The Kevin Love sweepstakes are officially open. After months (if not years) of denying interest in dealing their franchise player, the Timberwolves' hard line has reportedly softened. The change -- from We will not trade Kevin Love to We will not trade Kevin love before the draft and Never say never -- is hugely significant. Love, a three-time All-Star who averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds this season, will be among the most sought-after free agents in 2015 and a prime trade target until then, making his availability a matter of league-wide importance.
Love, 25, has not demanded a trade, according to ESPN.com. He has, however, expressed to Minnesota his intention to become a free agent next summer and his lack of interest in a contract extension, nudging the Wolves toward desperation. His plans leave the Wolves with few options and, at the least, introduces the question of what a trade package for Love might look like. What return can a team without much leverage expect for a top-10 player set to hit the open market in a year? Let's kick the tires, in no particular order.
Chicago pops up consistently in Love stories, in part because an ESPN.com report singled out the Bulls as a team that "intrigues" the superstar. The other reason: The arrangement makes a whole lot of basketball sense, both for finding a contender for Love -- who hasn't made the playoffs in six seasons with the Wolves -- and bringing a sound return for Minnesota.
In some cases, giving up assets for a player on the brink of free agency can be a very reckless move. A team runs the risk of not only losing the initial trade by surrendering too much talent but also of watching the acquired player decide to sign elsewhere after the season. Love's interest in the Bulls helps mitigate against that risk up front, as does the presence of former MVP Derrick Rose, Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and coach Tom Thibodeau. If Love couldn't be sold on an extension immediately (or at least persuaded to opt in for 2015-16), I'd still expect him to hash out a new deal with the Bulls as quickly as Chris Paul did with the Clippers. If his commitment could be somewhat assured, Chicago might be willing to give up more than some other Love suitors -- a legitimate advantage in a competitive trade market.
There's no single headlining piece in this potential deal for Minnesota, but the main draws, Gibson and Butler, could be defensive bookends on a team that needs reshaping. Minnesota was a complete wreck on offense whenever Love sat this season, slumping from 108.5 points per 100 possessions to just 98 per 100. That void won't be filled easily, but the Wolves could instead shift gears to become a more formidable defensive team. This deal would accomplish that much while also landing Boozer for depth and adding a first-round pick, though adjustment could be made to incorporate the rights to Nikola Mirotic or other minor assets.
Cavaliers acquire: Kevin Love, J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved
Minnesota will surely ask about the No. 1 pick in any talks with Cleveland, but there could be a workable deal without its inclusion. In this framework, the Wolves would get a useful veteran defender in Varejao (who could be subsequently traded or waived to save nearly $6 million), a low buy on Bennett, a decent rotation piece in Thompson, a wild-card addition in Waiters and a future pick. Again, there's no star-in-waiting prospect or high pick for the Wolves, but perhaps sheer volume of assets could bridge the divide.
If this doesn't seem like quite enough for Love, that's very much by design. Minnesota is unlikely to get an established star in a deal for its best player, as one would otherwise expect, because his ability to opt out of his contract is just too prohibitive and the Wolves are negotiating from a place where a trade is all but necessary. That combination encourages teams to toe the line with regard to what might be considered a reasonable trade offer, possibly to the point of taking assets like the No. 1 pick off the table.
Pistons acquire: Kevin Love
If Monroe can be sold to sign on as running mate to Ricky Rubio, a move like this one could be quite feasible. For the sake of argument, let's assume that Monroe is willing to accept a sub-max deal, perhaps in range (in terms of percentage of the salary cap) of Derrick Favors' four-year, $48 million extension with the Jazz last year. After adjusting for 2014-15 cap projections, the first-year salary would be about $12.3 million -- perfect for building toward a match of Love's $15.7 million outgoing salary. Add in Singler, a useful wing player who will be paid $1.1 million next season, and we have the grounds for a legal transaction.
Detroit's motivations here are fairly obvious: The combination of Love, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond, as coached by Stan Van Gundy, would be a sure bet for the Eastern Conference playoffs. In fact, Love might be one of the precious few players who could make playing Smith on the wing more tenable. He has the shooting range to allow Smith to work inside, the passing ability to facilitate a more fluid system and the pure scoring skills to redeem the Pistons' offense. Plus, with Smith and Drummond able to cover for Love defensively, Detroit could field a terrifyingly versatile lineup with its limitations well addressed.
