It's been a rough ride for Minnesota in the 21st century, from Kevin McHale's failure to build a contender around Kevin Garnett (save for the one Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell year) to the Joe Smith debacle to the dreaded Kahn era and beyond, it's safe to say the last decade or so has been a mouthful of sores for Wolves fans. Hell, even when there has been some hope, it's mostly gone unfulfilled.
This was supposed to be one of the NBA's young gun teams. With Kevin Love, considered by some the best power forward in the NBA, and Ricky Rubio, not long ago the league's newest sportscenter darling, it seemed the Wolves were on the fast track to contention.
Of course, it never worked out that way.
Even this year, this roster looked like it was gonna be good enough to get in the playoffs and maybe even make a little noise. Still, for one reason or another, something always seems to go wrong with this team. While theories abound, it seems increasingly unlikely that Kahn or Flip Saunders or anyone else will be able to unlock the potential in this bunch before it's too late.
What to do, then?
It's a tough question. As of now, the sand in the Kevin Love hourglass is running out, and after the way they handled his last contract and the continued failure to build a winner, it would appear almost a foregone conclusion that Love is out of here just as soon as he can be.
Here's the million dollar question, though:
Is that such a bad thing?
After so many experiments, so many variations in strategy, so many different line-ups, is it at least possible that Kevin Love is every bit as overrated as Ricky Rubio has now proven himself to be? As a fan the Wolves who has doubtless seen hundreds of Kevin Love games, have you arrived at the conclusion that Love is missing something? After watching other players considered elite NBA players drag talentless rosters to the playoffs, as Kobe did in the Smush Parker/Kwame Brown/Chris Mihm era or KG did on an annual basis, are you starting wonder why the Wolves have won no more than 31 games in Love's first five seasons? Are you starting to question the defensive commitment of a guy who seems to value rebounds and shot attempts above all else?
Maybe you have, maybe you haven't. Regardless, Love's value around the league is sky high these days, especially after this years' torrid start has helped to erase last years' debacle of a campaign. If it's true that Love is regarded by most a top 5, if not top 10 player in the league and it is also true that he isn't likely to re-sign here, then wouldn't now be the time to deal him, while his value is at it's absolute highest? Better yet, wouldn't the return he is likely to yield actually improve your team? These are the questions worth asking.
Hey, don't panic about it. Denver was in a similar spot with Carmelo Anthony a few years back. 'Melo was leaving and there wasn't really anything that Denver could do about it. Like the 2014 Wolves, that Denver team has some talent on the roster but it just wasn't coming together, or at least not in a way that could persuade Anthony to stick around. In the end, Denver decided to move him while they could and lucky for them, they found a team so desperate to acquire him, they were able to land the motherlode of assets for a guy who was leaving anyway. When all was said and done, the Nuggets were able to land:
-2 second round picks
-New York's 2014 first round pick
Just look at that haul. The Nuggets had depth before this trade; after it, they were one of the deepest teams in the league. Instead of sinking into oblivion, they continued to win at the same clip (131-77 (.630) since the trade, 139-82 (.629) in the 2 1/2 years prior to it) despite suffering from massive injuries in that stretch. Hard to argue that the Nuggets didn't come out ahead in this deal.
Oh, and I did I mention that Nuggets own the Knicks #1 pick in next years draft...and it's unprotected? Sure, that part is just a stroke of luck, but the moral is the story remains the same. By being unemotional and putting business first, the Nuggets broke the bank.
Minnesota can do the same, but only if they are able to focus on the bottom line and not be sentimental.
As far as what they can get, I'd say the world is their oyster. Sure, Love's value is mitigated by where he wants to be and by the reality that for some teams it would only be a year and a half rental. Still, this is a player whose value is perhaps as overrated as any player in the league, since as of yet there is no evidence that he can be anything but a fantasy stat sheet stuffer on a bad team. Trust me, there are no shortage of teams willing to pay through the nose for this guy.
Take Phoenix. A roster full of young talent and more #1 picks than they could possible use at this point. Even better, Love is a hand-in-glove fit for their style, and perhaps the piece that gets them into "force to be reckoned with" territory. New Orleans has the pieces to make this work. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson (and a pick or two) for Love is a trade that sends value and both directions. Love and Anthony Davis in the same front court is an impossibly intriguing proposition. Golden State would have to think long and hard about what an upgrade from David Lee to Love would do for their title hopes, and Minnesota would be hard-pressed to turn down an offer of, say, Lee and Harrison Barnes.
There are allot of options out there for the Wolves, and these are but a few. Still, there is one out there that make so much sense, it has to be considered by all involved. A trade with so much logic behind it, it's impossible to ignore. A move that almost has to be made.
Love to the Houston Rockets.
It's all there. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has an undeniable superstar fetish, and just imagine how he'd feel about having three of them on one team. What he also has is enough talent and assets to make an irresistible offer. If Morey were wiling to part with Chandler Parsons (who is due a huge raise that they might not be able to give him), Terrence Jones (lots of upside, small contract), Omer Asik (whose talent and contract helps the whole deal work) and a first round pick or two, how could the Wolves turn that down? Three young starters, all potential building blocks, and a couple of draft picks? Could the Wolves be anything but a better team after this move?
Yeah, it's all hypotheticals. Yeah, it's a ballsy move. Still, the writing might be on the wall as far as Love goes, and the longer you hold onto him, the less trade leverage you have. Either way, the name of the game is winning, and if you are the Wolves you have to take a long, hard look at whether you can ever win with Kevin Love.
If the answer is no, it's time to get it while the gettin' is good. It just might be the smartest thing they ever did.