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The speculation of whether Kevin Love will bail on the Minnesota Timberwolves after this upcoming season is now over; he most certainly will. Reports are that Love has put the Wolves brass on notice that if he is not dealt this season, we will opt out of his contract following the completion of the upcoming season and look to sign elsewhere. Being placed in this position, the Wolves now have no choice but to acquiesce and look for the best possible trade among the teams on Love’s list of preferred destinations or get nothing for him.
The Wolves will have zero leverage in trade negotiations as every team knows that Love wants out and they’ll be limited to trade partners that Love has deemed as desirable destinations. A team looking to trade for Love will seek assurance that Love will re-sign long term and not leave at season’s end, as Dwight Howard did with the Lakers in 2013.
It has been reported that Love is seeking a team in a large media market and that its roster have the pieces capable of competing now; however, the only team that fits that criteria would probably be the Chicago Bulls and Love’s list of teams will surely be longer.
Kevin Love heading to the Los Angeles Lakers has been speculated for at least the last 2 years and much of that has to do with his deep ties to the city. Love was born in Santa Monica, California, went to school at UCLA and his father Stan Love was a star at Morningside High School in Inglewood, California. Los Angeles would definitely fulfill Love’s pursuit of a major market, and playing alongside Olympic running mate, Kobe Bryant, is sure to be appealing. However, the Lakers fall short of being a contender with their uncertainty with Kobe’s health and a roster that still needs to be filled out.
While the Lakers might not be the ideal choice for Love, there really aren’t any out that are better. No other destinations can provide all that Love seeks, which is the exposure of a large media market, a chance to contend for a championship immediately and possess assets to form an attractive trade package to appease the Timberwolves.
Taking everything into consideration, the Lakers are in the best position to land Kevin Love.
The key point to remember here is that the Lakers do not have to put together a trade package that is equal value to Love because that would be impossible considering the scarcity of assets at their disposable. All the Lakers have to do is put together a package that beats out the other handful of teams that Love has selected, and that list will be very short which will further aid the Lakers pursuit.
What can the Lakers offer?
Any trade that the Lakers put together for Love will have to include their 2014 lottery pick which at this point can land anywhere from 1st overall to as low as 9th. The draft order will be determined on Tuesday, May 20 but odds are that Lakers will pick 6th or 7th. Picking in the 6th or 7th slot could nab a player like Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, Dante Exum, Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon, any of which could be coveted by Minnesota. That Lakers advantage is that this will be the highest pick available in this draft of the teams that Love is reported to be considering. If the Lakers land one of the top 3 picks, it would then be an easy sell with players like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or Jabari Parker that will be available at the top of the draft.
The Lakers will also have substantial amount of cap space available and that would allow them to absorb a bad contract or two from the Wolves in trade. The Wolves are likely going to go into full rebuild mode following the departure of Love; therefore, keeping around older players with long term contracts are not conducive to rebuilding and must be dumped.
The Lakers have the ability to take back a contract from the Wolves like Kevin Martin who is owed 21 million over 3 years; or Chase Budinger who is owed 5 million next year and an option for another 5 million in the following year; or Corey Brewer who is owed 9.6 million over 2 years. The Lakers can offer the Wolves an opportunity to free up cap space and rid themselves of bad contracts immediately. With the Wolves sending Love and one or even two of the aforementioned contracts to the Lakers, and not having to take back any other contracts in return to make salaries match other than the rights to the draft pick, it opens up cap space for them to be immediate players in the free agent market this year. That would make the Wolves players for free agents like Kyle Lowry, Lance Stevenson or Greg Monroe.
What can the Bulls offer?
The Bulls would provide Love with that championship contending team that he desires. The core of Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Coach Tom Thibodeau are a formidable core that are battle tested. The addition of Love to that core would be a deadly combination that could own the East for years to come.
The Bulls trade package could include players, like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. While all 3 players are both young and talented, they are far from stars and would more classified as future role players, albeit the potential to be more.
