The Minnesota Timberwolves are at a crossroads right now as they must decide whether or not to trade Kevin Love prior to next offseason when he has the option to opt-out of his contract. Timberwolves management has stated numerous times they’d like to keep Love for the year and then try to work on an extension, but with minimal improvements to the roster this offseason it’s hard to see what will entice Love to stay.
The only real addition to the roster this offseason was first-round pick Zach LaVine, a raw guard who doesn’t yet have a set position to play and will likely be coming off the bench for the Wolves this season. LaVine could very well prove to be an impact player in year one, but betting the house on LaVine helping this team take the next step is a risky gamble by the front office.
The Western Conference is noticeably better than the East, and last season the Wolves were just one of two teams to have a positive point differential yet still miss out on the playoffs. The other was the Phoenix Suns, who finished as the ninth seed in the West and figure to be even better in 2014. The teams at the top of the standings, like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, are competing for championships every year, and the teams that barely made the playoffs last season like the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors are spending money to get better now.
As hard as it is to hear, the Timberwolves don’t have the roster to compete for a championship right now, and as a result they will have a tough time ending their 10-year playoff drought. If they played in the East the Timberwolves would likely host a first-round playoff matchup, but in the West they will be competing for the last two playoff spots with the likes of the Mavericks, Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets.
Love has proved one thing during his tenure in Minnesota, and unfortunately it’s that he cannot lead a team to the playoffs single-handedly. Not many superstars could, but considering he’s about to become a free agent it’s puzzling why the Wolves wouldn’t make a splash in the free agent market if they do indeed intend on keeping him. If the plan is to trade him before the season starts for young talent then it makes sense to stand pat during the signing period, but with no reinforcements on the way Love will have another frustrating year if he stays in Minnesota.
Flip Saunders has a lot of decisions to make, and quickly, but from an outsider’s perspective it appears as if the Timberwolves’ new head coach and general manager is about to make a franchise altering decision eerily similar to the one in 2007 when management traded away the Timberwolves’ only star Kevin Garnett for a collection of hosh posh talent.
If the Timberwolves do in fact trade Love prior to the season and get a budding star in return, they will have successfully begun the inevitable rebuilding process. However, if Saunders continues to hold onto Love to simply try and make the playoffs this season it will be a shortsighted move that ultimately leads to a longer and more painful rebuilding process for a desperate Wolves franchise.