Apr 8, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) shoots in the XXX quarter against the San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner (15) at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

On Flip Saunders impressive (and unexpected) patience

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought Flip Saunders would botch the Kevin Love situation. And let me also be perfectly clear that he certainly still has ample opportunity to do bungle it, but it has not happened thus far. To this point, the Wolves head coach/general manager-extraordinaire has shown remarkable patience.

Saunders had a frightened, kind of quivery, deer-in-the-headlights look about him shortly after Love’s, um, extended weekend in Boston. There was an apparently since-removed video that followed a pre-draft workout ran by Saunders at Target Center that absolutely had the feel of Saunders not knowing exactly how to handle the situation. And this was before naming himself head coach later in the same week.

Since early June, the phone lines at 600 First Avenue have been ringing off the hook. Shortly before the June 26 draft, Saunders himself called it a “feeding frenzy”.

From the beginning, Boston, Golden State, Chicago, and the Los Angeles Lakers were most-mentioned as possible destinations for the superstar power forward. Boston was mostly offering up draft picks, Golden State had Klay Thompson, Chicago had a mix of youngish and overseas talent, and the Lakers had…well, the city of Los Angeles but no actual NBA assets.

As the month of June wore on, Denver, Houston, and Sacramento were listed as other potential landing spots. In truth, it would be shocking if the other 29 teams did not call Saunders to inquire about the asking price. After all, Love is a top-six player in the league. Why wouldn’t every team at least give it a shot?

Per a host of reports, Saunders was offered a load of draft pick-centric packages from Danny Ainge and the Celtics, and don’t forget how much Saunders reportedly liked then-Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk prior to the 2013 draft. Sacramento apparently made a run that involved Ben McLemore and the #8 pick in the draft and possibly Rudy Gay.

The idea of getting the #6 and #16 picks from Boston was no doubt intriguing. However, Saunders’ well-known sentiment that he (wearing his Head Coach hat, no doubt) strongly prefers to avoid a true rebuild and be a contender for the playoffs in 2014-15 with or without Love, and it’s understandable that he avoided taking back a load of picks and the rookies (and guaranteed contracts) that would come attached to them.

Fast forward to mid-July, and the media has led us to believe that the Race for Love has boiled down to three main options: the Cleveland Cavaliers (since having drafted Andrew Wiggins with the #1 overall pick), the Golden State Warriors (still Thompson), and the idea that Saunders could simply hang onto Love through the start of the season, if not longer. (Don’t completely rule out some other teams, such as Denver and Chicago.)

National media types have been shouting from the mountaintops that Saunders has “no leverage”, and that Love must be moved. Teams know this, the refrain goes, and therefore won’t include their main pieces (i.e. Wiggins and Thompson, respectively).

After Golden State and Cleveland both apparently held this stance, they’ve both caved over the past few days. Allegedly, both young wings are on the table after all. Funny how that happened, since Saunders had no leverage, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Turns out, nobody opens negotiations with their best offer. Hence, “negotiations”. The Cavs could not have realistically believed that they could trade for a top-six NBA player without giving up their best asset, nor could the Warriors have thought the same with Thompson. It’s ludicrous.

Saunders knew this too, of course, and held firm with his demands. According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, in fact, the Cavs have not only included Wiggins in their offer for Love, but Saunders is asking for more. What “more” might be, we don’t know, but it’s probably future draft pick-related.

The Cavaliers trade is the preferable move in direct comparison to the Warriors option. Nobody should pay Klay Thompson a max or near-max contract next summer. Someone is going to, and Wolves fans everywhere need to be hoping that it isn’t their squad.

But here’s the key: don’t underestimate the likelihood that Flip holds firm to his original thoughts on the situation — he wants to keep Love. Don’t forget that for a second. Even Glen Taylor is claiming that Love won’t be moved, and he hasn’t even been approached by Flip with a potential offer that would be accepted.

Saunders is staring other teams down, promising to sell Love to the highest bidder. Or not.

He correctly understands that the worst case scenario would be making a playoff run with a superstar power forward and getting a shot to offer him more money than any other team next summer in free agency. After that, worst case would equal a ton of cap room for Saunders to play with as general manager. And there’s always the opportunity to move him at the February trade deadline.

The lack of leverage is a convenient talking point (“You don’t want to lose him for nothing!”), but it doesn’t really apply. Clearly, teams are beginning to understand that they’ll need to pony up for Kevin Love.

Pony up, or Love will remain in Minnesota for 2014-15.

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