The Cleveland Cavaliers cannot officially trade Andrew Wiggins before Aug. 23, but they remain the front-runner in the trade sweepstakes for the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Wolves, at present, are higher on a Cleveland trade package centered on Wiggins than any other offer on the table for Love.
ESPN.com reported Tuesday that the Cavaliers, meanwhile, are increasingly confident about their chances of landing Love and firmly believe they are progressing toward a trade framework that the Timberwolves will accept in exchange for the All-Star power forward, which would enable Cleveland to pair him with Olympic teammate LeBron James.
The fact that league rules prevent Wiggins from being traded for 30 days after finally signing his rookie contract with the Cavs on Thursday would appear to give other suitors a window to put together an offer that could trump Cleveland's. But the Cavaliers' main current threat in the Love sweepstakes -- Chicago -- has to sweat out a similar wait if it hopes to entice the Wolves with either of its prized rookies.
The Bulls signed sharpshooter Doug McDermott on Tuesday and top European prospect Nikola Mirotic on July 18, and likewise would have to wait 30 days from those respective signings before including either in a trade package for Love.
ESPN.com reported this week that the Bulls have re-emerged as a determined trade suitor for Love, but it's believed that Chicago would need to package at least one of those rookies -- and maybe both -- along with Taj Gibson to have a shot at competing with Cleveland's ability to offer Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick for him.
The Golden State Warriors have long been regarded as Minnesota's preferred trade partner in a Love deal, with ESPN.com reporting as far back as May that both Golden State and Chicago appealed to him as potential destinations. But the Warriors have been consistently unwilling to surrender Klay Thompson in a Love trade, with Minnesota known to be unwilling to consider any deal with Golden State that does not include Thompson.
One source insisted this week, however, that the Wolves -- especially owner Glen Taylor -- actually now prefer a package headlined by Wiggins to a Thompson-led haul for Love because Wiggins is widely seen as possessing superstar potential while also just starting out on a rookie contract. Thompson is eligible for a lucrative contract extension from the Warriors or any team he's traded to between now and Halloween.
League rules do not prevent the Cavs or Bulls from striking an agreement in principle with Minnesota on a Love trade involving one of their freshly signed rookies during the teams' respective 30-day waiting periods. But league rules do forbid any public announcement or confirmation of such verbal agreements until the 30 days pass.
After a lengthy delay while using all of its remaining cap space to try to fortify the roster around James, Cleveland finally signed Wiggins on Thursday to a four-year deal with a starting salary of $5.5 million to start the 30-day clock. Yet the Cavs have long maintained that a trade for Love ultimately would be easier if their prized rookie is under contract -- despite the mandatory wait -- since Wiggins' new salary can make the cap math easier in a potential Love deal. Had he remained unsigned, Wiggins' rights would have carried no monetary value in a trade.
Although the Cavs would prefer to keep Wiggins, their interest in Love is understandable given how well the big man's combination of elite rebounding, passing and long-range shooting ability could complement James' game. With Love, Cleveland would rank as the undeniable favorite to win the Eastern Conference, something the Cavs managed only once in James' initial seven-season stint with his home-state franchise.
Bulls general manager Gar Forman did not deny his team's renewed interest in Love in a radio interview Wednesday, saying it's his "job to have conversations with everybody around the league and get a feel of what's happening, who might be available."
"Anytime there's something that is available that we feel could improve our team, we've got to take a look at it," Forman told 87.7 FM in Chicago. "That's our job. But we like where we're at with the additions that we made."
Love holds more than the usual sway in terms of where he winds up thanks to his ability to become a free agent in July 2015. Apart from the Denver Nuggets, who have continued to pursue a trade for Love even though sources say they have little hope of securing a long-term commitment from him, it's believed that no team in the hunt for the 25-year-old is prepared to surrender its most valuable trade assets without assurances that Love wants to play there and stay there.
ESPN.com reported earlier this month that James' short-term contract with the Cavs, which includes a player option to return to free agency next summer and spans only two seasons, would not dissuade Love from giving Cleveland such a commitment. James' arrival, sources said, immediately put the Cavaliers at the same level as Chicago and Golden State on Love's wish list.
Minnesota's Taylor insisted again last week that he wanted to keep Love and that the Wolves are prepared to open the season with Love on the roster. But sources say numerous rival teams think Minnesota ultimately knows it has to part with Love before the start of the new season, given the extremely public nature of Love's unwillingness to commit to the Wolves beyond this season.
Although James is said to be intrigued by Wiggins' potential and to have tracked his progress during summer league, sources say he has backed the Cavs' win-now pursuit of Love, with whom he played on the United States' gold-medal-winning team at the 2012 London Olympics.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported last week that a Cavs-Wolves trade appeared close to completion but quoted sources close to the process as saying Minnesota wants more than Cleveland has offered to this point.
Sources say that the Wolves and Warriors also appeared close to completing a deal in June that would have sent Love to Golden State, but the Warriors ultimately decided not to part with Thompson, offering a combination of David Lee and Harrison Barnes instead.