Phoenix Suns potential pursuit of Kevin Love will be complicated by contract status, potential exodus in 2015

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns want to supplement their team with a top-10 NBA talent this summer, such as Minnesota's Kevin Love. But how far would they go in that pursuit?

Any deal for Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, a three-time All-Star at age 25, will be complicated by his contract status because the interested team is only buying his services for one season.

Kevin Love has a player option to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season, at which time he can take his pick of any team with the cap space or ingenuity to via sign-and-trade to get him on their team.

Given that knowledge, how much do you give up for Love this summer?

James Harden

Two years ago, the Houston Rockets surrendered Kevin Martin (huge expiring deal to help cap situation), rookie #12 pick Jeremy Lamb (potential SG for many years), two future first round picks and a second round pick to Oklahoma City for third-year shooting guard James Harden. One of those future firsts was a guaranteed lottery pick the Rockets had obtained from Toronto for Kyle Lowry. So Houston effectively traded Martin, Lamb, Lowry and two draft picks for Harden. Quite the sacrifice.

Yet the difference there was Houston got a guaranteed four years out of James Harden, who signed a mini-max rookie extension on the night of the trade. It's okay to give up a bevy of talent for 4 years of your best player.

Oklahoma City has suffered in the short term. Neither Martin nor Lamb has lived up to Harden's standard, though Lamb is still only 21. That guaranteed lotto pick turned into Steven Adams at #12 last spring.

The Phoenix Suns could approximate that Rox/OKC deal to acquire Love, except for the functional replacement of Love in Minnesota's lineup. The Suns can take care of the picks and young talent portion, no problem. They have their own three picks this June, plus the Lakers' top-5 protected next year and Minny's own pick still due when they make the playoffs.

But the Suns cannot send the starting PF replacement to Minny to appease fans and keep heading toward the playoffs. OKC got Kevin Martin to put up the same stats as Harden that first year. The best the Suns can do is Markieff Morris, whose 18 and 8 per 36 minutes pale in comparison to what Love delivers.

Dwight Howard

The last blockbuster trade of a player one year from free agency involved Dwight Howard as the centerpiece going from Orlando in a four-team trade that included 3 All-Stars swapping teams. But that trade, from Orlando's point of view, is different than any Love trade would be.

The Orlando Magic was ready for a rebuild with Dwight Howard's departure as their path to quickening that pace. The Magic had made the playoffs for several consecutive years but were in decline, despite Howard still being at the height of his powers. Seeing no future with Howard, the Magic settled for young pieces and are still in that rebuild mode.

That's not Minnesota's position.

Minnesota, already hitting a full decade since last making the playoffs, is going to want to improve their team (or at least think they are) in the wake of any Love departure. They will have no interest in rebuilding. A strong PF replacement will have to come back to them in any trade. Otherwise, just keep building around a top-5 NBA player for another year and hope for the best.

Andre Iguodala

It appears to me that the closest recent comparison to any Love deal this summer would be the Sixers situation with All-Star small forward Andre Iguodala two offseasons ago.

Iguodala was a great individual player still at the apex of this talents but unable to turn Philly into a contender by himself. Year after year, the team put the wrong pieces around Iggy and year after year ended in disappointment.

When Iggy approached his last year of his contract, the Sixers knew it was time to move on. They knew he likely wouldn't stay and they needed to get something good in return before he left.

The best they could do was to acquire All-Star big man Andrew Bynum in the hopes that filling a long-time at center would more than replace what they lost in Iguodala.

But the Sixers did it wrong, even if Bynum had stayed healthy. To get one year of Bynum, they traded away Iguodala and two promising rookies (Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless) AND a future first-round pick. Even worse, they took on the bloated contract of Jason Richardson too.

So even if Bynum had been healthy, he could have left a year later and all the Sixers would have to show for him was Richardson and a depleted roster.

There's no way Minnesota would pull a Sixers this summer. Don't count on it.

What would it take to get Love?

While none of those scenarios are perfect, the blueprint is there - if you're going to replace an All-Star in his prime and you want to stay in playoff hunt, you HAVE to get an All-Star in return, even if said All-Star is declining or an injury risk.

Unfortunately, the Phoenix Suns do not have an All-Star big man to send back in return.

The Suns do have two potential All-Stars in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, but both are point guards and the Wolves already have PG Ricky Rubio.

Rubio is about to enter his fourth season, just a year behind Eric Bledsoe in that regard. He will likely command a big contract as an RFA despite having shooting woes because he's a great passer and defender.

