On Thursday, Timberwolves president Flip Saunders hired himself to coach the team, a move viewed by many as an effort to prevent Minnesota’s All-Star forward, Kevin Love, from leaving.
“It was the only thing Flip could do to keep Love,” one league source said. “He put all his chips on the table.”
If the Timberwolves reach the playoffs next season, there is always the chance that Love decides to stay instead of opting out of his contract next summer.
But league sources doubt anything will keep Love in Minnesota. “Gone,” another league source said of Love.
So Saunders’s main issue very likely remains the same: Either trade Love between this offseason and the February trade deadline or risk losing him without receiving any compensation in return.
Under the circumstances, it’s believed that in his expanded role, Saunders, who previously coached the team for 10 seasons, could be more selective about potential deals.
“Flip probably as coach and [general manager] will now only listen to really good trade scenarios that help Minnesota rather than feeling like they need to move him for the best deal prior to the draft or free agency when he was only the GM,” a league source said.
As coach, naturally Saunders would be more directly responsible for wins and losses, leading league sources to believe that he’d likely prefer proven players over draft picks in a potential swap, thinking more short term than long term.
If that philosophy holds true, the Celtics are in a curious spot.
As one of several teams trying to land Love, the Celtics’ biggest edge over other suitors is their war chest of assets, the bulk of which are draft picks — including as many as 17 over the next five years, 10 of them in the first round.
They can also offer promising young players on their rookie contracts, such as forwards Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, along with other contracts to facilitate the deal.
The Celtics remain confident that they can make a competitive offer on par with any that another team could make, even if that means getting creative, including perhaps involving another team in the deal, league sources said.
With that said, aside from being team president, Saunders is part owner of the Timberwolves and thinking long term is, of course, a key part of his responsibilities.
So it’s not as though Saunders would be against acquiring draft picks, especially unprotected first-round picks, which the Celtics have acquired from the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.
Other concerns remain.
League sources confirmed that Timberwolves’ upper management has not fully committed to dealing Love, and that while trade talks are still in their infancy, the team maintains publicly and privately that it aims to keep him.
Several league sources doubted that any deal would be agreed upon well in advance of the June 26 draft.
If no deal is completed in the relative short term, league sources suggested that the issue could become a season-long distraction for the Timberwolves, much like in Denver before the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in 2011.
“I think the standard was set in Denver, but no more receiving teams want to get into a mess like New York and New Jersey did for Melo,” one league source said.
“So I think other teams will come with better offers earlier in the process now, rather than get into a bidding war around the deadline.”
But the Timberwolves still have at least some hesitancy about trading another superstar to the Celtics after what happened when they did so with Kevin Garnett in 2007, league sources said. The Celtics immediately became contenders, while the Timberwolves continued their downward slide, having failed to reach the playoffs since 2004.
However, one wonders what Minnesota would look like had it ultimately kept center Al Jefferson and guard Gerald Green, two players that the Celtics included in the deal.
This past season, the 29-year-old Jefferson was named All-NBA third team after averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds with Charlotte, and the 28-year-old Green averaged a career-high 15.8 points per game with Phoenix.
An issue for all possible teams that could acquire Love via trade is whether he’d be willing to commit to them in the long term.
Unless Love gives strong indications in advance that he’d be willing to commit to a team for the foreseeable future, several suitors would likely walk away from acquiring what would be a short-term rental.
Further muddying the waters was Love’s recent weekend trip to Boston. League sources confirmed what many already widely believed — that Love scouted the area to see if he’d want to live in Boston to play for the Celtics.
Though only Love truly knows the outcome of his scouting visit, league sources believe he enjoyed it enough to certainly consider staying in Boston for the long haul.