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Timberwolves don't need to trade Kevin Love ... yet

There's still time for Minnesota to delay what seems like an inevitable Kevin Love trade. It just requires something bold that'll convince him he can win with the Timberwolves.

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SB Nation 2014 NBA Playoff Bracket

There is no situation in recent years comparable to what the Minnesota Timberwolves face with Kevin Love. The closest comparison might be the end of Chris Bosh's time in Toronto. The Raptors had only minor success with Bosh, struggling to surround him with much more than nice role players (Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Andrea Bargnani). He didn't openly show his hand as his first real opportunity to become a free agent approached, though there were certainly murmurs he'd look elsewhere. Toronto didn't heed those red flags and did not seriously entertain trading him before his opt-out clause arrived.

And so, Bosh opted out, fled to Miami and left Toronto with basically nothing to show for picking and developing a repeat All-Star.

Other players have fled as free agents at the end of their second contracts (LeBron James) or pushed for trades with one year remaining (Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul). But all of those players were regulars in the playoffs. LeBron and Dwight made the Finals with the teams that drafted them, Melo never missed the playoffs with Denver, and CP3 had a fellow All-Star in David West and a few trips to the postseason. All but James made it clear they were not interested in re-signing with the teams that drafted them. LeBron played coy throughout, which sparked a lot of the backlash to his decision to join the Heat.

The Kevin Love situation is different because the Timberwolves have experienced absolutely no team success in the All-Star's six seasons. Not even a single playoff berth. The franchise was woefully mismanaged for a stretch, and even the new GM, Flip Saunders, failed to create a playoff team when its only goal was to get the team to the playoffs no matter the cost. Based on the franchise's lack of success and the decisions of other All-Stars at the end of their second contracts, it seems like a totally easy call: Minnesota must trade Love or risk losing him for nothing. And there are really only two windows left: over the next couple months or before the 2015 trade deadline.

Without Love, Minnesota would be among the NBA's worst squads. Trading him for a veteran player or two isn't actually going to solve the Wolves' long-term problems since you don't make a new version of the Melo trade and get Minnesota into the playoffs. The Timberwolves are too shallow. The only way to go if you're trading Love is to go for the full-blown rebuild. Again.


Flip Saunders/Photo credit: Rob Carr

Why? Because you give your team a chance at a young star on the cheap for seven years. While rookie deals are only four years long, there has yet to be an All-Star on a rookie deal who didn't sign an early extension (even Love, quarreling with GM David Kahn, signed an early extension). If you land a high draft pick and nail that pick, you're picking up an asset for at least seven years. That's huge in today's NBA, where player turnover is more frequent due to contract length limitations.

The problem is in the risk involved with the draft. There's never a guarantee you'll nail a pick. Saunders, for what it's worth, has little front office experience even if Minnesota availed itself well in 2013 with Gorgui Dieng. There's certainly no guarantee you'll get another Kevin Love. In fact, the odds are that you will not get another Kevin Love.

But the choice isn't between keeping Kevin Love and potentially getting a new Kevin Love. It's between likely losing a Kevin Love and potentially getting a new Kevin Love. The odds are better in the draft than they are for keeping Love, should the Wolves have another failed season.

The only way to go if you're trading Love is to go for the full-blown rebuild. Again.

That's where the asterisk comes in: Minnesota was actually pretty good this season. In fact, the Wolves were the best non-playoff team ever by scoring margin. They would have been a playoff team but for an inordinate number of close losses, as well as the stacked Western Conference. And if they'd made the playoffs as a rising Western club, this conversation is different. If Saunders can leverage assets to add a strong complementary piece this offseason, he could go into the season hoping for a Blazers- or Suns-like rise. If that fails, he'll still have time before February to trade Love, likely for a young prospect or a 2015 lottery pick (plus more).

There's no particular rush to get this done now. Given Minnesota's moderately successful 2013-14 season, it's probably prudent to wait until January and reconsider while bolstering the club for the here and now in the interim.

Otherwise, Minnesota's eternal rebuild will only continue with the horizon no brighter than it'd been in 2007 when this current rebuild began. Until there's no time left in the hourglass -- until February 2015 -- the Timberwolves should do everything they can to boost the likelihood they keep the Kevin Love they have beyond 2015.

Only when that goal looks hopeless should the Wolves commit to finding their next Kevin Love.


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