All things considered, the Minnesota Timberwolves did very well in the Kevin Love trade.
In the trade, which can't be completed until Aug. 23, Cleveland will reportedly send Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and a 2015 first-round pick to Minnesota in exchange for Love.
The truth about these sorts of trades — in which a superstar forces his way to a contender under threat of leaving in free agency at the end of the year — is that the team that trades the superstar usually loses.
More than any other professional sports league, success in the NBA is driven by stars. When you give up a top-15 player, it's rare that a combination of role players, young guys, and future draft picks can replace his impact.
When you look at comparable trades, you see that Minnesota's haul is pretty good. Over the past four years, five elite NBA players have been traded: Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Carmelo Anthony.
The Howard and Anthony trades involved multiple teams and multiple players going a bunch of different directions, so for the sake of simplicity we'll look only at examples in which a superstar changed hands in a trade between two teams (namely, the Harden, Paul, and Williams trades).
Here's what the Oklahoma City Thunder got for James Harden (players in bold still with the team):
Kevin Martin (one year left on contract)
2013 1st-round pick (became Steven Adams)
2013 2nd-round pick (became Alex Abrines)
2014 1st-round pick (became Mitch McGary)
Here's what the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans got for Chris Paul:
2012 1st-round pick (became Austin Rivers)
Here's what the Utah Jazz got for Deron Williams:
2011 1st-round pick (became Enes Kanter)
2013 1st-round pick (used in draft-night trade for Trey Burke)
None of those guys in bold have made an All-Star team, let alone filled the void left by franchise-changing players. In each example, teams traded a top-15 and got a handful of spare parts in return.
The thing that makes the Kevin Love trade so good for Minnesota is that the Timberwolves got one player in Andrew Wiggins who has a plausible chance to be an All-Star, and another player in Anthony Bennett who was a No. 1 pick just 14 months ago and is skinny now.
If Wiggins pans out, the Timberwolves would have gotten more for Love than any other those other teams got for their respective top players.
The Timberwolves had to trade Love. They couldn't risk him trudging through another 39-win season and leaving in free agency next summer for nothing. In a bit of good fortune, they were able to create something of a bidding war for Love — with Cleveland initially reluctant to include Wiggins in the trade and Golden State reluctant to include Klay Thompson. When the Cavaliers finally blinked and put Wiggins on the table, the Timberwolves were smart to take the offer.
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