The idea, for a while there at least, was that Minnesota personnel boss Flip Saunders wouldn’t have the temerity to trade Kevin Love. Or, that he’d have the undeserved confidence to think that he could hang onto the All-Star forward while attempting to build a team around him, declining on dealing him despite Love’s obvious wishes to go elsewhere.
Instead, it appears, Saunders is just another in a long line of Minnesota owners (he does have a small share), executives, and coaches (Flip just hired himself) to undervalue Kevin Love.
According to several reports, as first broken by ESPN, the Timberwolves seem willing to trade Love to the Golden State Warriors for forward David Lee, guard Klay Thompson, and a potential future first-round pick from Golden State. The Warriors do not have a pick in next week’s NBA draft, and they owe the Utah Jazz a pick in the 2017 draft. From Marc Stein:
Sources told ESPN.com that the Warriors, while they covet Love greatly, have been weighing internally whether they're prepared to give up two such assets in addition to former All-Star forward David Lee for Love and Wolves swingman Kevin Martin.
Sources say the Wolves also have expressed interest in Warriors forward Harrison Barnes, with various trade constructions being exchanged by the teams in recent days as next Thursday's draft draws near.
Earlier rumors had the Wolves actually tossing their selection in next week’s draft to Golden State for the package, and the league’s followers as a whole barely blinked, thinking it in line with Minnesota philosophy to give up both the best player and a lottery pick in a wickedly deep draft while dealing away.
Thompson is up for a contract extension this offseason, and though he’s hardly a prototype all-around shooting guard, because there are so few standout shooting guards in the modern NBA, Thompson figures to ask for and receive a maximum contract. Lee is a former All-Star and he will help approximate some of the points and rebounds lost by trading love, but this is an odd, odd move.
Kevin Martin wasn’t great in his first season in Minnesota, but he still managed to shoot reasonably well and average 19.1 points per game. That figure would seem to dim a bit away from former Wolves coach Rick Adelman’s system, but by and large he would act as the David Lee to Klay Thompson’s Kevin Love in this comparison.
The problem here is that Love is way, way better than any of these guys. And he’s 25 years old.
Golden State’s eventual draft pick, unless something goes rotten in the Bay Area, will not be worth much to Minnesota. Thompson is nice and fills a need (he shot nearly 42 percent on three-pointers last season, and Minnesota was fifth to last in three-point percentage in 2013-14). Lee can play and his massive contract only has two years left on it, though he’s still owed over $30.5 million.
The Wolves are giving up Love, though. For two pretty good players that won’t put the team over the top.
The fair criticism against KLove is that he has yet to put Minnesota over the top, ranking as perhaps the NBA’s best player to have never made the playoffs in his first six years in the league. The man also had to work under perhaps the worst general manager (David Kahn) and coach (for a few years, Kurt Rambis) of the modern era, and his supporting cast has been less than stellar throughout. Love shared time on the court with Al Jefferson and is currently the teammate of Nikola Pekovic, but those two stand as his best second fiddles in six years, all while the Wolves fritter away draft pick after draft pick.
Draft picks like Ricky Rubio (a 36.8 percent shooter on his career), Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams and Shabazz Muhammad. These are the draft picks – the lottery picks! – that were brought in to help. Martin and Pekovic were the reinforcements signed to steel the roster. Chase Budinger was supposed to be the straw that stirs the drink.
This cannot have expected to be a playoff team, and yet it won 40 games last year with a coach in Adelman who had nine toes already out the door. And instead of admitting that the soil has been salted and that it is time to start over, the Wolves are thinking about dealing for 31-year old Lee and the right to pay Thompson (who averaged a combined 5.5 assists/rebounds last season) a whole lot of money.
Because they’re undervaluing Love. Reportedly. Repeatedly, if the report is correct.
Love’s game has holes. His three-point shooting has measured out to be merely average, he is a so-so if improving defender and he shares a chunk of the blame for Minnesota’s poor showing in clutch situations last season. He also averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists last year, and he doesn’t turn 26 until September. And the lovely byproduct of all those playoff whiffs comes in the form of extra tread not being put on a player who has yet to play an NBA game in the month of May.
There are no obvious proposals to chase down – not from Boston, not from Chicago, and not from Denver – in the quest to deal Love. Lee and Thompson are nice players, and an eventual first-round pick always helps. Saunders’ team would be competitive, and solid enough.
Still, if this deal goes down it will serve as the perfect final chapter to an era gone terribly wrong.
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