Unlike the Lakers who provide the Wolves immediate cap flexibility, because the Bulls are over the salary cap they will have to match salaries in a trade with the Wolves, requiring them to take some undesirable contracts to complete any deal. Carlos Boozer expiring deal will likely have to be thrown in to make the numbers work, and while his deal is still eligible to be taken off the books via the amnesty clause, the Wolves are ineligible to take advantage as they already exercised their one time use of the provision by using it on Darko Milicic in 2012. In other words, they would have to ride out Boozer’s contract until the end of the year to get cap relief.
The biggest asset that the Bulls possess is their draft picks, 3 of them in this upcoming draft: the 16th pick, 19th and 49th pick. While the Bulls can offer a higher quantity of draft picks than the Lakers, they cannot offer the quality that they would receive by picking in the top 6 of the upcoming draft. Again, if they covet a particular player at the top of the draft that could provide the edge to the Lakers with that higher pick.
What can the Knicks offer?
The Knicks definitely provide the big stage with New York being the biggest market in the United States and playing their homes at Madison Square Garden. What they don’t possess is anything else of value to entice a trade with the Wolves.
The Knicks do not have a single draft pick in this 2014 NBA Draft. They also do not have any cap space to absorb any bad contracts from the Wolves. The only discernible asset that the Knicks possess is their talented young guards, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert. They do have some expiring contracts in Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani to make the numbers work, but still wouldn’t provide the Wolves cap flexibility to spend this off-season. Based on the lack of attractive assets and a roster that is far from being a contender, the Knicks are the long shot in the Love sweepstakes.
What can the Warriors offer?
The Warriors along with the Bulls would be the best fits for Love in terms of joining an automatic championship contending team. Oakland/San Francisco is not quite the big market that Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are, but they aren’t tiny or freezing cold like Minneapolis is either (even though Oakland/San Francisco can be quite chilly.)
Like the Knicks, the Warriors do not have a draft pick in this years draft. The Warriors could throw in future draft picks, but how attractive would they be considering the strength of their roster once Love is in the mix, the Wolves would be looking at late first round picks from the Warriors.
Harrison Barnes would be the obvious player that the Warriors would dangle in trade offerings. A less likely player to be offered up, but one that could be the clincher, is Klay Thompson. It would be hard to imagine the Warriors giving up on Klay with the success he has experienced being paired with Splash Brother, Steph Curry; although, if they feel that a Love, Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala trio would be enough to compete for a championship, Klay could be thrown in. David Lee could also be included and would provide the Wolves with a slightly less productive and possessing less range than Love, but a very good player and former All-Star nonetheless.
The Warriors definitely have the most talent to offer but it is unlikely that they would part with the pieces necessary to land Love. The Warriors do not have cap space to absorb contracts or high draft picks to sweeten the pot.
The Dark Horse, Phoenix Suns
What can the Suns offer?
A team that hasn’t been mentioned on Love’s list are the Phoenix Suns. They are neither a major market nor a team ready to compete for a championship. What they are is a nice mix of young and talented players that won 48 games and just missed out on making the playoffs in a very tough Western Conference. The Suns have a plethora of draft picks in this coming draft: Suns draft 14th, 18th, 27th and 50th. They also have numerous young players to offer in trade and cap space to take back some of the Wolves contracts. If Kevin Love opens up to the idea of playing in Phoenix, they would jump to the top of the list of teams that could put the most attractive trade package of talent, cap relief and draft picks in this year’s draft.
The opportunity to pick up one of the top 5 to 10 players in the league (depending on who you talk to) doesn’t come up very often. While a high draft pick comes with unlimited potential the odds that the player turns into a player anywhere near as productive as Kevin Love are incredibly slim. Love alone might not turn the Lakers into a championship contender but it would be a huge piece in forming one.
The Lakers are in a great position to pick up that piece and finally have a path to their return to the top. A top 6 draft pick and cap space to take on bad contracts is what the Lakers have to offer and that should be enough to top what the Warriors, Bulls and Knicks have to offer in trade. Suns are the dark horse that could top all mentioned but doesn’t seem to fit what Love is looking for in a team. It is really up to Kevin Love as he is in control of where he will be dealt and all signs point to him landing in Los Angeles as a Laker.
– Fern Rea
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