Although one look at the standings shows us the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t have much reason to celebrate, their 122-121 double-overtime win over the Miami Heat goes far beyond the standings. The next 10 months are going to be the biggest and most pivotal in the franchise’s last 10 years, if not their entire history.
If you’ve been living under a rock, Kevin Love has an opt-out clause that he can enact after the 2014-15 season. The Wolves are going to feel the pressure, because they absolutely can’t afford to let go of Love for nothing. Other teams will be foaming at the mouth, knowing that the Wolves are desperate. It’s not a good situation for Flip Saunders and the Wolves, that’s for sure.
There’s really only one option for Minnesota — win or else.
WIN OR SAY GOODBYE
As a free agent, Love would be able to write his own ticket. He’s going to get a maximum contract and as long as the team can afford him, he can pick wherever he wants to go. It’s of paramount importance that the Wolves stay as attractive as possible to Love, because the combination of winning plus the extra money will be enough to keep him.
Make no mistake about it — a win over the two-time defending champion Heat is a big one, especially considering it was on the road. With seven games left, the Wolves aren’t going to have time to make the playoffs, but they can set the table for next season. They’ve got winnable games against the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz left. If they finish 4-3, they’ll end the season 42-40, by far the best in the Love era.
It’s also important that the momentum continues into next season. If the Wolves are in one of the top-6 seeds when the trade deadline comes around, there’s no way they’ll let go of Love unless they’re absolutely blown away by someone.
Don’t forget that the Wolves are much better than their record. They have a differential of +3.2, which is ninth-best in the league. If the Wolves were in the East, they’d be the No. 7 seed. After starting the season so poorly in close games, the Wolves are finally regressing to the mean and with that, the wins are starting to come.
ONE LITTLE PROBLEM
There is one major problem, which is why positive momentum now and at the start of next season is so important. Of the regular rotation guys, only Dante Cunningham is not under contract. In a nutshell, what you see is what you get. We’ll see the lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Love and Nikola Pekovic. The reserves will be Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea, Luc Mbah a Moute, Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf, Alexey Shved and Shabazz Muhammad.
Having a roster that’s essentially locked in can be a good thing…if Love appreciates the value of that team. A nice winning streak heading into the offseason would help that to happen.
With that said, the Wolves also have some expiring contracts to work with. Barea, Mbah a Moute, Rubio, Shved and Turiaf are all on expiring contracts. The Wolves aren’t going to make a big splash with them (unless they got the weird idea to trade Rubio), but they can fill in some holes.
WHAT IF THEY START POORLY
What’s the worst-case scenario? If the Wolves sputter to finish this season and then start the 2014-15 season slowly, it’s going to put a remarkable amount of pressure on the Wolves. You have to realize that the Love trade rumors are going to get louder and louder next season, regardless of how the team fares.
If they end up having to trade Love, we should realize it’s not going to be the end of the world. I know this is not a popular opinion, but Love can bring in a nice haul and with Rubio-Martin-Pekovic, there’s already a solid offensive base in place.
Remember what the Wolves got when Garnett left? For those that have forgotten, they got Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two first-round draft picks (one of which could have been Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson or Jeff Teague).
That team didn’t have the kind of base this Wolves team has. Imagine being able to have a nice haul plus draft picks.
Think about the potential of trading Love to a team like the Phoenix Suns, who could offer some combination of two first-round draft picks, Markieff Morris, Gerald Green and Channing Frye. It’s not a homerun, but it adds to a nice base and speeds up the rebuilding process.
On second thought….just win, Wolves.
Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves