Commentary

Kevin Love-to-Boston is no sure thing

Updated: June 5, 2014, 8:32 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Kevin Love sauntered into Boston's lyric little baseball park last weekend and -- just like that -- suddenly the possibilities seemed endless for a storied basketball franchise that has a deeply scarred psyche when it comes to luring top talent to town.

Love is under contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves for another season, so he's not a free agent, but when the bruising All-Star was spotted lounging in the Fenway stands, hangin' with Rajon Rondo and sipping Sam Adams, it led to wildly hopeful speculation that Love would not only welcome a trade to the Boston Celtics, he would be willing to sign an extension that would enable him to roam the parquet alongside Rondo for years to come, the way Kevin Garnett once did.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love and Rajon Rondo
Twitter@BigDub74Rajon Rondo visited with Kevin Love at Fenway Park, part of Love's whirlwind weekend in Boston.

In fact, team and league sources confirm, that's a scenario that Love is willing to consider.

That immediately led to speculation that if Love came into the fold, then maybe Carmelo Anthony would be willing to opt out of his contract and join Rondo and Love to form their own version of a new-age big three that would return the Celtics to glory.

And, if Boston actually was able to reach contender status again, perhaps Paul Pierce (he and Love are both represented by Jeff Schwartz) would return at a sage veteran hometown discount to complete his career with the team he never wanted to leave in the first place.

There's only one problem with all these dizzying (and highly speculative) scenarios: They are meaningless unless the first domino -- Love actually coming to Boston -- falls. According to team and league sources, that isn't happening any time soon because the Timberwolves are less than enamored with what Boston can offer them.

The conversation would have adopted a completely different tone had the Celtics landed the first, second or third pick in the draft. The Timberwolves, like everyone else, covet the opportunity to have a crack at one of the troika of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

The No. 6 pick isn't quite so sexy. The Celtics can offer only some combination of that pick and the following: the valuable future Brooklyn picks, the 17th pick this year, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Keith Bogans' expiring $5.05 million contract (if they can do it before July 1).

In other words, pretty much anything Minnesota wants.

The Timberwolves privately maintain they already have fielded better offers from other teams, among them the Chicago Bulls, who can offer draft picks and some combination of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson along with Carlos Boozer, whose bloated $16.8 million contract expires next summer and represents the kind of cap space rebuilding teams crave.

If you are Kevin Love and can choose to join a team with top dogs Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah or Rondo and Jeff Green, which way are you leaning?

Remember, there's still no guarantee Rondo is sticking around for any of this. He does not want to languish with a young rebuilding team in the prime of his career. Can't say I blame him. He wants to play in a big market, which limits trade destinations for Boston, and he wants a max deal. He has not given the Celtics any guarantees he's in for the long haul.

[+] EnlargeFlip Saunders
David Sherman/Getty ImagesFlip Saunders will have a lot of offers to ponder for Kevin Love, and sources say he's not enamored with the Celtics' potential package.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are discovering their "assets" have some holes. While Sullinger's sophomore campaign had many highlights, skeptics question whether he has an NBA body built to last. "Good skill set and body control, but poor conditioning habits,'' sniffed one GM.

Green's maddeningly inconsistent performance this past season is only one of the reasons why his value has plummeted. The other is his recent health history, which continues to give teams pause even though the Celtics were able to fully insure him following his major heart operation.

Thus, while Boston will continue to pursue Love, the Celtics are resigned that nothing is imminent. Minnesota president Flip Saunders is in no hurry to make a decision on his power forward. He will wait and wait some more, knowing his club can pay Love $26.5 million more than anyone else once he becomes a free agent.

Aside from Boston and Chicago, Golden State, Phoenix, the Lakers and Houston also will try to pry Love free. Cleveland has the No.1 pick and has interest in Love, sources confirm, but the feeling isn't mutual.

Back in 2007, when Ainge made his pitch for Garnett, the deal was dead three or four times before Minnesota (and KG, who had initial concerns about coming to Boston) finally relented. Patience was a critical component of the process and could be in this instance as well.

Although it's convenient to compare the Love scenario to the acquisition of KG, there are some significant differences.

For starters, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told former GM Kevin McHale to deal KG because he didn't want to extend his contract.

Taylor hasn't given Saunders the same directive when it comes to Love. The owner is willing to pay Love the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement and is not interested in settling for 50 or 60 cents on the dollar for a major talent who wants out.

Taylor still hasn't recovered from the last seismic Minnesota-Boston transaction, which led to a Celtics championship. In fact, sources in Minnesota say, the thought of conducting another major transaction with Boston gives Taylor great pause.

Back in 2007, when McHale was instructed to put the word out that KG was available, he pared down his trade options to the Lakers with Andrew Bynum as the centerpiece and Boston with young forward Al Jefferson as the main acquisition.

McHale chose Jefferson. Big Al was in the midst of a productive career with Minnesota when he tore his ACL midway through the 2008-09 season. By the following season, McHale had been fired and Jefferson was on the move again, this time to Utah for two first-round picks and Kosta Koufos.

Jefferson, who now plays for Charlotte, was named third-team All-NBA earlier this week. Had the Timberwolves been patient with him, the KG trade would not have been nearly so devastating.

There's another major difference from the last time Boston and Minnesota pulled off a blockbuster deal.

When McHale engaged in trade negotiations with Danny Ainge, he was talking to an old teammate and a trusted friend.

That description doesn't hold true in the case of Ainge and Saunders.

Some of McHale's friends, including Ainge, felt Saunders undermined McHale, his former college teammate, during his final days in Minnesota.

When Doc Rivers hired Saunders as a "postseason consultant" for the Celtics during the 2012 playoffs, the interaction between Flip and Ainge was minimal and noticeably cool.

That doesn't preclude the two from making a trade, but negotiations won't be nearly as fluid or cooperative as they were when McHale and Ainge were striking a deal.

As the rest of the league weighs its offerings in the Love sweepstakes, the Timberwolves will hold out for the best possible deal they can get, all the while hoping to convince Love to stay put.

The Celtics' payroll will drop from $71 million to $46.5 million once Bogans, Kris Humphries, andJerryd Bayless become free agents. (You'll be immensely relieved to learn that Ryan Gomes and his $495,521 cap hit also are finally coming off the books.)

With cap holds for free agents and two first-round draft picks, the Celtics won't immediately have the cap space to lure big-name free agents and players of Love's and Carmelo Anthony's caliber aren't going to give Boston a second glance unless some significant pieces fall into place first.

As for Pierce, coming to Boston makes sense only if the Celtics are in contention again. He can return to Brooklyn, where the ever pragmatic Garnett is expected to play one more season so he can collect his $12 million paycheck, or he can test the Pacific waters of the L.A. Clippers, where Rivers would appreciate a veteran scorer who simply wants a ring, not guaranteed points or minutes.

When Garnett does finally retire, he is expected to be offered a place in Minnesota's front office with an opportunity for part ownership.

By then, Kevin Love presumably will have chosen his future home.

For a weekend, anyway, Fenway and Sam Adams and Rondo in a baseball cap were all swept up in the summer of Love. The question lingers: Was it a passing fling or the start of a long-term relationship?

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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