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Boston could realistically acquire Kevin Love from Minnesota in a 3-way trade with Indiana

Is Love in the air?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

In quite a surprise, the Boston Celtics are rumored to be interested in unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson, but should we really be stunned? After all, Stephenson's style of play may fit with the Celtics, but more notably, he's precisely the type of player that could be used in a deal to successfully land Kevin Love.

Since the Minnesota Timberwolves are reportedly looking for a mix of youth and talent in return for Love, Stephenson may just be the perfect solution considering he is a virtual triple-double threat every night he steps on the floor. Combined with some young players, it's not unrealistic to assume that this idea may have been floated by either Minnesota or Boston to Indiana.

This is just pure speculation, but after putting the pieces together, it does make some sense that Boston could hypothetically be thinking along these lines -- maybe it wasn't dinner plans that were being discussed when Danny Ainge and Kevin Pritchard walked out of the gym together after the Boston-Indiana Summer League matchup on Monday.

After looking at team needs, situations, and philosophies, I may have come up with a three-way deal that could successfully satisfy the desires of Boston, Indiana, and Minnesota. Here is my own hypothetical proposal:

Minnesota Receives (Player/Salary) Minnesota Trades (Player/Salary)
Lance Stephenson ($10,000,000)
Keith Bogans ($5,285,817)
Joel Anthony ($3,800,000)
Jared Sullinger ($1,424,520)
2016 Brooklyn 1st
Total Salary: $20,510,337
Kevin Love ($15,719,063)
Kevin Martin ($6,792,500)
Shabazz Muhammad ($1,971,960)
Total Salary: $24,483,523
Indiana Receives (Player/Salary) Indiana Trades (Player/Salary)
Jeff Green ($9,200,000)
James Young ($0)
2015 Philly 1st (or two 2nds)
Total Salary: $9,200,000
Lance Stephenson ($10,000,000)
Total Salary: $10,000,000
Boston Receives (Player/Salary) Boston Trades (Player/Salary)
Kevin Love ($15,719,063)
Kevin Martin ($6,792,500)
Shabazz Muhammad ($1,971,960)
Total Salary: $24,483,523
Jeff Green ($9,200,000)
Keith Bogans ($5,285,817)
Joel Anthony ($3,800,000)
Jared Sullinger ($1,424,520)
James Young ($0)
2016 Brooklyn 1st
2015 Philly 1st (or two 2nds)
Total Salary: $19,710,337

Lance Stephenson is signed to a hypothetical four-year, $42.8 million contract with his value decided based on the state of the market. As a note, the maximum amount of years a player can be signed to in a sign-and-trade is four.

Players who have yet to sign their rookie contract count as $0 when traded, which is why James Young is labeled as such. If Young is signed at any point, he can’t be traded for 30 days.

With an outgoing salary total of $19.7 million, Boston is allowed to receive a maximum incoming salary of 125% of the outgoing salary, plus $100k, which would be $24.7 million. In receiving $24.5 million in return, this rule is satisfied.

Why Minnesota Does It

If Kevin Love is as adamant about opting out as he appears to be, then dealing him now is probably the best route for Minnesota to take. In fact, this return would be better than any of the proposed deals that came before the draft, especially since they’d be able to unload Kevin Martin’s $6.8 million contract.

In dealing Martin, they’d gain salary cap flexibility heading into the summer of 2015 since Keith Bogans has a nonguaranteed contract and Joel Anthony has an expiring deal. If they are looking to mix youth and experience, then they would still be in a very good position to add pieces mid-season and next summer.

Trading Shabazz Muhammad is easier considering Glenn Robinson III was added in the draft, and he happens to play the same position. And for "high risk/high reward" players, Zach LaVine fills that quota himself.

Jared Sullinger often gets compared to Kevin Love and could slide in to play a similar style. While Sullinger lacks Love’s elite talent, he could hold the fort at the power forward position and make a large impact playing on a starting lineup that includes Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, and of course, Lance Stephenson.

Why Lance Stephenson Does It

Speaking of Stephenson, why in the world would he want to sign with Minnesota? After all, as an unrestricted free agent he has the freedom to sign anywhere he wants.

Well, Lance’s nickname is "Born Ready" for a reason.

Stephenson wants to be "the man" and truly one of the only realistic teams that could offer him that opportunity is Minnesota. If he signs with the Lakers, he’s playing behind Kobe Bryant (and maybe Pau Gasol too), and in Dallas, he’d never escape from the massive shadow of Dirk Nowitzki. Even going back to Indiana puts him in the backseat behind Paul George.

In a sign-and-trade with Indiana, Minnesota would receive a player that has proven that he can lead a team on the court, even if he only did it in spurts. Providing Lance Stephenson an opportunity on a relatively short four-year deal with a market friendly cap number might just be enough to convince him to accept.

And if you’re Minnesota, it’s worth the risk. He is far more dynamic than Klay Thompson -- the other young scorer they are hot for -- and they’d be receiving many more pieces alongside him.

For the Wolves, the deal should be a no-brainer, unless another team came in with a blockbuster offer like Cleveland with Andrew Wiggins or Houston with Chandler Parsons.

Why Indiana Does It

Of course, going from Lance Stephenson to Jeff Green is quite a downgrade on the floor, but Green could provide similar skills as a complementary scorer in that system. Like Stephenson, Green occasionally explodes for huge nights, all while providing consistent output on both ends of the floor most other games as long as he's in a role that matches his skills.

