…For a Horse? The Price of Love.

Bill Simmons came out with a few trade scenarios early in the week, not surprisingly involving Kevin Love.  He contended that if Mr. Love is not traded by this time next year, he will surely leave in free agency in summer 2015.  While I know far less than the the Grantland editor, it seems that – at this point in time – lack of attractive options the likes of Houston and Dallas (big market, adequate surrounding talent, etc.) from last summer will prevent his departure from being a guarantee.

The son of Stan isn’t a dummy. He hails from California, but that won’t incentivize him to play with studs like Shawne Williams, MarShon Brooks, and Ryan Kelly.  Odds are that this Lakers team will have an entirely different look next season, but unless it drafts a future superstar in June, different will not necessarily mean good, or even better, if Kobe breaks down again.

While it would be difficult to blame him, Love does not seem fed up by the incompetence of the past Wolves regime.  Flip Saunders has done a commendable job in the new David Kahn-free era, (re)building bridges and luring talent. While Adelman deserves some blame for rotation struggles, such as the narcotic-nightmare worthy pairing of Shved and Barea in the 4th quarter, he remains as one of the most highly-regarded coaches in the league (even though he will probably only remain on the sidelines for the next couple of seasons, at most).

As for the talent, it almost definitely ranks in the top 7 or 8 of the Western Conference.  Corey Brewer was a great signing…Chase Budinger is slowly returning to form…you have to take Kevin Martin’s passive defense with his off-ball movement and uncanny scoring ability…Rubio could be a top-12 point guard if he improves his finishing around the basket (far too much is perceived about his game by his stat line, shooting issues)…Pekovic is not a good fit beside Love, but Love really likes him and he is one of the league’s best offensive rebounders.

The team is set in stone to a great degree going forward, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  While the team’s recent high draft picks and other young players (granted, Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph may not be great examples) have fizzled out at an alarmingly high rate, that has no bearing on the progression of Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad.  I was part of the camp that clamored for Adelman to play the two rookies when the bench was tanking early in the season, but the injuries to Pekovic, Martin, and Ronny Turiaf have recently carved out some time for Dieng and Muhammad.

Aside: The fact that the two rookies have clear-cut positions at this level reduces uncertainty and allows them to focus on their particular roles.  They, along with whoever the team drafts this year, will likely provide the main source of upside for Minnesota for next season.  Even as memories of Kart Rambis’s main victims of his unforgiving and ill-fated triangle offense – Jonny Flynn and Wesley Johnson – remain fresh in the minds of Wolves Nation, it’s encouraging that each rookie – Shabazz with offensive rebounding and shot creating ability, Dieng with excellent interior defense and underrated offensive fundamentals – has definitive skills that he can build his game around.  Anyway…

In summary, there is a lot of talent on the team’s roster and Love knows that.  Although it seems likely that Love will be on the outside looking in for a 6th straight season, missing the playoffs this year is probably not a deal breaker for the former Bruin as the team moves closer to snaring a spot.  It will, however, make the postseason a requisite for next season.  Furthermore, a one-and-done result will also probably push Love toward non-frozen pastures.  As a result, the team needs to take a big a step next season as it took in the current campaign.  Meaning…

That unless Dieng can become the long-term answer as rim protector that the team desperately needs, Ricky’s shot starts falling more regularly, Barea bounces back (or the team finds an upgrade to back up Ricky), and Shabazz and Bud develop into a killer 1-2 scoring punch off the bench, Kevin Love is likely gone.

-which would be really bad for Minnesota.  In case that point needed to be driven home.  It would probably totally suck, as a matter of fact.

Other factors could come into play that lead to substantial team improvement, but when I sat down to write this post, I wanted to explore the worst-case scenario, namely that the Wolves continue their historically disappointing trend of underachievement next season and Kevin Love tells Flip Saunders that he might be Outty 5000 in the summer.

But that doesn’t make me a pessimist. I already said that I believe that the talent is there.  If I were a gambling man or lived near a casino or something, I would even make a modest-to-substantial wager that Minnesota will make the playoffs next season.

If it wasn’t clear before this season, Kevin Love is a top-7 player in the NBA.  If he was to get traded sometime next year, his trade value would at least match Carmelo Anthony’s right before he left Denver.  We’ll assume that the Knicks exhibited rational behavior and exchanged fair value when it traded its entire wealth of young players for the former Orangeman.  Before further ado, it’s time to answer a question posed by Arcade Fire: “When Love is gone, where does [he] go?”

Trade Idea 1: One of my main beefs with Simmons’s proposed Celtics deal for Kevin Love is that its worth is comprised almost exclusively in draft picks.  I think Flip would be sure to get at least one tested sure thing as a part in Kevin Love trade negotiations. Jared Sullinger would be a requirement if Love did go to Boston.  Throw in Avery Bradley with that 2014 6th overall pick,  Brooklyn’s 2014 and 2016 1st round picks via Boston, give them Barea, and that’s another story.

