Which trade should Flip make?

Kevin LoveAP Photo/John Bazemore

We're late in the NBA offseason transaction-wise, and with the major free agents off the board, Minnesota's Kevin Love has again moved center stage. The skinny: Love can opt out of his contract after the season and reportedly has communicated to the Timberwolves that he intends to move on as soon as possible. So coach and personnel chief Flip Saunders is left to weigh trade offers against the risk of keeping Love around in hopes that his feelings will change.

My stance hasn't changed. I don't think Minnesota should deal Love at all. Not now. Of course, my stance is pretty irrelevant being that I don't run the Timberwolves, and despite my clear-headed analysis, the rumor mill is abuzz with Love-related talk. Our report is that the Cleveland Cavaliers are likely in the lead in the Love derby, with the Chicago Bulls in pursuit. Last month, the Golden State Warriors were rumored to be a prime suitor, and it's still believed that if Golden State is willing to give up Klay Thompson, Love would be headed to the West Coast. Rumors are rumors, but after Cleveland sent Carrick Felix to Utah on Tuesday for three nonguaranteed contracts, it's apparent that something is going on.

Let's make some assumptions:

1. Saunders believes he needs to resolve the Love situation before his team hits training camp in a few weeks.

2. Minnesota will insist on getting back a mix of rotation players and future assets in hopes of remaining a playoff contender this season, thus ruling out teams that offer future assets only, such as the Boston Celtics.

3. Saunders wants to leverage Love's considerable trade value to pare veterans Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea from his payroll.

4. The teams mentioned above are actual potential trade partners and not just the product of information leaks meant to rev up the bidding.

With all that in mind, let's assess these three scenarios from the Timberwolves' perspective, since they hold all the cards. I'll use the framework of deals from the rumor mill but will tweak them so that they work under the collective bargaining agreement's trade rules. To evaluate the potential trades, I will use a methodology similar to what we used in January to rank teams' trade assets. This assigns WARP value to assets like draft picks and cap space, as well as the players involved.

1. Chicago Bulls

The deal: Chicago sends Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and a future first-round pick to Minnesota for Love and sends a future first-round pick to Philadelphia. Minnesota sends Martin to Philadelphia.

Value: 41.1 future WARP

Early Tuesday, another report emerged about the Bulls offering Nikola Mirotic, Gibson and Doug McDermott, but so far it has been unconfirmed. That package creates a whole host of problems and is only marginally better. Until it's confirmed, let's discuss the deal we detailed above from ESPN's original report.

If the Wolves are insistent on unloading Martin, a third team will have to come into play. The Bulls have an extra pick on their books, assuming Sacramento eventually climbs out of the league's lower third, but I'm not sure that would be enough to entice Philly. The Bulls might have to hope that the Wolves settle for a straight swap. Two picks is worth an estimated 1.1 WARP. Butler is eligible for an extension to his rookie deal, so the Wolves could have him locked up for five years, which is an estimated 27.8 WARP after his breakout 2013-14 campaign. Gibson's perceived value is higher than his measurable value, which is a problem, and he has three years left on his deal, worth 9.0 WARP. Dunleavy's expiring deal would yield about 3.2 WARP. The Wolves don't get a cap-space bump, as we can't assume that the Sixers would be willing to absorb Martin or Barea in a separate deal. A deal with the Bulls has less upside than with Cleveland but would likely keep Minnesota more competitive in the short term.

2. Golden State Warriors

The deal: Golden State sends David Lee, Klay Thompson and a future first-round pick to Minnesota for Love and Martin.

Value: 32.1 future WARP

Pretty straightforward. This deal just works under the trade rules and would likely leave the Warriors just under the tax line. Golden State has to give up Thompson but gets a replacement shooter in Martin. And Love reportedly can shoot, as well. Because Thompson is eligible for an extension and Lee has two guaranteed seasons left on his deal, Minnesota doesn't get any cap relief with this trade. Lee is declining as a player, but he is averaging about 6.0 WARP over his past three seasons. Thompson put up just 3.5 WARP last season, so the metrics don't love him as much as the teams do. Still, given standard development and five guaranteed years, he's worth a projected 19.1 future WARP. Minnesota gets a replacement for Love in Lee plus the hope of a major step forward for Thompson, who would complement Ricky Rubio.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

The deal: Minnesota sends Love and Barea to Cleveland and Martin to Philadelphia. Cleveland sends Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, three nonguaranteed contracts and two 2015 first-round draft picks to Minnesota and Dion Waiters to Philadelphia. Philadelphia sends Thaddeus Young to Minnesota.

Value: 20.2 future WARP

Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio has reported that the Sixers have interest in Waiters, which makes this scenario workable. Philadelphia has a ton of open cap space, and if the Timberwolves insist on unloading Martin, a third team would have to be involved to make the trade work. The Sixers could absorb Martin, and any other money Minnesota wants to unload, for the price of Waiters as a young asset. Cleveland gives Minnesota the past two No. 1 overall picks and two of its three first-round picks in the next draft, though none of them is likely to be a lottery selection. The Sixers give the Wolves Young, a ready-made replacement for Love in the starting lineup. This is a steep price to pay for the Cavaliers, but it gives them the league's top big three in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love.

Wiggins' inclusion in the deal is complicated. To make the salaries work, he would need to sign his rookie scale deal. Doing so would mean he can't be traded for 30 days. However, the deal could still be agreed to and formally executed a month from now. It would be a long, unpleasant limbo.

Minnesota would remain just above the cap with this deal, so it still has room to play with its cap exceptions for the coming season. Wiggins' value is hard to pin down because of his disappointing college translations. Bennett falls into the same category after his injury-addled rookie season. In both cases, their projected value is almost certainly understated, and by a lot. The estimated WARP value of their rookie deals projects to just 6.9. Young's three-year average WARP is 5.2 -- or about 15 fewer than Love. He is a solid player but has an early termination option after the season, so he could be one-and-done. Assuming Young opts out, the deal would open up about $14 million in cap space next summer over what the Wolves would have had with Love and Martin, which converts to about 7.0 WARP. It's worth noting that the total estimated WARP value of the package is exactly the total Love put up in 2013-14. In this deal, Minnesota would be buying hope, along with a considerable bit of uncertainty.