The Timberwolves remain two-plus weeks away from finalizing it with the NBA office, but they have reached an agreement in principle on a trade that will send discontented star Kevin Love away to play with LeBron James in Cleveland and bring back No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.
Barring any late changes of heart or unforeseen developments, the Wolves expect to deal Love away for Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick in a trade that still could grow larger if it includes a third team, according to a person with knowledge of the trade discussions.
The Cavaliers cannot trade Wiggins until Aug. 23, which is 30 days after he signed a rookie contract that will pay him $5.5 million next season and the first day NBA rules allow him to be traded.
Those two-plus weeks give either side extra time to change their minds. It also allows time for the Wolves to search to involve another team in a three-team deal that, for example, could enable them to send away the expiring contracts of Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved to Philadelphia along with the first-round pick they are acquiring from Cleveland for veteran forward Thaddeus Young.
Like Love, Young can opt out of his contract after this next season. A three-way trade also would give the Wolves a larger trade exception they could use to add another player within the next year, if they can create a space on their 15-man roster. They will have 16 players with guaranteed contracts if they make the deal.
The Cavaliers own protected 2015 first-round picks belonging to Miami and Memphis, and they likely will include the Miami pick — top-10 protected in 2015 and ’16, and unprotected in 2017 if it is not conveyed before then — in the trade.
Yahoo Sports reported Thursday that Cleveland has received a “firm agreement” from Love — who intends to leave the Wolves via free agency after this coming season — that he will opt out of his contract in 2015 and re-sign with the Cavaliers on a maximum five-year, $120 million-plus contract extension next summer.
The Wolves are believed to have given the Cavaliers permission weeks ago to talk with Love and his representatives about a future in Cleveland, and Love has met with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. But according to league rules, such a contract extension cannot be negotiated until he opts out of the final year of a four-year contract he signed in January 2012.
Love’s contract will pay him $15.7 million next season.
Love also could elect next summer to play for his current contract’s final year and, like James intends to do, leave his options open to sign a long-term extension in 2016. By then, the NBA’s new television deal is expected to significantly increase the league’s revenues and thus the salary cap for each team.
The Wolves appear focused solely on a trade with Cleveland after discussing a deal with Golden State in June for Klay Thompson, David Lee and Harrison Barnes that never was completed and after talking with Chicago and other teams as well.
The Associated Press, citing an unnamed source, reported Thursday that Wiggins has been working out away from the Cavaliers’ suburban Cleveland facilities and his representatives have begun researching possible endorsement deals for him in Minnesota.
Wiggins’ arrival would give the Wolves an elite athlete they can play on the wing — something they have lacked for almost all of their history — as well as a player some NBA scouts envision becoming the kind of defensive player former Bulls star Scottie Pippen once was.
Future Hall of Fame coach George Karl went through a similar experience in 2011, when the Nuggets dealt discontented star Carmelo Anthony at the trade deadline to the Knicks for four established players and multiple draft picks.
Now a ESPN analyst, Karl on Thursday said he was “a little shocked by the Wolves not getting more” than two young players — albeit each drafted at the top of his class — who are unproven so far as professionals.
“Minnesota has chosen a different path,” Karl said, comparing the reported trade with the one the Nuggets struck. “Our path was to regroup rather than rebuild. I think Minnesota is in a rebuild mode. You have two young kids, with no idea of what their production will be. There is high potential, but very little [proven] production.
“In today’s system, there seems to be a philosophy of rebuilding with young players. Minnesota has chosen that way. I think they’ve gone from being on the verge of being a playoff team to reforming their personality. … I’m not a believer in going back and then to try to climb back up the ladder.”
If the trade is completed Aug. 23 or thereafter, the Wolves are reforming with two athletic players — Wiggins and 2014 first-round pick Zach LaVine — who can run with point guard Ricky Rubio and leap for his alley-oop passes.
“Holy cow, both those guys are freaks athletically,” ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas said Thursday. “They could have some dunk contest in practice.”
They also are both 19 years old in a league where age and experience win.
Bilas called a deal in which the Wolves are trading a star who intends to leave anyway for two No. 1 overall picks “tremendous,” although he acknowledges Bennett was taken in a “bad” draft.
Bilas was asked if he believes Wiggins — a Canadian who played one college season at Kansas — has superstar potential despite scouts’ concerns about his “motor” and ball-handling skills.
“Potentially yes, but it depends what level of star you’re talking about,” Bilas said. “All-Star potential he has. Is he going to be LeBron or that level where he’s the guy who can carry you to the Finals? I’m not sure I see LeBron or Kobe in him, but I see an All-Star in him.”
Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this report.