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
Power forward Taj Gibson and shooting guard Jimmy Butler
Yes, you can consider both nothing more than role players, but the role they play best is one that was rarely considered when this Wolves’ roster was assembled over time.
Each plays defense. Imagine that ...
Butler was voted to the NBA’s All Defensive second team and Gibson received more votes than the Wolves’ top vote-getter, Rubio.
The rest of the deal: The Bulls also have the rights to European prospect Nikola Mirotic, plus the draft’s 16th and 19th picks. The Wolves probably want it all; but expect the Bulls to hug Mirotic’s rights tight and probably suggest Tony Snell instead of Butler. How much will the Bulls give if they instead possibly can sign New York star Carmelo Anthony for no more than cap-space clear and big money paid?
Second thoughts? Mirotic has a big buyout with his Spanish team, just like Rubio five years ago, and he’d have to agree to come to Minnesota when he probably had his heart set on Chicago. The Wolves also probably take back Carlos Boozer’s expiring $16.8 million salary so the Bulls don’t have to pay him off. Also, Gibson — drafted the same summer as Rubio (2009) — is older than you think, turning 29 on Tuesday.
OPTING FOR INTELLIGENCE: The Boston deal
This doesn’t suggest rookie draft picks are in any way smarter than experienced NBA players listed above. But if Saunders really wants to put his stamp on this roster as both president and coach, he could choose a package built upon primarily a collection of draft picks such as the one the Celtics can offer.
It’s not the route he will likely go, but if Saunders accepted Boston’s sixth and 17th picks as well as future first-round picks — including Brooklyn unprotected one in 2016 — he could handpick and groom his own chosen players. That’d let him select a player such as sharpshooting Creighton forward Doug McDermott — a coach’s kid — or have a choice of power forwards Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh or Julius Randle with that sixth pick.
Second thoughts? It’s a gamble on youth that could pay off huge or go bust, and it’d be a major test of Saunders’ talent-evaluation abilities.