Even though switching Love for Sullinger would exacerbate an already poor defensive fit, trading Love would swing the priority to stockpiling young talent.  Bradley, a RFA after this season, will likely see his salary bumped to $6 or $7 million in the summer; throwing in Brandon Bass or Keith Bogans would make the numbers work.  If you’re a pessimist, you’re getting a throw-in for Love, a couple of picks, a shorter, better shooting Tony Allen, and a slightly undersized power forward for Love. If you’re an optimist, you’re getting a few long-term rotation options, a very good draft choice in possibly one of the best drafts in the past decade, and getting rid of J.J. time in the 4th quarter. Check please.

Aside: Another issue with Simmons’s prognosis is that while Love may value ‘Celtic Pride’ ad nauseum, he also values Rubio.  The prospect of playing with Rondo after playing with Ricky would not have nearly as much allure as it would for someone like Carmelo, who has Raymond Felton, who is totally not fat.

Trade Idea 2: We go from Shaq’s last destination to his first: Orlando, a team stocked with decent players and desperate for a star in the post-Dwight era.  The question whether Love would want to go there is irrelevant for our purposes; Rob Hennigan, just one of the Spurs’s legendary brood, would be more likely to balk at the prospect of giving up the metaphorical farm. Let’s overlook these details and ponder why it might work.

The team has a wealth of pretty good young players and two 1st round picks in this year’s draft.  To get Love, you have to figure that anyone but rookie Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic are on the table. That’s cool, you have players like Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, and Tobias Harris.  Wait…

Ok, so there isn’t much exciting about this team, and they need to strike gold in this draft in order to avoid becoming the future undead Bobcats of now.  So if the Wolves demanded Orlando’s pick or drafted player as part of a package for Love, it would merit serious consideration, even for GMs who live and die by the fruits of homegrown talent.

In this scenario, Minnesota would trade Love for Orlando’s 2014 4th overall pick, as well as its 2016 1st round pick (lottery-protected), the Lakers’ 2017 1st rounder, Tobias Harris (the combo forward who, besides Oladipo, probably has the highest ceiling of any player on Orlando’s current roster), and Jameer Nelson for cap reasons (Barea would subsequently get dealt).

Would Love like the move?  It would rely on how good Oladipo gets and who Orlando drafts (using the Nuggets’s increasingly valued 1st round pick, which could even roll into the top 10).

Aside: Holy hell, it’s gone downhill quickly in Denver. A mere 12 months ago, it was the most exciting team to watch in the NBA.  We all saw it coming once Ujiri left his GM post and took the same position in Toronto and George Karl got fired, but it doesn’t make the reality any less depressing. Ty Lawson’s wasting a great season, Javale McGee and Danilo Gallinari are out long term, every player on the roster has seemingly hit his respective ceiling. The only saving grace is the Knicks’s 1st round pick this year, which will likely end up around the 6 to 9 range.

But yeah, in the weaker Eastern Conference, a Magic team led by Love, Afflalo, Oladipo, and Vucevic would be a definite playoff team. It would be pretty good to watch as well. High scoring, already adequate depth in place (at the very least, Mo Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn look like long-term rotation players) and another 1st round lottery pick in the kitty.  This option would make more sense than going to the Lakers, who – like Minnesota – are mired in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. The Betty and Veronica of migration options, respectively.

Before I go on to the next idea, here are my thoughts on the other three Bill Simmons trade proposals involving Love:

1. Phoenix: After its two 1st round picks, the team’s best current trade chip is Alex Len. Not happening.

2. Chicago: Taj Gibson is still improving and I would take him over Boozer against almost any opponent, but, at age 28 and with at least $24 million owed to him over the next three seasons, he’s not the type of player that would help Minnesota in the long run. With that said, Nikola Mirotic is a rather intriguing piece and the Bulls have two mid-1st round picks this year.

While the draft pick value would not necessarily incentivize Flip to push the big red button in a vacuum, this is the only option among Los Angeles, New York, Houston, etc. that makes sense because, as a currently decent/good team, Love will already prefer Chicago as a landing spot. As a result, this could cause Flip to dig deeper and look for other takeaways beyond immediate building blocks: namely, future cap space. The unfortunate Dante Cunningham off-court developments ruined his chances of re-signing in the offseason and, thus, creates a need for Minnesota to acquire two power forwards in the wake of a Kevin Love trade.

As Trade Idea 2.5, I could see Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Alexey Shved going to Chicago for Charlotte’s 2014 1st round pick via Chicago, Chicago’s 2014 and 2016 1st round picks, the rights to Nikola Mirotic once he comes to the NBA, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, and Carlos Boozer.

Gibson is a solid starting 4 who would project to fit well beside Pekovic, especially as his mid-range shot has improved. When healthy, Boozer would be Gibson’s back-up in his lone season with the Wolves. Mirotic (a bigger, faster Doug McDermott, albeit probably less complete as a scorer) could become an ideal stretch 4 in the team’s second unit alongside Dieng. Dunleavy would be a stop-gap starting shooting guard for Shabazz or (more likely) whoever the team has drafted.

The dual 1st round picks would give Minnesota hefty negotiating leverage in the draft, providing that it keeps its own top-13 protected selection following the lottery. Combining the picks would tempt the thin rosters of Detroit, Cleveland, or even/especially Los Angeles to trade their respective top-10 selection.

