Brushing aside the egos of the men involved and the circumstances that have led us to this point, the fundamental question in a potential trade of Kevin Love is how much value can the Timberwolves get in return?
And the fundamental question within that question is one that is permeating much of pro sports with great frequency because of the salary structure in top U.S. leagues: Is it better to receive players who already are established in the NBA (and therefore command a larger salary now or figure to soon) or to get draft picks who carry the seduction of potential and cheap labor but also bring far less of a guarantee of production?
A surer thing sounds nice, but it’s become a more complicated question in the NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL as top end players have increasingly commanded massive salaries while younger players are slotted into more reasonable salaries dictated by collective bargaining agreements early in their careers.
The greatest value in sports often comes from younger players who produce before it’s their turn to get paid. Draft picks have become such a commodity that established players such as Kendrys Morales sit on the sideline unsigned for months into a season because he would have cost a draft pick to sign otherwise. The Twins only pounced once that restriction was up.
For the Wolves, though, the question becomes even more complicated by their basketball history and their current structure. They have been bad for so long and attempted so many rebuilding projects that a full-scale dump of Love for draft picks feels like a major step back. Yet it might be the smartest thing they can do in the long term.
The trade talk that has circulated around Love has included two distinct types of trades.
A deal with, say, Golden State could center on players such as Klay Thompson and David Lee — players either getting paid well or about to get paid well, but who could help the Wolves remain at least as competitive as they were last season.
A deal with, say, Boston, revolves around draft picks who potentially could join forces with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and others to form a future core — at a much lower initial cost than already-established players.
Assuming Flip Saunders the personnel boss has the stomach to trade Love, the deal will say a lot about what Saunders the coach covets: a chance to battle for a playoff spot next season or a swing for the fences to possibly compete for more down the road.