While there are growing rumors about where Kevin Love will end up, there seems to be a general consensus in the media that he will indeed be traded. He hits free agency next summer if he turns down his player option with Minnesota for his final year, which has a base value of $16.7 million. If he's definitely leaving the franchise next summer, then a trade makes sense. But what if it wasn’t definite?
There are several examples of teams going back and forth about trading a player – the Lakers were supposedly going to trade Kobe Bryant, the Spurs almost traded Tony Parker a couple of times, the Celtics tried to trade Paul Pierce for several years before the Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen venture, and Rajon Rondo is a perpetual trade candidate. Rumors are just that – sometimes they become truth, but sometimes they don’t.
I mean all this to say: if Love admits he’s definitely leaving no matter what and you get a good offer for him, then sure, trade him. But if you don’t get anything worthwhile (and no, David Lee isn’t worthwhile), then why trade him? Why not make a serious run at the playoffs next year and hope he has a change of heart? Isn’t that possibility worth exploring if it means keeping a top-10 superstar?
So what would it look like next year if the Timberwolves kept Love?
Next Year's Timberwolves Roster
As many basketball analysts have discussed, their point differential last year was representative of a much better team. Point differential is also very predictive of future success – that means that a positive differential is reflective of a better Timberwolves season in 2014-2015. For example, they had a plus-219 differential this year (points scored minus points allowed) yet missed the playoffs. The Memphis Grizzlies, on the other hand, had a point differential of plus-129. The Timberwolves could easily be in the playoff race next year.
Also, that point differential came without the Timberwolves best lineup getting a lot of run together. Although they have quite the miserable drafting history over the years, it seems like they might have nailed their pick last year in center Gorgui Dieng. Once he was given minutes later in the year, he proved to be a very productive big man that could give them desperately needed rim protection. This would be really the first time Love has had a chance to play in a situation like that.
And while Ricky Rubio has been hammered by the media for his terrible shooting, he's still only 23 years old. That's the same age as Cleanthony Early and just a year older than Doug McDermott and Shabazz Napier, all three of whom will be first-round picks in the upcoming draft. He's good and he's not done developing.
Evaluating Possible Trades
I recently broke down the value of a draft pick and how many win shares each pick was projected to add throughout the rookie contract and the whole career. I then used that math to evaluate a potential Love to the Celtics trade. By my math, that trade – the Celtics 2014 first-round pick, their 2015 first-round pick, Kelly Olynyk, and Brandon Bass – still didn't match the value of Kevin Love, just by himself. And that hypothetical trade included two first round picks!
The proposed Nuggets trade that came across yesterday – Love and Kevin Martin for Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, and Arron Afflalo – was even further off than the Celtics trade. And regarding the Warriors, while David Lee puts up some impressive fantasy basketball statistics, I wouldn’t want any part of that contract if I’m the Timberwolves and giving up Kevin Love.
So what team could match his value? Well, no one. And that’s the problem with trading a superstar – you’re never going to get a dollar for a dollar. At best, you hope to get 85 cents on it. No trades that I have seen proposed have been “85 cents” worth if we’re judging based on projected win share math in the valuation of Kevin Love. If that’s the case, again, why trade him?
Another important question: Do the Timberwolves want to start the rebuilding process again after trading Kevin Love or do they want to remain competitive? If it's the first, then they should be searching for young players and draft picks. But if they want to remain competitive, then why even trade Kevin Love? David Lee won't make you any better, he won't let you give minutes to younger guys to develop them, and his contract is massively terrible. If you want to compete in the Western Conference next year, wouldn't Love give you a better chance of winning? And what do you know, they have that very guy on contract through next year.
Odds are that Love will indeed get traded soon. The Wolves have a lot of suitors currently, but the closer it is to Love becoming a free agent, the less leverage they have in trades. However, if they aren't offered a trade suitable to their needs and how they value their superstar, they shouldn't trade him just to trade him. Sure, you don't want to let him walk for nothing next summer. But an awful trade would achieve the same result, except you are burdened with a few more bad contracts.
Superstars don't get traded very often. It definitely is a big deal, as it'll change the course of the franchise that gets him. I'd keep him.