I wouldn’t hate the returns for Love & Co., but it would be my least favorite of the four detailed scenarios. Tom Thibodeau would probably share my dislike, as he would lose the hard-nosed Gibson and the deal would force him to engage Martin’s defensive lethargy on a regular basis. The athetic defensive forward Mbah a Moute, rather than Chase Budinger, would be the inclusion as a precautionary measure to preserve Thib’s sanity.

Aside: With Chicago’s uncanny recent reputation as a haven for back-up point guards, I see the Bulls as one of the very few places where Alexey Shved, who needs to be the ball handler in any offensive set, could salvage his career. J.J Barea could also fit in as the final throw-in piece. Either way, it’s addition by subtraction for the Wolves.

3. Los Angeles: I don’t think Kevin Love’s presence in Los Angeles would be nearly enough to pull Durant out of OKC even if he did sign with them as a UFA next year. Thinking more immediately, what do the Lakers trade besides its lottery pick in this year’s draft? Swaggy P? MarShon Brooks? Sadly, with L.A.’s current roster configuration, both of those players would have to be traded, along with Steve Nash’s contract, in order for a trade to work.

A couple of extra 1st round picks would sweeten the deal to the extent that a few pinches of sugar would sweeten a full grapefruit, but it still would not be nearly enough to get Love in a trade. Maybe 50 cents on the dollar. Not to mention that he would only have old Kobe around him for a full season. For a guy desperate to make the playoffs, I’m sure that prospect delights him.

Moving on

Trade Idea 3: This is the hinge, the point at which the weirdness sharply escalates.  We try to excavate what the 76ers GM Sam Hinkie regards as priority and filter it from the periphery, which solely consists of 2nd round pick acquisition schemes and falling Jenga towers.

In the most blatant of tanking efforts in NBA history, Hinkie has constructed a roster that has only been thwarted in Tankfest 2014 by the Milwaukee Bucks, which is giving an honest effort, God bless ’em.  While it’s probable that the 76ers plan to build from the ground up in the most extensive way imaginable, could it be that some of the pawns, knights, and rooks at Hinkie’s disposal are available to get a star to put alongside MCW and whoever they draft in the lottery this year?

Trading for Kevin Love would set up an absurdly abrupt about-face.  MCW looks like a lankier, more athletic Jason Kidd 2.0, even considering his drop in play over the past several weeks (understandable due to the rookie wall and lack of surrounding talent) and pairing them with whoever they draft (barring a lottery slip and if they declare for the draft, Parker or Wiggins will be almost definitely available), Nerlens Noel, and signing a couple of second/third tier free agents such as Shaun Livingston and Trevor Ariza would allow Philly to bounce back into the playoffs immediately.

So what would it take? Thaddeus Young, swapping Jason Richardson for Kevin Martin (two fewer years on deal, less money), Hollis Thompson for Luc Mbah a Moute, the 76ers’s 2015 and 2017 1st round picks (unprotected or top-5 protected), and the Pelicans’s 2014 1st round pick, owned by the 76ers from the Jrue Holiday deal.

Noel would be nice to get, but Hinkie would be keen to keep him beside Love. Besides, there wouldn’t be a big roster spot for Noel in Minnesota unless he played at the 4, which would be problematic for spacing purposes on offense. Personally, I think he’s Theo Ratliff with Tyson Chandler’s athleticism, which would be a greater service to Philly than Minnesota. The Pelicans’s pick would give Minnesota an opportunity to trade up to the 5th or 6th spot, assuming they keep their own 1st round pick (by finishing in the top 13 of the draft).

Would Love like it? Yes, since it would bring him into the Eastern Conference and all but guarantee immediate postseason arrival.  While Minnesota would arguably get less than it would receive in the Orlando scenario, this would enable Minnesota to make a few crafty moves to move away from the luxury tax line while having space to extend Rubio after next season. Not being in a position to win and paying the luxury tax is a double hell.

The two swaps are very modest, but nothing about Mbah a Moute fits in for the Wolves. He’s an overpaid luxury player at the moment and this would be the case to an even greater extent with Love’s departure, since it would create greater needs. Thompson is adequate, but advanced stats back him up as a good isolation defender and he rounded into a very good spot-up shooter as the season progressed (he came out of Georgetown with the reputation as one of the best shooters of his class). Shane Battier potential.

Aside: If this trade were to go down, by the transitive property, Minnesota’s 2nd overall pick will have amounted to Hollis Thompson. The ghost of David Kahn still lingers. So much vomit.

***********************************************************************

These would be the three four scenarios in which Kevin Love makes his way over to a winner, three of which Minnesota gets at least 80 cents on the dollar. Note that all four scenarios bring Kevin Love to the Eastern Conference. A storyline that will inevitably have massive reverberations and one that I hope ends sooner rather than later.

Thanks for reading!

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One thought on “…For a Horse? The Price of Love.

  1. Pingback: Trade Idea: Kevin Love to Boston, Carmelo to Houston, Jeremy Lin to Minnesota…Yeah, I Know | Sports Spangled Banter

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