NEW YORK — There could be more at stake Tuesday night at the NBA Draft lottery for Danny Ainge and the Celtics than just a premium pick.
Depending on how quickly Ainge wants to rebuild his team, how attracted he is to Kevin Love as an impact player, and whether he is willing to sacrifice some first-round picks, Ainge could take the Celtics’ assigned lottery pick, package up a couple of younger players such as Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, and make the Minnesota Timberwolves an offer similar to the one seven years ago that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston.
Of course, that is assuming Minnesota general manager Milt Newton wants to trade the three-time All-Star, and that Love wants to play for the Celtics. Love will have many suitors should he become available through trade or as a free agent after next season.
The Celtics, who tied for the fourth-worst record, have a 10.3 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick and a 33.42 percent chance of picking in the top three. The better the pick, the more appealing it would be to Minnesota. However, there are draftees with the potential to be a franchise cornerstone, while under contractual control for five years.
While Love, 25, is already a top-15 NBA player and entering his prime, the Celtics might have to sacrifice as many as five players to get his services, and they still wouldn’t be a finished product. The lineup of Rondo, Love, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Vitor Faverani/Olynyk is not going to come close to winning the Eastern Conference, but it would make the Celtics respectable again.
So the question is, why would Love choose to play in Boston and agree to a lucrative contract extension in a city with which he has little familiarity? When asked by the Globe in February about the possibility of playing for the Celtics following the 2014-15 season, this is what he said:
“I’ve never really spent much time in Boston. I don’t know it too well. But I think as far as playing there, we love competing against those guys. I think they have a great coach and they have a ton of youngsters that are up-and-comers.
“Boston is a great city. I’m sure free agents would love to go there, especially with [Brad] Stevens as a coach. He’s a guy that can win basketball games. He gets guys to play for him. They’ve been having good success there, even in his first year, and he has a lot of young players. The coach has a lot to do with it, but yeah, Boston is a great place.”
So Love, a real student of the game, admires Stevens and understands the Celtics are on the rise but missing a few pieces.
But Love, who played one season at UCLA, also enjoys beach volleyball and the Southern California lifestyle. A West Coast team could lure Love back to the beaches.
Love is experiencing a different situation than what Garnett went through prior to his departure from Minnesota in the summer of 2007. At least KG’s teams reached the playoffs. Despite a slew of lottery picks, Timberwolves management, most notably ex-GM David Kahn, absolutely butchered their chances of improvement with such first-round selections as Wesley Johnson, Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, and Derrick Williams.
Ricky Rubio was supposed to be the NBA’s version of Justin Timberlake, but he’s been nothing but a one-hit wonder. The Timberwolves still lack another complementary scorer to Love late in games, and they fizzled down the stretch against the Western Conference elite.
But don’t expect Minnesota to offer up Love so quickly. The Timberwolves are close to being a playoff team. Love does hold some loyalty to his first NBA team. And owner Glen Taylor, who signed off on trading Garnett when he asked for another extension, may be hesitant to deal a second franchise player.
Eventually Minnesota will have to stick to a rebuilding plan, but what is Love supposed to think when the franchise has been without a coach since Rick Adelman retired last month? Premium coaches aren’t exactly FedEx-ing their résumés to spend bitter winters in Minneapolis.
Ainge will have to make the Timberwolves an offer much sweeter than the package that landed him Garnett, but he might be willing to sacrifice the future to jump-start the Celtics’ resurgence. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as Love invests in Boston long term and Ainge drafts astutely enough to make the Celtics younger and more athletic.
With two first-round picks this year, Ainge has an opportunity to change the complexion of the roster and build long-term hope. Getting a Kevin Love in his prime offers more victories now and later, but his presence alone doesn’t push the Celtics into the elite.
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