The Wolves have no leverage. They have to trade Kevin Love. Letting him walk next summer is the worst-case scenario. Right?
Wrong. There are far worse fates for the Timberwolves. Turns out, having a top-six NBA player for a full season isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Obviously, the phrase “you’d rather get something than nothing” is generally applicable to similar situations, but it simply does not fit the Wolves’ current spot. First, Love has never actually said that he will not re-sign in Minnesota, but rather has apparently told Flip Saunders that he will be opting out of his contract in the summer of 2015 — not a surprise in any way. (Throw in the fact that the Wolves can pay Love $20+ million more than any other team, and daring him to walk away from that amount of money is that much more interesting.)
Secondly, Love is under contract for the 2014-15 NBA season. Last year, the Wolves finished 40-42 and were one of the best teams in history that did not make the playoffs. Given another year with the current roster intact, the Wolves will have a very good shot at landing a playoff spot with some better luck in games decided by four points or less, as well as some natural improvement from players like Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng.
But here’s the biggest reason why keeping Love isn’t a bad idea: taking on bad contracts and long-term commitments to mediocre players will set the franchise even further back than letting Love’s contract expire.
Trading Love for one of the best young wings in the game in Klay Thompson sounds like a great idea (yes, he’s officially unavailable right now, but Golden State will eventually include him in their offer), but once his contract situation is factored in, it’s a terrifying thought. Thompson is a free agent after next season, and he’ll certainly be looking for a maximum or near-max contract — and no, he’s not worth that kind of money.
Thompson’s assist, steal, and rebounding rates have all declined regularly since his rookie season, and despite his insane 41% career three-point percentage, he’s largely been an average contributer as an NBA player. His solid perimeter defense and long-range shooting ability would certainly be a welcome edition to the Wolves (and a great pairing with Rubio in the back court), and there’s no arguing on that front. The issue, of course, is the overall value.
Saunders would certainly hand over a max contract next summer, and the Wolves would be stuck under an enormous contract for a middling player. If he didn’t sign him, the Love trade would look like a failure after one season of the centerpiece of the return, and if they overpay him, they’re in even worse shape. It’s a lose-lose situation, unless Thompson makes an unexpected and permanent jump in all-around play and production.
Acquiring role players (the alleged poo-poo platter off from Cleveland centered around Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett) doesn’t help, either. Waiters and Bennett, despite the disturbing delusions of so many Cavaliers fans, don’t hold a ton of value league-wide. Both could turn into nice players. Neither will be a star. And the Wolves aren’t trading a bonafide superstar for a pair of rotation players.
And lastly, the obnoxious and persisting idea that the Wolves could move Love for expiring contracts — ridiculous. Love himself is an expiring contract if he indeed opts out. Enjoy the fruits of a superstar throughout 2014-15 before opening up that cap space next summer, without the annoyance of random expirings on the roster.
To be clear: there are some palatable hauls that the Wolves could receive in exchange for Love. Anything from the Bulls (less likely now that Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol have inked deals with Chi-town) would be best-case if Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Mirotic, or Doug McDermott are on the table. If/when the Cavaliers include #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in their offer, it’s a package to consider.
But there isn’t a ton out there beyond Chicago, Cleveland, and maybe Phoenix. Boston is no longer a realistic destination, unless #6 overall pick Marcus Smart is the centerpiece of a deal after the moratorium on his trade availability ends in a couple of weeks. Despite my concerns with a Thompson extension, Golden State could be an acceptable trade partner if Draymond Green is included in the package.
To sum it up, keeping Love for the upcoming season is likely not the best option. Given the dwindling potential suitors and acceptable offers out there, however, it absolutely is not the worst option. Saunders seems to be willing to go that route if necessary, and it’s certainly a possibility that I would be exploring if I sat in his chair.
In addition to Cleveland and Boston (if Smart is made available), keep your eye on Phoenix and Denver as potential suitors. Don’t expect anything to happen during Summer League this week, but in the following days and into the end of July we could begin hearing some more concrete rumors. If nothing is consummated by the beginning of August, however, the chances of Love staying in Minnesota for next season will increase exponentially as the month wears on and training camp inches closer.