There is a 75 percent chance that Kevin Love leaves the Minnesota Timberwolves, sooner OR later.
That is what NBA teams are hearing as they try to determine whether Love is now obtainable, a league source tells SheridanHoops.com. And chances are it will happen either through a trade before next February, or through Love’s unrestricted free agency in July 2015.
Wolves president Flip Saunders is operating under the assumption that he has a good chance to keep Love by offering a four-year contract extension at the maximum salary. But Saunders is overly optimistic, said the source, who is close to a team trying to acquire Love. He spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“There’s only a 25 percent chance he stays,” the source said.
Love has an opt-out in his contract that would make him a free agent in July 2015. A number of Love rumors circulated Sunday, saying the power forward was certain to leave and was trying to make that known to the team. But owner Glen Taylor said Sunday that the Wolves have no intention of trading their only All-Star, and Saunders said reports that the Wolves were actively trying to trade Love were inaccurate.
But Taylor did make a comment to reporters at the WNBA Minnesota Lynx’s season opener that is somewhat open to interprepation. “Not by the draft,” he said.
The source who spoke to SheridanHoops said Love wants to play for a contending team in a big market – and that speculation that Love ranks Los Angeles ahead of all other cities was vastly overstated. Among the rumors Sunday was that Golden State was willing to offer a package including David Lee and Harrison Barnes. On Monday, the New York Post reported that Knicks president Phil Jackson is “plotting” to try to acquire Lee in a trade. (Good luck with that, Phil.)
In reality, Love holds the strongest cards in this standoff because he can tell any undesirable team that he will not sign an extension with them, and he can stay patient and hit a very open market in the summer of 2015 as the most desirable free agent. Two teams that fit Love’s big-market criteria – the Lakers and Knicks – will be flush with free agency dollars in the summer of 2015, so no one will be able to accuse Love of bluffing. He wins no matter what.
That kind of leverage will keep speculation surrounding Love front and center in the NBA rumor mill this summer — and for much, much longer if the Wolves feel it is in their best interest to at least keep Love around until the February 2015 trade deadline.
What could change things quickly is an unlikely, big-market team winning the draft lottery.
The Boston Celtics, for instance, would be much better prepared to make a run at Love if they had a top-three pick to dangle in front of the Timberwolves. They have a 10.3 percent chance of winning Tuesday night’s draft lottery.
The Lakers have a 6.3 percent chance of winning the lottery, but it is unlikely they would make that pick available in a trade — especially knowing that whether it is Love or Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant, high caliber superstars are always going to want to play for them. And if they win the lottery, the Lakers would find a way to get word to Love to stay put for one more year.
The Phoenix Suns, another team said to intrigue Love, have only a 0.5 percent chance of winning the lottery. They are actively talking to other teams about packaging their three first round draft picks (No. 14, their own; No. 18, from Washington in the Marcin Gortat trade; and No. 27 from Indiana in the Luis Scola trade) for a higher pick, our draft expert, Joe Kotoch, reported in his Mock Draft 2.0 published Saturday.
No other big market teams are in the lottery.
As this Love saga plays out, it is important to remember that the Wolves got themselves into this mess.
When they had the chance to offer Love a five-year max contract, Taylor and then-GM David Kahn instead offered only four years and yielded to Love’s request to have an opt-out after three years. Love signed the $61 million deal somewhat reluctantly, knowing that he would have to wait three years to have any real leverage.
The only leverage the Wolves have is that they can offer Love an extra year through a four-year extension beginning in 2016-17, which would be tantamount to giving him the five-year max contract he originally sought.
But that piece of leverage presupposes that Love will have enough patience to wait for the Wolves to install a new coach to replace Rick Adelman, tweak the roster enough to make them a contending team next season in a loaded Western Conference and put their faith in the belief that Love will not opt out – which would put the Wolves at risk of losing their best player since Kevin Garnett left town with nothing in return.
That would be an enormous risk for Minnesota, and everybody around the NBA knows it. That is why Love’s future will be one of the stories that refuses to die down over the next 42 days before July arrives.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and Editor-in-Chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.