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Nothin' but Net: Love, T'wolves have options

May 19, 2014 at 11:05 AM   |   Comments

Now that reports have confirmed something we all knew to be inevitable, there are a few ways to look at Kevin Love's imminent, or not-so-imminent, departure from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

From Love's perspective, this is no-brainer territory. The T'wolves haven't made the playoffs in the six seasons he's spent in the Twin Cities. Their roster isn't embarrassingly constructed, but things haven't gone as expected.

First, injuries walloped the Wolves the last two seasons. Every critical guy in a Minnesota jersey missed time, including Love, who hurt his hand doing knuckle pushups. No, I can't relate.

The losing has worn on Love, whose tale of perceived disrespect dates back further than this month.

David Kahn, who was mercifully fired last year as general manager of the T'wolves, only signed Love to a four-year rookie extension, which featured an opt-out after three. Kahn could've offered Love, who is just 25, a five-year deal.

That left Love with a sour Minnesota taste in his mouth. All indications are his relationship with new Timberwolves president Flip Saunders is pretty solid, but news over the weekend proved the exact opposite of newsworthy.

Love wants out of Minnesota. He's not going to re-sign. He didn't demand a trade, but strongly hinted this was the best for everyone involved.

Again, for Love, this is clear-cut. He can go play for a title he desperately wants and will only dream about in Minnesota.

This is not to disparage the Minneapolis area, but it's a tough free-agent destination, so rebuilding that way could be tricky. Climate and environment mean a lot to stars anymore. It's not always about the most money. Remember, that trio took their talents to South Beach, not the beaches of Lake Huron.

And Minny has done itself no favors in improving through the draft in recent years. It doesn't have to do with whom the T'wolves pick (it does, a little), but where they pick.

Minnesota is stuck in the damning purgatory of just missing the playoffs. In missing the postseason, they are in the lottery, but their chances of winning in the lottery rank up there with having a three-legged dog deliver you Honus Wagner's rookie card while winning the Powerball.

There's no great way to improve while picking where the Wolves have picked recently, although Nikola Pekovic has been a great big man, a second-round pick. Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer were both above-average acquisitions, but the drafts have been horrendous.

Minnesota traded for Shabazz Muhammad on draft night in 2013 and he barely played this season. Since the famous 2009 draft when the T'Wolves had three picks in the top 18 and used them all on point guards, only Ricky Rubio, Robbie Hummel, Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng remain.

That's five drafts, nine first-round picks, and only three first-rounders remain and two of those came from last year's draft. The Wolves have parted ways with three picks from inside the top six in the last five drafts.

The jewel of this time frame was Rubio and perhaps Minnesota's biggest obstacle to success other than injuries, has been the Spaniard's failure to leap into even All-Star status, let alone superstar status.

Rubio is a top-five guy in assists and, yes, he blew out his knee, but Rubio averaged 9.5 points per game this past season, which is a career low, and on the rare occasion he did shoot, Rubio was a 38 percenter and a 33 percenter from 3-point range. Regressed is a big word, but it's not totally out of line with Rubio's career arc.

So maybe this roster wasn't as close to making the playoffs as originally thought. It's a testament to Love that the T'wolves were as close, but this doesn't have to be a somber loss for Minnesota.

Love is 25 and has made three All-Star games. His numbers are eye-opening - 26.1 ppg, 12.5 rebounds per game and 38 percent 3-point shooting this season alone. For his career, Love's averages are 19.2 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 36 percent from long range and 45 percent field-goal shooting.

Those are remarkable numbers, but I've raised the question before, and will again - if Love is a true franchise superstar, shouldn't he able to carry the Timberwolves into the postseason at the very least? What has Love ever accomplished in this league, other than put up heroic numbers on a bad team?

These are fair points to ask, but ones that will be ignored. Love will have plenty of suitors for the Saturday night dance, and Saunders and the Wolves are actually in a good position to trade him.

Every team wants to follow one of three blueprints in the NBA - the Spurs who are run by genius men; the Thunder, who stunk, got lucky and drafted wisely; or the Heat, who built a championship with a check book and a vigorous night life.

For those teams that might fall under the allure of the Heat model, a young, multiple-time All-Star will make desire high. The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks come to mind in this formula. Each offers something attractive to the Wolves, and Love.

For L.A., it will be under the cap, so the Lakers could absorb Love's contract and just send their lottery pick this year. That's a pretty decent haul in this talented draft, and Love would be going back home to play. Is the No. 6 pick in the draft enough for Love? Probably not and it's not like the Lakers have much on the roster to dazzle Saunders.

The Knicks have no cap space and can't trade a first-round pick until 2018. They could offer expiring contracts, although, again, not many free agents flock to those Minnesota winters. Love could play in the biggest and best city in the world and may get to do it with Carmelo Anthony. That would vault the Knicks into contenders in the Eastern Conference.

The Phoenix Suns can offer a ton for Love. They have at least three first- round picks this year and some young talent to move. Love can be the go-to guy for an improved team ready to make a leap. It would be everything he thought he could have with the Timberwolves, minus wind-chill numbers in the teens.

But according to reports, Love is intrigued by the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls.

The Warriors could offer David Lee, Harrison Barnes and some picks later this decade. That's exactly the type of deal one should expect - a proven veteran, a great young player with massive upside and two picks.

Everyone wants to go to the Bulls. Chicago is going to have do some financial work to have a chance with Love or Anthony, another name attached to the Bulls.

For any team to acquire Love, it will do so with some very serious inclinations he will sign a five-year max deal. Mortgaging the future for one year of him is risky.

Which is another reason Minnesota is not in the worst position in the world. Saunders can wait until after Tuesday's draft lottery to see where the dust settles and go from there.

The Wolves can wait until draft night or just before to maximize a team's interest. They could wait until closer to the start of the season, when rosters shake out and contenders emerge. They could theoretically wait until the trade deadline next February, but they won't get as much in return.

Basically, Minnesota has options. They all don't stink, either. This isn't ideal to have a young star beg to flee a city, but the Wolves can improve if they make a sensible deal for Love.

The big man doesn't hold every card in this scenario.

[SportsNetwork.com]

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