With Andrew Wiggins signing his rookie contract with the Cavaliers four days ago, he is now unable to be traded for 30 days (26 now, as the signing took place four days ago). With that, speculation regarding a possible Kevin Love trade has ramped up in the past few days. There seem to be three teams with a semi-legitimate chance at acquiring Love: the Cavs, who remain the frontrunner, the Warriors, who are hellbent on keeping Klay Thompson, and the Bulls, who are probably the long shot destination for Love.
Trading Kevin Love is not ideal. That much is clear. Love is a superstar and the NBA is a league whose fate hinges on where the superstars play. Basketball–unlike sports like football, baseball, or soccer–is a sport where one player really can make the difference in a team. With only five players on the floor at a time, one player can make a big difference. Basketball is not a sport with teams of twenty players like soccer, or fifty-ish players like football. There are only usually 10-12 guys on an NBA team, eight or nine of which will consistently play. Trading a superstar in the NBA almost never yields equal or even close to equal return. Often, teams trading the superstar will get three quarters on the dollar back, if they’re lucky. Lately in the NBA, when superstars have been traded, it has been for a package of assets, sort of a mystery box. Some young players here, picks there, and maybe some cap space too. The deals have looked like those you see in MLB, where a star player is traded for a handful of prospects. It’s almost always impossible to accurately grade the deal when it’s made. You’ve got to wait and see how good (or bad) the prospects end up being, and that can take years. That is precisely the type of deal the Cavaliers are offering the Timberwolves right now. They’re offering Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, as well as several first round picks for Kevin Love. In other words, their two brightest prospects and future prospects for Love.
It is easily the best deal the Timberwolves will receive at this point. The deal is, of course, very risky though. It requires management to draft properly and develop young players, and that is no easy task. Ask any team in the league, save the Spurs. The Wolves could get five good assets without developing a single one, and look back on the trade as a rip off. But if Wiggins comes even close to reaching his potential and Anthony Bennett keeps developing, then this is the deal the T’Wolves should take.
The two other offers are predictably mediocre. The Warriors offer of Klay Thompson and David Lee for Kevin Love does not provide the Wolves a player with sky-high potential, nor does it offer them significant cap space. David Lee’s deal is hefty and still has two years left. And Klay Thompson is a good player, an elite shooter who is an above-average defender, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever become a superstar. The other deal floated the Wolves way recently comes from the Bulls, who offered Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, and a future first round pick for Love. Gibson and Butler are good players who are capable starters in the league, but neither player is much more than a role player. Those two players would do precisely what Minnesota should avoid: keep Minnesota treading water in the West, not good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to bring in a good draft pick. I’m not suggesting the only solution for the T’Wolves involves getting young players and tanking, but a nucleus of Ricky Rubio-Jimmy Butler-Taj Gibson-Nikola Pekovic is not even close to good enough in the West. I realize the T’Wolves haven’t had much success in the past few years, but their urgency to win now makes little sense.
Losing Kevin Love stinks. They won’t be able to replace a player of his caliber in the near future. But they can at least bring back a war chest of assets that may come in handy in the future. The worst thing they can do is give up Kevin Love for a group of decent role players, leaving Minnesota in limbo financially and on the court.