The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the middle of one of the oddest seasons in recent memory. They are just a handful of close games and nerve-racking possessions away from playoff contention, but instead are six games back from eighth place in the Western Conference. What's weirder still is that Minnesota has registered both a top-10 offense and defense through the All-Star break, via Basketball-Reference. Still, that on-court productivity has yet to yield positive results in the win/loss column.
The Love saga
Kevin Love can opt out of his contract at the end of the 2015 season and the Timberwolves will most likely offer him an extension before then, but there have been grumblings between Love and the front office for the past year which make foggy his future in Minnesota. Many believe that the star big man is looking to field whatever offers he can get when the time comes.
The Timberwolves can offer him a contract and make as many trades around him in order to please their franchise forward, but ultimately it all comes down to Love's decision. He can stay in Minnesota or he can leave as a free agent. That puts the team in a peculiar situation. Love's trade value is sky high and exporting him will likely yield a solid return, but it also might signal the start of another rebuild and that's a tough thing to put a fan base through, especially one that hasn't really enjoyed a good professional team for nearly a decade now.
Still, it's a franchise decision that Minnesota will have to make. Enticing Love to sign a long-term contract would be optimal for the team, but if it isn't possible, it's important to make sure he doesn't walk without bringing back assets. There's little chance the team actually trades him at this deadline, but the Love saga isn't ending any time soon and it'll likely reach a climax around next year's deadline.
Keeping Love happy means forming a team around him that is suited to win. There isn't a whole lot to work with in Minnesota but Sam Amick of USA Today mentions J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham as "players thought to be available."
Barea is a spark plug off the bench, but he isn't nearly good enough to convince Love to stay. Cunningham isn't the most efficient player, but he's useful on defense and isn't awful on offense. Shved rock-bottomed at the beginning of the season, but has bounced back to regain some trade value. These are uninspiring role players to be sure, but it's what Minnesota is working with.
Any trade move here isn't likely to land an impact player, but if it helps Minnesota in the short term then it could go a way in convincing Love that the front office is working to improve the roster. The best case scenario here is that Minnesota makes a push for the eighth playoff spot, but that's absolutely "best case" and is a bit unlikely.
A locked-in cap sheet
The problem with trading personnel is that Minnesota is basically locked in with the same salary cap next year that it has this year. It owes $68.1 million in guaranteed contracts this year compared to $66 million next. That leaves the team with very little wiggle room and it'll take crafty moves to give the team any breathing room
Nikola Pekovic is locked in for $60 million through 2018 and Kevin Martin is in for a little over $20 million through 2016, according to ShamSports, and that's before factoring in Love's remaining $30.4 million through 2015. It'll be tough for Minnesota to make a move with its current parts.