Minnesota is now paying the price for David Kahn’s biggest mistake as general manager — refusing to give Kevin Love the full five-year max salary extension. (He was saving it for Ricky Rubio, the guy he drafted.)
What Love ended up with was a four year deal — but he pushed for and got on the ability to opt out after three years. The summer of 2015.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone around the league who thinks Love stays in Minnesota after 2015 (even if the team has a big turnaround many still think he bolts). Sorry Timberwolves fans.
The suggestion is already in circulation that the Lakers will attempt to use their forthcoming high lottery pick in June to assemble the sort of trade package that finally convinces the Wolves to part with Love and end the uncertainty that hangs over this franchise even before the 25-year-old enters the final year of his contract. Yet there is just as much defiance emanating from ‘Sota, as we speak, about the Wolves’ ability to keep Love in town.
You continue to hear that Wolves owner Glen Taylor remains determined to try to convince Love to stick around and will keep resisting trade offers until, as one insider puts it, he “has no choice.”
To be honest, you can’t blame Taylor or Minnesota for this, as Lowe points out.
A market like Minnesota just isn’t going to attract a top-10 player in free agency unless it already has one heading up a very appealing roster. Those are the most precious commodities in the sport, and Minnesota has one. Surrendering that kind of talent is so painful for a non-glamour team. You never know when or if you’ll ever get one again. Minnesota already knows this, of course; Kevin Garnett won a ring in Boston, and the Wolves haven’t made the playoffs without him.
Even if you move your big star early in a trade, you are in for years of rebuilding — look at Utah in the wake of the Deron Williams (who they moved early). Minnesota knows what’s ahead so they are reluctant to throw in the towel. It’s very understandable.
The hope in Minnesota is to have a team good enough that Love will not leave $30 million guaranteed on the table (mostly in a fifth year the Timberwolves can offer that no other team can). He’s getting national ads like Taco Bell, he can stay and thrive.
Minnesota has tried to do this, it just hasn’t worked out so well. The Timberwolves are a better team than their record indicates — they have the 12th best point differential per 100 possessions in the league (+1.9), which sandwiches them between Dallas and Memphis, ahead of Chicago. The Timberwolves should be fighting for a playoff spot in the West, not playing out the string.
However, the Timberwolves struggle at the end of games and as Lowe notes that’s not a one-year trend, it’s been going on for years. It’s part of the makeup of the players on the roster around Love. It’s not going to change dramatically next year without a roster shakeup (and that would be difficult to pull off).
Love is an elite talent, a franchise cornerstone guy, but you have to surround him with specific kinds of players. You need a rim protecting big — Nikola Pekovic is big but not a great defender in the paint. You need shooters who can space the floor — Ricky Rubio is not that. Even players that seemed like good fits in Minnesota like Chase Budinger have not panned out.
Love is likely moving on an other teams are jockeying for a shot at him. Because of UCLA/LA connections the Lakers are considered the front runner — if they make a trade it would be with their lottery pick from this season and… future picks I guess. They don’t have much else anyone wants on that roster. The Knicks would be interested too but the only asset of interest there is Tim Hardaway Jr. and then some picks that would be years away.
But right now Minnesota isn’t entertaining those or any offers. They want to keep Love. And in the end they may fight to the end to keep him and let him walk rather than take pennies on the dollar back.