Wolves' menu of options for Love

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For months, the NBA has been preparing for the news that broke during the weekend: Kevin Love does not intend to sign an extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves and plans to become a free agent in 2015.

Love's move had been expected. It has predictably placed the Wolves in a familiar corner, where many teams have resided in the past five years of unprecedented superstar movement. Rival teams hoping for a chance at getting their hands on Love have been plotting strategies for this moment.

Executives and agents told ESPN.com they believe the Wolves have three ways they can handle this situation. Some of these scenarios could come into play immediately after Tuesday night's draft lottery.


The Kobe plan

Led by owner Glen Taylor, this is the path the Wolves have been openly posturing toward.

In 2007, Kobe Bryant famously and publicly asked to be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers because he was upset with the direction of the franchise. The Lakers, who had Bryant under contract, responded by rejecting the notion and telling him to trust their plan. Eight months later, they traded for Pau Gasol and made three consecutive Finals. Bryant has since signed two contract extensions.

The bottom line is the team doesn't bend to the pressure applied by the player, and stays the course with the belief that the star will choose to stay.

The Orlando Magic took this same route in 2011 with Dwight Howard. They rejected his preseason trade demand and made it known they would not be moving him, hoping that a strong season would convince him to stay. Late in the season, while the team was playing well, Howard elected to opt into his contract for the following year, relieving the pressure.

However, Howard's final season in Orlando ended poorly. The Magic cleaned house and traded Howard to the Lakers the following summer.

The Wolves have a head coaching opening and a lottery pick coming their way. They also may be able to make some other moves after a season in which they showed improvement but lost numerous close games.

Believing they are not far away, the Wolves could push back with strength and send a message to Love that he should prepare for another season in Minneapolis.

Trading a star under duress typically has not returned fair value, and waiting out the market often reduces a team's options even further.

But this strategy has worked in some cases, as mentioned above. If the Wolves believe they can have a turnaround season, they could go this route and shut down rumors and buy time to see if some big offseason decisions work.


The Chris Paul plan

If Minnesota comes to the conclusion that Love must be traded -- and this is what agents and executives think will be the ultimate reality -- they can involve Love in the process, much like the New Orleans Hornets did with Chris Paul in 2011.

Even if Love were completely happy, it would not make complete financial sense to sign an extension to his current contract. The rules favor his letting it expire next summer and starting with a new deal. The same goes with any team Love would be traded to. This unquestionably limits his trade value because teams will be wary of trading for a player on the last year of his contract.

However, there is a middle path available, one the Hornets took with Paul. Love, like Paul in 2011, has an option in his contract for an additional season, for $16.7 million in 2015-16. New Orleans worked with Paul on a trade and destination with the agreement he'd pick up his option as part of the deal, guaranteeing the team that traded for him would have him under contract for two years.

This enhanced Paul's trade value, which was good for the Hornets, and gave Paul leverage with his new team, which was good for him. Paul ended up with the Los Angeles Clippers after a Lakers trade was rejected by Hornets ownership (which at the time was the league's other 29 owners).

Love, who has made it known he wants to play for a contender after missing the playoffs in each of his first six seasons, could make the same deal if the Wolves were willing. There are several potential landing spots for Love because numerous teams have multiple young prospects and draft picks that would be attractive, but not all of those teams are in position to contend next season.

By going this route, Love might also have some say in how a trade would be structured to ensure a team's collection of assets isn't too depleted after a trade. Choosing the destination also could pay off long term because Love's potential new team would inherit his Bird Rights, which would allow for a more lucrative contract down the line.


The Deron Williams/ James Harden plan

If the Wolves decide they want to trade Love, they can attempt to reduce distraction and maximize their leverage by using the auction method the Utah Jazz executed with their 2011 trade of Deron Williams, and one the Oklahoma City Thunder followed in 2012 when they dealt James Harden. Both deals were done in relative stealth, and very quickly, once a decision to trade the star was reached, the Williams deal coming together in less than 24 hours.

According to league executives, the Wolves started to gently probe on some trade ideas this past season that potentially would involve Love. It is likely that somewhere in president Flip Saunders' office, he has a list of trade packages he'd be willing to move Love for.

The draft order being set on Tuesday could be a tipping point where several teams' assets may improve significantly if they can add a top-three pick to their portfolio. Teams who think they can get Love certainly have been plotting their offers for when this market may open.

Saunders then could move quickly, go down his list and begin making offers with a take-it-or-leave-it approach. Each team potentially would get a window to execute a deal, limiting the risk of leaks and maximizing his bargaining position. By creating such a deadline, Saunders may be able to generate some leverage, which he has little of considering Love is under contract for only one more season.

This is how the Thunder operated in 2012 when they moved Harden after he rejected a contract extension offer. General manager Sam Presti had several targets, including discussing rookie Bradley Beal with the Washington Wizards, before moving on to the package offered by the Houston Rockets.

None of this is appetizing for the Wolves. Since this star movement trend started with LeBron James in 2010, there hasn't yet been a team that has truly "won" a trade when coming to grips with moving out a star. All that can be done is manage it, which is the phase the Wolves seem to be moving toward.

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