Minnesota would land Monroe, provided he's amenable. Any move that the Timberwolves make will require a stark positional downgrade from Love, as is inevitably the case when trading one of the best players in the sport. Monroe, though, may well be the best big man available, given the implicit conditions that the Wolves now face. He is admittedly imperfect; Minnesota would be trading down in offensive talent for a player with familiar defensive weaknesses. But the Wolves at least would get a steady, productive piece as they develop a new roster. In case of emergency, settle for a perfectly solid big man who averages 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Rockets acquire: Kevin Love
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has said his team will be chasing big names this summer. Love very much qualifies. The offensive fit could be brilliant. While incorporating three high-usage stars could lead to early growing pains, the raw firepower of Love, James Harden and Dwight Howard would be enough to overwhelm most opponents. Houston would take a step forward in its contention by consolidating talent in an ever-trendy trio of superstars.
Naturally, any such deal would come at very real cost to the Rockets. Parsons, who will earn just $964,750 next season in the final year of his deal, would be the toughest to see go for the same reasons he would be a very necessary inclusion. Parsons, 25, is not a star, but the former second-round pick is close enough and cheap enough to draw big interest. His versatility would be worth investing in, and Minnesota would have the inside track on Parsons' 2015 free agency by holding his Bird rights. A package bolstered by Jones, a draft pick and Asik (for salary filler/trade bait) isn't too bad, though Parsons' interest in re-signing is a huge caveat.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Warriors acquire: Kevin Love and Alexey Shved
This deal and its slight variations might be the most discussed of all potential Love trades, likely because of the pure exhilaration of possibly seeing Love space the floor for a team that already is pretty loaded. He is the gateway to a fever dream -- a Warriors team that could make good on its offensive potential by giving Stephen Curry room to run pick-and-roll without sacrificing size. In essence, Love brings small-ball appeal without the situational discomfort of actually fielding smaller lineups.
Whether such a deal would be enticing enough to Minnesota, though, is another story entirely. It likely boils down to just what the Wolves make of Lee, whose $15.2 million average annual salary over the next two seasons is very rich for a player of his limitations, especially on defense. If Minnesota could see past those weaknesses to Lee's wide range of offensive utility, then maybe an agreement could be reached. If the Wolves instead see Lee's contract as a salary-matching burden, I don't think Thompson is either productive or promising enough to seal the deal. (The Warriors, for their part, are reportedly reluctant to include the 24-year-old shooting guard in a Love trade.) Unloading Shved's $3.3 million contract helps, but the Wolves would still be taking back about $2 million in salary for 2014-15 and clogging their cap with Lee's deal for 2015-16.
Timberwolves acquire: Markieff Morris, Archie Goodwin, Channing Frye, Phoenix's 2014 first-round pick (No. 14), Washington's 2014 first-round pick (No. 18) and the Lakers' 2015 first-round pick (top-five protected)
Suns acquire: Kevin Love
I doubt that Minnesota will find any of the players included here to be all that appealing as the basis of a trade for Love, but maybe a trove of draft picks might do. If the Wolves completed a deal with his framework, they would have the 13th, 14th and 18th picks in this year's draft. Those selections could become a haul of prospects to go along with Rubio and 2013 first-round picks Shabazz Muhammad and rising center Gorgui Dieng, or just as easily fuel subsequent moves to land more experienced players.
The question is whether doing this kind of legwork is really worthwhile for two mid-first-round picks and a future first-rounder, in addition to whatever value the Wolves place on Morris, Goodwin and Frye. I suspect not, but if Phoenix opts to empty its coffers for Love, it also owns Indiana's 2014 first-round pick, Minnesota's 2015 first-rounder (with rolling protection) and intriguing big men Miles Plumlee and Alex Len.
Celtics acquire: Kevin Love and Alexey Shved
This is essentially a variation of the Suns' trade, with a few minor differences. As constructed, this deal guarantees a mid-lottery pick in the way that a trade with the Suns would not. There are still no sure stars in that draft range, but talented players like Julius Randle and Marcus Smart should still be available at No. 6. Brooklyn's 2016 first-round pick could also turn out to be better than the Lakers' top-five-protected first-rounder in 2015. Kevin Garnett is 38, Paul Pierce could sign elsewhere this summer, Deron Williams has not impressed and Brook Lopez is a mammoth 7-footer with a worrisome injury history. It would not be a shock for the Nets to yield a lottery pick in 2016.
On top of that, Bogans' $5.3 million salary can be cleared from the cap sheet without penalty, which -- after accounting for the difference in incoming and outgoing salary and the rookie-scale deal of the No. 6 pick -- would save Minnesota about $7 million. Those savings might seem abstract to fans who aren't responsible for the Wolves' finances, but they mean something for a team staring at a likely rebuild.
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