Poker generally is played without a clock. NBA trades are made, always, against one.
That time element adds one more moving part to all the others in the Minnesota Timberwolves decision to trade Kevin Love, the franchise’s best player since another All-Star power forward named Kevin roamed Target Center.
Call it a calendar if you like – Love can opt out of his contract 338 days from now and hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2015 – but for all practical purposes, the time intervals are tighter and more urgent than that.
- The Wolves have only 82 games to convince Love to re-sign another five seasons in Minnesota or lose him without compensation. (Note we’re not counting playoff games, since Love never has appeared in one).
- Fans in the Twin Cities have only 41 home games remaining to cheer or to jeer the 6-foot-10 power forward as one of their own. (He’ll be back one or two times annually after that, for accuracy’s sake).
- Any team that traded for Love would be giving up assets for one season’s worth of his services. Two seasons (if Love were to commit to opt-in for 2015-16) or five seasons (if he gave assurances of re-signing that the new team could trust) might entice that team to boost the assets it sends to Minnesota – as long as it avoided a Carmelo/Nuggets/Knicks transfer of talent so great that Love’s new team would suffer in the exchange.
- Intermediate deadlines are already looming: The Wolves have until the end of September to move Love or open training camp with a potentially unhappy star. The league’s trade deadline is in February, by which time Love and his teammates all might be sick of answering questions about his future whereabouts (and of each other).
- Potential suitors face deadlines of their own, as far as preparing for the coming season, adding Love and subtracting current players on the fly. Will Golden State up its offer to include Klay Thompson? Will Cleveland back off its resistance to including No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins? Their value can change every 24 hours.
- Flip Saunders is on the clock, too, as head coach because owner Glen Taylor wants Saunders sooner rather than later to return full time to his duties as president of basketball operations.
So time is of the essence already in Minnesota’s decision to draw, hold or fold in Love trade talks.
The latest development in the saga – a closely watched one in NBA circles, what with free agency’s biggest names having settled in for the summer – came courtesy of Taylor Wednesday in Las Vegas, where he took on the foregone conclusion of many league insiders and media outlets that Love definitely would be traded soon. On the contrary, the Minnesota billionaire said while sitting in on NBA TV’s summer league broadcast of his team’s game.
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) July 17, 2014
“Our plans are he’s going to stay and we’re going to prepare for him and have him as part of our season this year,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of speculation that he wants to go to another team and I guess my response to that is, we’re going to look at anything that makes sense that would make our team better. But we’re not going to just move a superb player like that without getting equal or more value back.”
As Taylor sees it, Minnesota’s 40-42 finish was due largely to its 6-13 record in games decided by four points or less. It outscored its opponents by 2.6 per game, an unusually fat margin in NBA history for a team missing the playoffs.
Keeping Love as the anchor of a team that has added lottery pick Zach Lavine, with the development of last year’s rookies Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad and the play of point guard Ricky Rubio and center Nikola Pekovic, is Taylor’s stated vision. It’s LaMarcus Aldridge changing his mind on Portland, Upper Midwest style.
Whether it’s a bluff or not isn’t clear. But they’re all playing Beat The Clock.
“I’d like to have Kevin back and play under Flip and just see how the coaches utilize him with the other players,” Taylor said. “What Kevin has said to me, he wants to win. I’ve said back to him, ‘That’s all I want too!’
“My preference is that Kevin will come to camp – and I’m sure he will – and plays with the team, with the roster we put around him. And that we win. I think he’ll find out Minnesota has the same thing that he wants, and that is a chance to win and to make it to the playoffs.”
What Love wants isn’t clear, because he hasn’t addressed it head-on. There was his springtime interviews in which he tangentially talked about his preferences. Then a highly publicized long weekend in Boston, home of the pursuing Celtics. But he bowed out of the celebrity softball game Sunday in Minneapolis during MLB All-Star festivities there.
Love, who will turn 26 on Sept. 7, hasn’t issued any ultimatums. If he starts the season with Minnesota and plays hard, up to his All-Star past, fans might be won over from, or at least tire of, razzing him. Then again, if he either stonewalls the media or engages them too fully – he’s a bright guy capable of acerbic responses – or worse, comes down with a “blue flu” at some point during the season, it all could become untenable and another Wolves season might be lost.
Golden State and Cleveland, rightfully, would be loath to send out Thompson or Wiggins, respectively, without the guarantee of at least two seasons of Love. Saunders would be wise not to peddle his power forward for lesser packages, but has to know that his asset – not Love per se, but one season of him – will decline with each game.
There also are voices within the Wolves who are prepared to (gasp!) lose Love for the proverbial “nothing,” preferring to shed his $16.7 million from next season’s salary cap over taking on contracts of mediocre players.
Right now, it’s more sundial than stopwatch. But the clock be tickin’, as Micheal Ray Richardson might say. Time, like Love, is fleeting.