighted by perceived affronts from ownership itself.

"I don't know who labels people stars, but even [Timberwolves majority owner] Glen Taylor said: I don't think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn't led us to the playoffs," he added. "I mean, it's not like I had much support out there."

As time passed, the franchise continued to fall short. Faced with untimely injuries and a consistently crowded Western Conference, Minnesota knew Love's writing was on the wall.

To his credit, the disaffected star began sounding a far more agreeable tone publicly, perhaps working to assuage any fears around the league that he wasn't a team player.  

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

Privately, however, Love reportedly remained impatient.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne wrote in May that, "Love has made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota, according to sources with knowledge of the situation."

Wisely, Love protected his image by keeping discussions in-house. Instead of publicly demanding a trade and thereby reducing Minnesota's leverage when dealing with trade partners, he went the professional route.

Needless to say, that hasn't always been the case with players in his position.

Dwight Howard infamously initiated a protracted comedy of errors with his very public angst in 2011 and 2012. In late 2011, it first emerged that Howard had asked the Orlando Magic to trade him. 

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 23: Head Coach Stan Van Gundy talks to Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic during the game against the Boston Celtics on January 23, 2012 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agre
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

He then opted to explain his demands, telling media, as per ESPN: "I'm pretty sure if you go down the line of teams, every GM has a pretty good relationship with not just the best player but all the players. If you don't have a good relationship with the people you work with, how are you going to get better?"

By July of 2012, Howard complicated matters by making it clear he'd only re-sign with one of his trade suitors, severely hampering Orlando's attempt to build a market for his services (and, in turn, improve the offers it would receive).

"There’s only one team on my list and if I don’t get traded there, I'll play the season out and explore my free agency after that," Howard told Wojnarowski at the time.

Wojnarowski added, "Howard wouldn’t specify the team, but multiple league sources believe that it is the Brooklyn Nets."

That never worked out, but the Howard-fueled drama had already taken its toll. At one point, then-head coach Stan Van Gundy claimed his superstar center demanded that he be fired. A very awkward exchange with Howard himself immediately ensued right before reporters' eyes.

The rest is, of course, history. Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a multi-team deal, and after a season in Purple and Gold, Superman flew his talents to the Houston Rockets via free agency.

Even Howard later admitted his departure from Orlando could have gone more smoothly.

"I've had a chance to sit back and think about it and there are some things I could've done better. There are some things that could've been done better on both sides," Howard said in December of 2012, per ESPN LosAngeles' Ramona Shelburne. "But at the end of the day, we all learn some lessons and we've got to move forward."

A half-hearted sentiment to be sure, but one highlights the stark contrast between a bumbled trade demand and the relatively smooth process that's unfolded with Love and the Timberwolves.

Perhaps Love took some lessons from Chris Paul, whose exit from New Orleans probably couldn't have been handled more diplomatically.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26:  Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets reacts late in the fourth quarter while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2011 at Staples Cente
Harry How/Getty Images

Though a request to be traded to the New York Knicks was at one point reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears, CP3 was well on his way to the Los Angeles Clippers just weeks later—even after an initial trade to the Lakers was vetoed by the NBA.

Few faulted Paul given the instability swarming around the franchise that drafted him in 2005.

As Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears recalled in February, "There was constant talk about the Hornets moving in the post-Katrina era due to poor attendance. Paul was once told that the team could be moving to San Diego. Shinn also wanted to sell the team."

And after six seasons waging an uphill battle in Minnesota, chances are few will blame Love.

When players handle their grievances with dignity, fans league-wide generally return the favor. They were certainly understanding when Kevin Garnett wanted out of Minnesota—in part because he too handled his affairs quietly and in part because he'd already given his first 12 years to the franchise.

Even Carmelo Anthony fared somewhat better than Howard, despite the ongoing nature of his trade limbo.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks is taken out of the game late in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden on December 9, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"To his credit, Anthony has handled his demand with maturity and professionalism (even as he was booed by fans in Denver who, like many of us, had grown weary of the trade drama)," wrote Roy S. Johnson in a special to ESPN back in 2011. "He has...followed a script that should allow him to come out on the other side unscathedwith his rep and popularity intact."

Once dealt to the New York Knicks, Anthony did take his fair share of punches.

Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg soon wrote that, "He went from likable, endearing star to a guy who demands everything."

That narrative resonated in Anthony's case. After all, his Denver Nuggets had made the playoffs in each of his seven full seasons with the team—even lasting until the conference finals in 2008-09. His pursuit of greener pastures smacked of naked ambition, an unquenchable desire to be under New York's bright lights.

In retrospect, many of the modern era's forced trades haven't worked out especially well. Howard has now made two first-round exits with two different teams. Anthony's move thoroughly gutted the Knicks of talent, and his uneven stint in New York has been characterized by two coaching changes and unmet expectations.

Things worked out well for Paul, but a championship remains elusive.

Will Love's fate yield better results? Given the talent that joins him, it's hard to bet against these Cavaliers

And given the extent to which Love replaced his early grumbling with a more diplomatic facade, it's also hard to bet against his resilience in the court of public opinion. All the harder if and when he contributes to a winning cause.


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