While conventional wisdom is indicating the probability of either a Kevin Love trade followed by another painful rebuild or a series of short term "win now" measures in order to create enough success to convince him to stick around, I am not convinced either route is ultimately best for the Wolves. Instead of letting agents and media pressure them into a hasty decision, Minnesota should ideally spend the summer putting good processes into place to ensure the long term health of the franchise, with or without Kevin Love. What would these good processes look like?
1.) Draft the Best Prospects Available. This does not mean the players who are "ready to immediately contribute" but the players with the most promising mix of elite skills. Rookies are very rarely able to do more than put up raw numbers without the kind of awareness that actually moves the needle for playoff teams. This means that no one should be drafted, especially after the top five or so, with the expectation of playing more than fifteen minutes a night for a quality team. If a Euro who won't be available for the next year is the best prospect available, then taking him will look like the best move in three years. Just ask Cleveland about its decision to take Tristan Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas.
2.) Defining the best prospects. I think most of us would agree that statistical models, like vjl's, and scouting both have valuable roles to play in the drafting process. The least we can hope for is that when drafting, the Wolves are able to define the specific roles and skills that each prospect brings to the table. That means not relying on terms such as "pure scorer", but being able to describe how a player scored in college and how he'll be able to score in the NBA. Does he get his offense in the half court? Transition? Post ups? Catch and shoot? Off the dribble? Does he get to the rim? Does he settle for floaters? Etc. How do each of these categories translate to the NBA, and how valuable are each of them in the NBA? These are the types of questions the front office should be asking and trying to answer.
3.) Trade players one year too early, not one year too late. This is a paraphrase of an old Branch Rickey aphorism and mostly applies to players who are reaching the back half of their careers (but can also apply to players about to get paid). Are there any players on the Wolves roster that will be significantly less valuable in the summer of 2015 than the summer of 2014? Are they signed past 2015? If the answer to both questions is "yes", then the player should be traded as soon as possible, unless their presence gives you a good chance at a deep playoff run. Were I in charge of the Wolves, I would trade Kevin Martin to a team looking to win now, for as little as a future second round pick, before he becomes a negative asset in the eyes of the whole league.
4.) Don't spend $5 million a pop on bench players. Budinger, Brewer, Barea, Mbah a Moute are combining to make $19 million this season, which severely limits the Wolves' flexibility. On the other hand, Josh McRoberts, Nate Robinson, DeMarre Carroll, and Mike Dunleavy were all free agents last summer and combined to make about $10 million this season. No team will strike gold on every marginal free agent signing, but those mistakes hurt much less at $2.5 million than at $5 million. Some intriguing players who may be available at that kind of money (or less) this summer include Shelvin Mack, Devin Harris, C.J. Miles, Al-Farouq Aminu, Marvin Williams, Anthony Tolliver, Ekpe Udoh, and Jason Smith.
5.) Wait out the market. There are good values later in the summer every year, once the dust has settled and nobody has any cap space left. DeJuan Blair, DeMarre Carroll, Anthony Tolliver, Mo Williams, Brandan Wright, Mike Miller, Timofey Mozgov, and Nate Robinson all signed for team friendly deals after July 20th. If you don't get your first target at a good price, just move on to the next one, instead of overpaying, either in dollars or years.
6.) Don't Panic! Losing Kevin Love would suck. He's the second best player in franchise history, and this team would struggle to win 30 games without him. On the other hand, the team would struggle to win 38 games with the kinds of packages being rumored right now. Are those deals worth giving up a year of competitive and entertaining basketball? Good value free agent signings and smart draft picks will make up that difference in a hurry, with the added bonus of extra cap space to sign more valuable players during the summer. There's a narrative that premier free agents won't sign in Minnesota, but we haven't seen a competitive, well managed Wolves team with cap space since...?
Anyway, following good long-term processes may or may not help the Wolves win enough this season to keep Kevin Love around, but it is certainly better than anything attempted so far, and frees the Wolves to move on to the next chapter in the franchise's history in much better shape than last time, even if Love leaves without bringing back other players in return. There aren't any easy paths to title contention for this team, but they will be much better off if they start making shrewder decisions until they get their next chance at acquiring a truly impactful player, either beside Love or as a replacement.