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Love in demand despite never making the playoffs

by Sam Smith

So what’s the big fuss about a player who in six seasons as his team’s best player never has played for a team with a .500 record, never has made the playoffs, has averaged missing 20 games per season with injuries and in his five full seasons (a 66-game lockout shortened season in the other) his team has averaged 25 wins?

It’s 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game over those six seasons and 25.9 points and 12.4 rebounds per game last season.

That’s the story of Kevin Love, who failing for his team for six years is now one of the hottest players on the NBA trade market because, yes, Love is upset with the team’s results and wants to be traded.

Yes, welcome to the upside down world of the NBA.

And Minnesota has more than a dozen suitors for Love, says new coach and general manager Flip Saunders.

So what to do?

That will be one of the big questions around the NBA in the next few weeks as the rumors are the Timberwolves, rather than risk losing Love when he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2015 and getting nothing in return, will make their best deal before the draft and move on.

None of that season-long soap opera stuff with LeBron in Cleveland in 2009-10 and Carmelo Anthony before he was traded by Denver to the Knicks in February 2011.

The Timberwolves can call Love’s bluff and even if he insists he doesn’t want to remain with the Minnesota — NBA executives say they’ve heard Love has told the Timberwolves in no uncertain terms that he won’t stay even as Ricky Rubio says he’ll make a last-minute pitch — they could possibly work a sign-and-trade deal in the summer of 2015 that would net Love more money than if he left as a free agent.

But would they take the risk?

Do they want this hanging over the team all season?

Probably not.

So the bidding will turn intense once the NBA Finals conclude in about a week.

The problem is Love is not a star. Oh, he is called one in the vague NBA view these days of someone who fills the box score with big numbers.

But if he were a star, after all, wouldn’t he at least have gotten his team to the playoffs once?

The Western Conference can’t be that good.

No matter. Love produces, is an excellent shooter for a big man in an evolving NBA with a premium on 3-point shooting big men and a good rebounder.

Defense?

Nah, it doesn’t much interest him. But he’s been an All-Star, a USA Basketball team member and the biggest potential player available this summer perhaps along with Anthony, who says he may opt out to become a free agent.

Most executives believe Anthony will re-sign with the Knicks or at least stay one more season. Hardly anyone believes Love will be back.

But acquiring Love obviously doesn’t guarantee a team anything since he’s been around awhile and has nothing much to show except some awards and good statistics. The problem with a player like Love is he is only a star in the current NBA definition in which there really are maybe five true stars in the entire league, those players who can be team leaders who lead to success.

Love is in the category of players like Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. Not exactly those kinds of players, but a player who has to be your second- or third-best player if you want to have ultimate success.

As it happens, there are plenty of places for those talents in the contracting NBA where only a handful of teams even have a chance to win a title.

Though Gasol’s teams made the playoffs in Memphis, Gasol never was on the winning side in one playoff game until he went to the Lakers to play with Kobe Bryant.

So what’s going to happen?

The Timberwolves, ideally, would like to trade Love out of the Western Conference. But the top offers may be coming from Western Conference teams.

The other factor is Love’s desire. He has just one season left on his contract.

Would the Cavs trade the No. 1 pick?

Maybe, but he wouldn’t resign there. No deal.

Boston is obviously in the mix and Love even was openly touring the city last week. Boston has the No. 6 pick, but there doesn’t seem much else that would interest the Timberwolves.

The Lakers have No. 7 and are very interested in the former UCLA player, but they have virtually nothing else to offer.

Sacramento has intimated it would offer No. 8 and last year’s No. 7, Ben McLemore, with no promise from Love to stay. They would take a chance.

Perhaps the best deal could be from the Warriors, where the rumors are that Love would like to go. They could offer Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson, but Thompson might also leave after next season rather than re-sign.

The Suns supposedly would offer Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe plus young players and draft picks, of which they have many. Though Bledsoe can be a free agent and would have to agree.

Love supposedly is interested in the Bulls.

But would he sign and take a chance on the health of Derrick Rose?

Chicago would offer Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and draft picks. Teams like the Bulls, assuming a healthy Rose, and the Warriors with Stephen Curry could put Love in position to be a second or third option and join the winner he cannot make a team but which he can become thanks to the team. And getting a max salary along the way.

Or would he be another David Lee or Carlos Boozer?

He may not be worth it, but he’s the best looking at this next dance and he’s going to have an awful lot of suitors.

Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”