So, as it turns out, Kevin Love isn't too happy with life as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. News broke earlier this week that Love had let the organization know that he would not be signing an extension, and that next season would be his last with the franchise.
Love's frustration with the franchise undoubtedly stems from some terrible decision-making by the front office (*cough* David Kahn *cough*). Probable grievances include, but are not limited to: terrible drafting, poor team building, bad weather, and the decision to offer Love a four year contract, as opposed to the five year max after his rookie deal. Love voiced his frustrations with the direction of the franchise as early as two seasons ago, and the writing seems to have been on the wall for quite some time.
That said, if the Wolves had made it to the post-season this year, there's a good chance that a lot of innocent ink would've been saved this week. Winning cures everything, after all. But Love, since he was drafted into the league in 2008, hasn't experienced a whole lot of that. Part of the blame for the Wolves' misfortunes will inevitably fall on the player himself, but Love has put up spectacular numbers over the past few seasons -- 26 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and a PER of 26.9 in the regular season just elapsed -- and the players around him simply haven't been good enough.
While Wolves fans will be upset with the news, those in the fan-base of a rational disposition, will realize that Love is doing his team a favour. Unlike the Dwight Howard saga in Orlando, Minnesota knows where it stands vis-a-vis its star man. He won't be opting in on his 2015-2016 player option and won't be signing an extension. He has effectively told his team: Go get whatever you can for me now.
Kevin Love has reportedly told those within the organization that the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors would be two of his preferred destinations – both teams have a strong core and a bright future. But the Celtics and Lakers also seem to be in play, because, as ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted on Twitter earlier this week, winning championships is never a player's only consideration. If it were, marquee free agents would be lining up to sign with the Spurs. They’re not.
Of course, the Timberwolves would want a nice haul in return for Love. The talk is that they want a high draft pick in this summer's draft, and a couple decent, ready-now type players. They're hampered, however, by the fact that Love is essentially an expiring contract, and teams might be hesitant to trade for him unless he gives his word that he'll sign an extension past next season. The Wolves, for example, would be happy to trade Love to a team with a top-3 pick in this year's draft -- a Cleveland or Milwaukee -- but it would be tough for those teams to take the plunge, as it's very unlikely that Love would be willing to sign long-term.
So, what about the Toronto Raptors as a destination for Love?
First off, it's worth mentioning Love's 'availability' represents a unique opportunity for many NBA teams, the Raps included. Superstars are very hard to come by in this league. You can hope to draft a potential superstar, sign one in free agency (very hard for a lot teams); or, as the Houston Rockets managed to do with James Harden, you can trade for one. For obvious reasons superstars don't become available to trade for very often, so when they do most general managers take notice. Kevin Love is a legitimate superstar -- maybe a top-10 player in the NBA -- and you'd hope, and expect, that Masai Ujiri, regardless of the outcome, is examining all the angles when it comes to making a trade for Love.
In order for the Raps to pull off a trade for Love they'd have to part with some serious assets -- that much is a given. The 2014 first-round pick would need to packaged, but that pick is very unlikely to be a game-changer for Minnesota, so the Raps would likely have to offer DeMar DeRozan, or a combination of Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas as part of the deal. Flip Saunders would certainly desire a player who would have an impact next season.
ESPN and Timberwolves writer, Zach Harper, wrote a piece outlining the possible trade scenarios for all 29 teams, and he writes that the Raps would have to offer Jonas, Ross, and two first-round picks (their 2014 pick and the Knicks' 2016 pick) to get any deal done. It's a steep price, but it's a fair return for one of the league's best players, who's just entering his prime.
However you cut it, any hypothetical deal for Love -- and right now we are firmly dealing in the realm of the hypothetical -- would cost the Raps big in terms of assets. But Love is a better player than anyone currently on the Raptors roster, Lowry and DeRozan included, and as the saying goes, if you want to make an omelette you have to crack some eggs. A core of Lowry, Love and Jonas, or Lowry DeRozan and Love -- depending on who the Raps were to part with -- is still a mighty-fine core to move forward with.
The big risk involved for the Raps in a trade for Love, of course, would be convincing him to stay past the 2014-2015 season. Teams like the Bulls and Warriors might be able to trade for Love with the assurance that he'll sign an extension. But for a team like the Raptors, they'd likely have to trade for him, and then use the year to try to convince him to re-sign.
The Raps have just come off arguably their best season in over a decade, and the vibes around the franchise haven't been this positive since Vince Carter wore Raptors purple. In Toronto, Love would be playing in a large, exciting market, for a team with an ambitious president and general manager; a team intent on letting the world know that it's going places. He'd also be paired with the best point-guard he's ever played with, and would be plying his trade in a much weaker Eastern Conference. No more winning 40 games and missing the playoffs.
And if the Raps couldn't convince Love to extend, or at least opt-in for 2015-16, Ujiri would still have the option to trade him by the deadline and recoup some of those loses.
Ultimately, it's unlikely that Toronto is going to be the team Love ends up on next season. If I were a betting man, I'd say that he will be playing ball in his home state of California, either with the Warriors, or the Lakers (ugh). And regardless, some Raps fans, after the very short-sighted Rudy Gay trade, might be reluctant to embrace the idea of giving away assets for what could be a short-term rental. It's goes without saying, however, that Love is a lot better than Gay; he's a genuine superstar whose offensive game is unlike any player's in the NBA, and in my opinion, if the opportunity arose, he'd be well-worth taking a gamble on.
One thing's for sure, if Masai Ujiri, as aggressive a general manager as he is, feels like he has the slightest chance of landing Love in a trade, he'll be working those phones.