Kevin Love has made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Although sources say Love has stopped short of demanding a trade, his position could effectively force the Timberwolves to deal the All-Star forward before next season -- or before the trade deadline in February 2015 at the latest -- if they hope to dodge the risk of losing him without compensation.
The Timberwolves, at the behest of owner Glen Taylor, have rebuffed all trade interest in Love for months, resisting all trade offers for his franchise player until, as one source put it, he "has no choice."
Teams around the league are increasingly expected to test that resolve once the lottery order is established, and The Associated Press reports that amid growing concern, that stance has softened somewhat.
Two sources told the AP that the likely asking price would include a high first-round pick in this year's draft and a veteran or two who could bring immediate leadership to a team that lacks it.
The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have likewise been mentioned all season as big-market landing spots that would tempt Love, but going to the best situation for immediate contention is said to be the power forward's priority.
Sources say that the Phoenix Suns, armed with several draft assets to offer Minnesota, also have strong interest in trading for Love, but the 25-year-old's interest in joining the Suns is unclear.
Any team that trades for Love before he hits the open market in 2015 would naturally need assurances that it can keep him before surrendering quality assets.
Sources say Love has stressed to the Timberwolves that he's desperate to get to a winning situation and that the constant losing has worn on him. Minnesota has not reached the playoffs in Love's six seasons and endured a particularly disappointing 2013-14 season, missing out on a top-eight spot in the West thanks in part to a number of close-game defeats. The Wolves hope they can still sell Love on committing for the long term and are relying at least partly on the belief that he would be unwilling to walk away from the extra year -- worth roughly $30 million -- in his next deal that he can only get from Minnesota if he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The uncertainty surrounding Love's future, sources say, has complicated Minnesota's search for a new coach.
ESPN.com reported last month that the Wolves would pursue three of the most high-profile names in the college game to replace the retiring Rick Adelman -- Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Florida's Billy Donovan and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg -- but quickly discovered they have little chance to lure any coach already under contract in a good situation without clarity regarding Love.
Sources told ESPN.com this week that veteran coach Scott Skiles is among the candidates Wolves president Flip Saunders has interviewed in his search for Adelman's successor.
Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday that Saunders has also interviewed former Wolves forward Sam Mitchell, while the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in Sunday's editions that he has likewise interviewed former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.
Sources say the possibility remains that Saunders will move downstairs to coach the Wolves himself for a second time, but his focus to date has been trying to find a coach and plot roster moves that would entice Love to stay in the Twin Cities.
Sources say that the Warriors, in particular, have emerged as a top contender for Love should Minnesota relent and decide to trade him. The Warriors don't have a stash of draft picks to offer the Wolves like Phoenix or the Boston Celtics could offer, but Golden State could assemble a trade package featuring the likes of forwards Harrison Barnes and David Lee.
ESPN.com reported in March that rumblings about the Lakers using their forthcoming high lottery pick to try to tempt the Wolves into trading Love were already in circulation.
The lottery to determine the order for the June 26 draft is Tuesday.Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.