Would Minnesota want to bring on an Eric Bledsoe and sign him to a mini-max deal? Or a Goran Dragic, who can become an unrestricted free agent at the same time Rubio becomes an RFA?

If you're Minnesota, which would you rather have:

  • Love (UFA) and Rubio (RFA) hitting the market together next summer
  • Dragic (UFA) and Rubio (RFA) hitting the market together next summer, with Love already traded
  • Bledsoe under long-term contract, but Rubio an RFA and Love already traded

Bringing in Bledsoe for Love this summer could basically become Bledsoe for Love AND Rubio in a year. While the Suns might make a two-point guard system work, there's no guarantee Bledsoe and Rubio could thrive in the same back court for years to come.

Nay, I don't think Minnesota wants Dragic or Bledsoe for Love as long as they have Rubio.

Pau Gasol

Local radio guy John Gambodoro floated in February that one of the reasons the Suns would target Pau Gasol was to pre-acquire that All-Star (if fading) PF talent that could be sent to Minny to replace Love. Gasol would have effectively been the "Kevin Martin" of a potential summer deal.

The downside is that Gasol would be an unrestricted free agent this summer, making a sign-and-trade the only way to get Gasol to Minny for the Suns' benefit. But that would require Gasol WANTING to go to Minny. Gasol just might want to re-unite with fellow Spaniard Rubio, so there's that.

A third team needed

This all adds up to the Suns likely needing to involve a third team who would trade an All-Star caliber player to Minnesota in exchange for the Suns bevy of picks and young talent.

The Suns will likely have to find some other team that wants to rebuild in the wake of their All-Star leaving (Orlando post-Howard), or wants to rid themselves of an All-Star due to overcrowding (Thunder post-Harden).

One potential third team is Detroit, who will have a new GM in the near future intent on undoing what the prior regime left behind. Detroit is overloaded with All-Star talented big men. Josh Smith is a multi-faceted PF miscast as a SF in their offense. Greg Monroe is a multi-talented C miscast as a PF in their offense. And Andre Drummond is the C of the future for them.

Something has to give. Two months from now, it appears likely that one or both of Monroe and Smith will be in another uniform.

Maybe the Suns could include Detroit in a three-way deal to send Smith or Monroe to Minnesota to replace Love, who heads to Phoenix?

If so, what could the Suns send to Detroit and Minnesota in return that would be BETTER than Detroit just acquiring Love straight up? This is where is gets murky. The Suns have to earn their way into any three-way deal for Love.

Detroit has a long-term point guard in Brandon Jennings, signed for two more years at $8 million+, so if they acquire a PG like Dragic or Bledsoe they will want to rid themselves of Jennings in the process. They have a rookie at shooting guard with a bright future (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) already, so they won't need someone like Archie Goodwin in return. And with Drummond at C in Detroit and Pekovic/Dieng at C in Minny, neither needs Alex Len.

Detroit might insist on either (a) getting Bledsoe or Dragic in exchange for Monroe/Smith or (b) making the Suns eat the Jennings contract or (c) both.

Three-team deals get very complicated, especially when you're the designated buyer.

Would the Suns sacrifice one of Bledsoe/Dragic AND eat Jennings' contract AND giving up young talent/picks, just to get Kevin Love for a year?

If the answer is yes, would Bledsoe sign a contract to go to Detroit (he would have to agree to a sign-and-trade)?

If the answer is no, why wouldn't Detroit and Minny just seal a two-team deal to balance their rosters and cap sheets?

And even if the Suns say yes, all it takes in one season-long injury to Love and a 2015 exodus to look ominously like the Sixers' disaster.

That's why I can't see the Suns saying yes.

Recap

This article is confusing. My head is spinning. WTF are you saying, Dave King?

Minny is no Orlando. Minny will want an All-Star talent in return for All-Star Love, or why trade him in the first place?

The Suns' only All-Star talents are PGs, which is one position Minny already has (Rubio). Again, Minny will want to supplement their roster, not sabotage it, so they won't pile PG on top of a PG. They are not rebuilding.

Detroit is a potential third team (Monroe or Smith), but how can the Suns join that party without those two teams just swapping stars and leaving the Suns at home?

And why would the Suns sacrifice give up top-end talent to get Love, when Love fits best alongside Bledsoe AND Dragic?

That's the big question:

How far would the Suns go to acquire Love this summer, if he becomes available? How much bad salary would the Suns take on while sending out talent, just for the services of (potentially) one year of Love?

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