Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations and coach Flip Saunders promises he will trade discontented star Kevin Love — quite possibly by NBA’s Thursday night draft — only if he can improve his roster without taking a step backward with a team that went 40-42 last season.
It’s not often a team does that by trading away its best player, but Saunders insists it’s possible, in a number of different ways.
“You can get better from a talent standpoint, from an intelligence standpoint, an energy standpoint, a defensive standpoint,” he said.
Listed here are some of Saunders’ many options, based upon which standpoint he ultimately might deem desirable in return from a trade that would send away a three-time All-Star as well as possibly either Kevin Martin or J.J. Barea:
Opting for talent: The Golden State deal
Shooting guard Klay Thompson
Saunders purportedly has targeted the other half of the “Splash Brothers” as the best singular piece available for Love. That is unless, of course, Cleveland would offer its No. 1 overall pick or the Los Angeles Lakers get involved in a larger three-way deal and obtain Thompson while sending the Wolves their No. 7 pick instead.
Former NBA coach George Karl said he thinks Thompson can “become the best shooter in basketball,” which means he’d surpass current teammate and fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry someday. Karl also suggested Thompson is Saunders’ kind of player — a deft shooter coming off screens — and praised his defense as well, an important point because Saunders is on the hunt for players who compete on both ends of the floor.
The rest of the deal: Veteran power forward David Lee and possibly young forwards Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green. Don’t believe chatter that the Warriors’ unwillingness to include Thompson is holding up the deal. If there’s a delaying issue it likely will be the Wolves’ insistence on including Barnes or Green. A possible compromise: Either the Wolves add a piece to sweeten the deal or the teams settle on a Warriors first-round pick.
Second thoughts? Lee’s massive contract — he’s owed $15 million next season — has two years remaining and Thompson, like Wolves guard Ricky Rubio, is eligible for a contract extension starting July 1 and purportedly eyeing a maximum contract. The Wolves must be careful not to overpay not once, but twice.
OPTING FOR ENERGY: The Denver deal
Power forward Kenneth Faried
If it’s energy you want, there’s not many better than a guy they call the Manimal.
Faried is offensively limited, but rebounds and runs the floor befitting his name. He will also defend, which Wolves fans might find a novel concept at power forward.
He will probably never be an All-Star, unless he keeps playing the way he finished last season. He averaged nearly 18.8 points and 10.1 rebounds and shot 54.6 percent from the field after the All-Star break and doesn’t turn 25 until November.
The rest of the deal: Small forward Wilson Chandler and possibly Orlando guard Arron Afflalo, whom the Nuggets likely would acquire with their 11th overall pick. The Nuggets could send that pick directly to Minnesota, if they can fashion a deal that makes the money work under salary cap rules.
Second thoughts? There’s probably not a real star — Faried comes the closest — among the group and Faried, like Thompson, is due for a contract extension. He’s looking to cash in big, like eight figures per year big.
OPTING FOR DEFENSE: The Chicago deal