Seven years after they traded away a star with the same first name, the Timberwolves did so again on Saturday, finally sending away discontented Kevin Love to Cleveland in a three-way trade before he could leave.
A pre-emptive strike before Love could walk away free next summer, the deal is intended to change the identity of a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since that other Kevin — the one named Garnett — played at Target Center long ago.
It brings the first player selected in each of the past two NBA drafts — this summer’s No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and 2013’s Anthony Bennett — as well as Philadelphia veteran power forward Thaddeus Young and a $6-plus million trade exception the Wolves can use within the next year to add a player without salary-cap limitations.
In return, the Wolves sent Love to Cleveland, where he will play beside superstar LeBron James and pal Kyrie Irving on a team that now becomes an instant title contender, if it already wasn’t before. The Wolves also shipped to Philadelphia veteran forward Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and Miami’s 2015 first-round pick received from the Cavaliers.
By doing so, the Wolves traded away a three-time All Star and perhaps the NBA’s most unique player while reforming their team yet again. This time, they’re doing it with youth, wild athleticism and, if you include the team’s own first-round pick Zach LaVine, four players whom President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders believes possess the type of defensive possibilities his team badly needs.
“What I feel good about is, I didn’t know if the team had an identity,” Saunders said Saturday afternoon at Target Center after the trade was announced. “I believe now that we have taken steps to have an identity: Exciting, a team that can get up and down the floor, but what I’m most excited about is we really have four players that potentially are very good two-way players.
“In order to be successful in this league, you have to have two-way type players.”
The Wolves will introduce their three newest players at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday while the Cavaliers will do the same with Love in Cleveland that same afternoon.
Young introduced himself to Wolves fans with a Twitter message about the same time the trade was announced Saturday afternoon. The Wolves preferred him over a future draft pick because, at age 26 with seven NBA seasons behind him already, he’s a veteran who can step into Love’s vacant power-forward position.
“I’m ready to work and bring my hardworking attitude Philly gave me to #wolfnation,” tweeted Young, who, like Love, can opt out of the remaining two years on his contract next summer.
Saturday’s trade was announced at the end of an unusual 30-day moratorium, set in place last month after Wiggins signed his rookie contract. Essentially agreed upon weeks ago and finalized in the last few days before Saturday, the trade brings with Wiggins one of at least two “cornerstone” players Saunders said he identified as worthy in such a trade.
Golden State guard Klay Thompson is believed to be the other, but he was pulled from trade discussions in June just when it appeared the Wolves were about to strike a deal for Love, whose representatives these last four months made it clear their client didn’t intend to stay in Minnesota beyond this coming season.
Saunders invested time last season attempting to strengthen his relationship with Love in an attempt to convince him to remain a Timberwolf.
When asked Saturday if he had failed to do so, Saunders said: “One thing you can’t do in this business, you can’t fall in love with players because the dynamics change. Kevin looked and he made a decision he felt was a business decision for himself and there was a lot of factors that led into that decision, not just what happened last year.”
Love’s discontent as a Timberwolf can be traced to the team’s 2012 decision to offer a four-year contract extension when Love sought a maximum five-year deal that would have kept him obligated until 2017. Owner Glen Taylor and then-basketball boss David Kahn made that decision. Saunders wasn’t hired to replace Kahn until May 2013.
The fact the Wolves never approached the playoffs in Love’s six NBA seasons didn’t help any, either.
“Kevin is a unique player and we felt that we needed to get a unique player — or players — back in return or players,” said Saunders, who said he was willing to bring back Love as a Timberwolf to start next season. “Usually in this situation, people have gotten good players back, but maybe they’re not what you would consider a guy who has an opportunity to be a superstar-type player.”
Saunders believes Wiggins — a 19-year-old from Toronto who was considered an elite prospect well before he played one season at Kansas — is potentially that kind of player.
“You are talking about a guy who people thought was the best player to come out of high school since LeBron James,” Saunders said. “He has phenomenal ability. He has a lot of work to do, but I know that he is a willing learner.”
Four months of research and negotiation culminated with Saturday’s trade and when it finally arrived, Saunders and Wolves General Manager Milt Newton looked at each other in the team’s offices with the same question:
So what do we do now?
Their next move could be trading or releasing veteran guard J.J. Barea to clear a roster spot for second-round pick Glenn Robinson III, although Saunders made it clear Saturday he’s willing to trade any player if the deal makes his team better.
For now, Saunders will welcome his three newest players this coming week with their State Fair visit, personal appearances and three days of workouts together.
Saunders is hopeful this is the start of a relationship that will convince all three players that their future is in Minnesota, which in turn will convince others of the same.
“Our NBA has changed a bit,” Saunders said. “Instead of destination cities, it has become destination players. It seems players gravitate toward other players to play with. We feel with some of the players we have, we’re going to have the ability to get players to gravitate towards our organization because of that.”