By most accounts, Minnesota Timberwolves part-owner/president/head coach/lead sandwich artist Flip Saunders has finally come to the conclusion that he won’t be able to convince Kevin Love to stay in town. That one year of Flip on the pine and a possible postseason placement for the Wolves wouldn’t be enough to encourage Love to pass on opting out of his contract in the summer of 2015 and explore the free-agent market. It once seemed a given that Saunders was deluded enough to think his offseason and regular-season touch would be enough to help change the All-Star forward’s mind, but it appears as if Saunders has come to his senses.
Now, comes the trade bit. Or, actually, the trade bit started weeks ago. It probably should have started months ago, and it’s probably going to take at least another month to conclude. That much became certain last week, when the Chicago Bulls signed rookie Doug McDermott to a contract, and especially apparent when the Cleveland Cavaliers signed top overall pick Andrew Wiggins to his first contract on Thursday. Per NBA law, the new professionals cannot be traded for 30 days following the signing, which means we have at least 29 more days to wait out a potential Love-to-Cleveland/Chicago inevitability.
This is, of course, presuming that any talk of Love heading to Golden State is dead in the water. Both Minnesota and Golden State seem curiously attracted to Klay Thompson, a rare top scoring shooting guard who does an adequate job at times of defending point guards. Thompson would immediately be in line for a maximum contract extension should the Warriors relent and trade the shooter, which seems like an odd starting-over spot for a rebuilding team like Minnesota. Wolves scorer Kevin Martin would also be sent to Golden State, and he’s a reasonable enough approximation of Thompson on the offensive end, while Love would be a massive upgrade over David Lee. Like we said, both sides seem a little off, here.
That is what has held up Love’s potential trade dealings all along. Flip Saunders may not be the technical general manager -- NBA lifer Milt Newton has that role, and owner Glen Taylor is still a very hands-on boss when it comes to basketball decision. With that in place, Saunders’ mix of unchecked powers and competitive fire (again, he probably thinks his draft picks and his coaching are the end to Love’s frustrations) have made this an unpredictable run. It’s admirable that Saunders thinks he can turn it around, as that’s the sort of confidence that what you want in a coach and president. It doesn’t make it right, though.
This all seems to be ending, however. And how do we know? Because the Wolves are starting to leak stuff.
Earlier in the week, the Chicago Sun-Times Joe Cowley printed a piece designed to earn some clicks and make the Cleveland Cavaliers sweat. Citing a “a Timberwolves source,” Cowley reported the Bulls were the “leader in the clubhouse” while offering McDermott, Taj Gibson, and “a few other assets” while hinting that prized former Real Madrid forward Nikola Mirotic could also be in the mix.
Why the Timberwolves would prefer the (damn good, but …) 29-year-old Gibson alongside a low-end lottery pick and maybe Mirotic over Cleveland’s reported offer of the past two top overall picks in the draft is beyond comprehension. We’re not supposed to comprehend it, though. We’re just supposed to say “oooooooh” as if Chicago just spit some hot fire, while looking over to Cleveland’s side as they prepared a retaliation verse.
The reality is the Cleveland Cavaliers are the leader here, in offering Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and a future first-rounder. Between those three assets and the unguaranteed contracts of Erik Murphy, John Lucas III and Malcolm Thomas, the Cavs have enough salary to legally deal for Love’s $15.7 million deal without needing the assistance of a third team.
Chicago? Depending on if those “assets” included Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell (who just finished a standout summer league performance) or Mike Dunleavy, the deal for Love would leave the team woefully thin at the swingman position, while relegating new signee Pau Gasol to a reserve role, as Love works in his prime. You’ll notice the Sun-Times did not feature a Chicago source in its report.
The Cavaliers and Timberwolves can come to an agreement surrounding Love even before the Wiggins-inspired 30-day moratorium ends. If anything, Wiggins’ signing does more to encourage a deal in spite of that technical delay, because now his rookie contract can be used to help build up salaries that approximate Love’s hefty deal. It’s the best offer the T'wolves are going to get, and they know it. All it took was for Flip Saunders to realize that no amount of work from October through April and possibly May in 2014-15 would be enough to make up for all the nonsense that went down in Minnesota from 2008 until this summer. Love has been through too much to want to give it one more shot, even if the Wolves still hold his technical rights, and even if he respects Saunders’ vision moving forward.
Whether Love is the piece Cleveland should be going after is still up for debate, as the team still needs increased defensive depth up front and more shooters. We’ve discussed that, and the idea that it’s just fine to trade for a certain star while acknowledging you’re giving up a future star in the process. With no obvious answers out there (what other team is dangling that mythical available reliable center who can board and defend?), going after Love makes the most sense.
It also makes sense Flip Saunders has come around to what most already assumed. He was never going to be able to convince Kevin Love to stay past the summer of 2015. Might as well angle through the media and glom onto as many prospects as you can before losing him for good.
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