Now that all the top free agents have homes, the focus in the NBA turns to one player: Kevin Love. Will the Minnesota Timberwolves trade him before the season? Should Golden State land him, the Warriors' NBA futures odds will take a big jump.
Wolves Between A Rock And Hard Place
It would be a minor upset if Timberwolves president and now head coach Flip Saunders doesn't trade Love. Saunders took on the coaching job as well apparently because he believes he can turn Minnesota into a playoff team this season and that if the franchise makes it, Love will re-sign after next season because the Wolves can offer him the most money as a free agent ($26.5 million more over a five-year deal). That seems highly unlikely. Love has all but told the Wolves he's a goner. Sorry, superstars don't want to play in Minnesota. They either want to play in warm-weather locales (L.A., Miami), big markets to improve their off-court portfolio (New York) or with fellow superstars to win titles.
The latter criteria could lead Love to Cleveland to play with LeBron James and Love has all but said he would re-sign with the Cavs; as if their NBA odds needed any to get better! However, the Timberwolves are demanding 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins as part of any package. Cleveland has said no way and would undercut new coach David Blatt by trading Wiggins because Blatt said he's 100 percent staying. Cleveland did offer the likes of Dion Waiters, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and some draft picks but the Wolves laughed.
So presuming the Cavs stick to their guns with Wiggins, that leaves the Warriors as the most likely landing spot. That would be fine with Love, who is a West Coast guy. He'd be going to an immediate contender. Talks between the teams around the draft died when the Warriors refused to include shooting guard Klay Thompson in any deal, a player the Wolves demanded. Both coach Steve Kerr and team consultant Jerry West advised the Warriors brass not to trade Thompson, and if West says something about basketball you should listen because he's one of the great talent evaluators in NBA history (for example, West acquired a high school player named Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac, an established good center in the league, in 1996).
The talks reportedly have been revived, but Golden State still refuses to include Thompson. You can see why. He and Steph Curry make up the best-shooting backcourt in the NBA. Thompson is only 24 and averaged a career-high 18.4 points last season, also setting career bests in overall field goal percentage (44.4 percent) and from 3-point range (41.7 percent). Thompson has made himself into a pretty good defender, which is necessary because the Warriors essentially have to hide Curry on defense.
Golden State thus far has offered only All-Star forward David Lee, 2012 lottery pick Harrison Barnes and a future first-round pick for Love and shooting guard Kevin Martin (Warriors don't want him but Minnesota wants to dump his salary). Love would be an upgrade on Lee by a mile. Neither can play defense, but Love is a much better scorer -- with 3-point range -- and rebounder. Lee also had offseason surgery for the third straight year. Barnes had a nice rookie season but struggled last year on the bench after the Warriors acquired Andre Iguodala. He wouldn't be missed. The first-round pick wouldn't have a ton of value because the Warriors obviously are going to be pretty good for a few years and thus draft in the low 20s. I can see why the Timberwolves want more. Golden State won't trade Curry so there's no one else of value to Minnesota than Thompson.
For argument's sake, let's say the trade works without Thompson via a three-way deal or something, would that change your NBA pick? That gives Golden State a starting five of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Love and Andrew Bogut. The Warriors also added combo guard Shaun Livingston from the Nets this offseason, and he can play both the point and shooting guard. So Livingston and Draymond Green would be the main guys off the bench. It wouldn't be a deep team, somewhat of a worry because Bogut is injury prone and Curry and Love have been at times, but that's strong Top 7.
NBA Free Picks
The Warriors are currently +1200 at sportsbooks to win the Western Conference. Adding Love while keeping Thompson wouldn't get Golden State ahead of San Antonio (+280), Oklahoma City (+300) or the Clippers (+500) but would Houston (+800). I would project a jump to +700, maybe +600, with a Love acquisition. A healthy Warriors team with Love and Thompson should beat any Eastern Conference team in the finals should Golden State get there. Keep all this in mind before making your next sports pick.