Not to mention that Green isn’t going to ruffle any feathers in the locker room. He’d fit in easily, and he’d be paired with his best friend from Georgetown, Roy Hibbert, making his transition to a new city much more seamless.

But talent matters, so Indiana would receive James Young with a heavily protected or even conditional future draft pick. Even though Young could take awhile to develop as a pro, he’d be able to slowly develop playing behind the Jeff Green for the next two years before potentially joining Paul George in the starting five.

Why Boston Does It

Acquiring Kevin Love would give the Boston Celtics a legitimate go-to scoring option at the big man position. Love can score on the block, and he also brings outstanding skills as a three-point shooter. As an elite rebounder and passer for his position, Love brings extra qualities that completely make up for his poor defense.

Love also keeps Rajon Rondo in Boston past this season, meaning the Celtics would still retain arguably one of the league’s best point guards. Even though Love wouldn’t be as huge of an acquisition as Kevin Garnett once was, he’d still accelerate the rebuilding process, and the Celtics would still maintain loads of assets for moves that may come along down the road.

Considering Kevin Martin’s offensive prowess as a shooter, his defensive shortcomings can be forgiven since he’d be paired with either Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, or Phil Pressey, three defensive stalwarts. Martin would simply work quite well as a third or forth scoring option, and could thrive in Brad Stevens’ motion offense.

Martin gets knocked for having a bad salary but in a constantly rising market with three-years and $21.2 million remaining (with a player option in the final year), his deal is looking a lot more cap friendly in the next few years. Even with a projected salary cap of $66.5 million for the 2015-16 season, Martin’s deal would only take up 10.6 percent of the cap, an average amount for a player of his caliber.

Even though Shabazz Muhammad’s potential is looking bleak, acquiring him as a throw in gives the Celtics an extra incentive considering they are giving up two young players (Sullinger and Young), a solid all-around player (Green), and multiple draft picks. Muhammad may never pan out, but he was once a top-ranked RSCI recruit and Danny Ainge typically takes a liking to those players in the draft or in free agency and trades if they come at a reasonable cost.

Reasons Why It Won't Happen

In drawing up this mock trade, the first question I asked myself was, "Why would Indiana want to help Boston acquire Kevin Love and Kevin Martin and lose one of their top two-way players in Lance Stephenson?"

Admittedly, it’s hard to find an answer, but the best response could be that there are just no better options for them, and it’s better to get something than lose him outright.

As stated, Lance Stephenson wants to be "the man" and Minnesota might be one of the few teams with the ability to give him that chance. Since they are over the cap, the only way that could happen would be in a three-way; at that point, there are very few teams that could appropriately compensate Indiana in a deal, with Boston being one of the best candidates.

Indiana would be in a position where they’d either lose Stephenson for nothing (he’d sign with Dallas or someone else) or they can at least get two quality pieces in return. Though I only sent Green, Young, and a conditional pick their way in this idea, they could very well demand more in return.

Still, there are no guarantees that Flip Saunders and the Wolves even have interest in Stephenson. There have been no reports of interest on their end, but the fact Boston is supposedly looking for "creative pieces to land Love" and Stephenson fits that description, it does make some sense that there is interest behind the scenes.

For Boston, the only legitimate concern I can see is the addition of Kevin Martin. While I think he'd fit well with the team and "eating" his contract would be no big deal, they may think otherwise. If they take him on, they might insist on handing over less draft picks, which may still allow the deal to happen since Minnesota should be perfectly with the return they receive with the players alone.

Roster Outlines

Minnesota Timberwolves

Some people might make the argument that the combo of Lance Stephenson and Jared Sullinger makes the Timberwolves better than they are with Kevin Love alone. Even though Love is the best player in the deal, Stephenson fills a whole they have severely lacked for years, and Sullinger is still a very effective player at power forward.

Even if they aren’t better, that’s precisely why the proposed deal is so good for Minnesota. Stephenson obviously has his risks, but if Love plans on leaving I don’t see how it can get any better than this. They’d have a very talented starting lineup and the influx of draft picks and cap room would give them more versatility going forward.

Indiana Pacers

Indiana’s roster depth would remain mostly the same with Stephenson to Jeff Green being the only major change. Even though this is a downgrade, Green is still a quality player who can fill it up and defend multiple positions, a valuable tool for Frank Vogel's system.

The highly underrated aspect of this proposed deal is that Indiana’s chemistry would be greatly improved. Any issues Stephenson had with Evan Turner, Roy Hibbert, Paul George, or anyone else, would be eliminated immediately.

Fans can say what they want about Green as a player, but as a person he will never get in anyone’s way as he is extremely quiet, accommodating, and kind to his teammates. Indiana's talent on the floor would take a hit, but the locker room chemistry would be increased twofold.

Boston Celtics

Boston would have a glaring hole at small forward, but with all of their exceptions available and plenty of options on the free agent market, they could conceivably add a high quality player to the roster.

Defense at the center position would remain an issue, though Brandon Bass is a better defender than he credit for, he is not a high level rim protector. Boston would likely have to get creative here, especially with so few options in free agency. If they were to use their mid-level exception, Jordan Hill might be their best option, though in an ideal world, they’d use their trade exception in a deal for Larry Sanders.

Acquiring Kevin Martin would undoubtedly give the Celtics one of the best backcourt groupings in the entire league. He would probably work as a perfect sixth man off the bench, which would increase his efficiency, giving the Celtics a "sparkplug" alongside youngsters Marcus Smart and Phil Pressey.

Closing Thoughts

After reviewing the deal, I believe all three teams would become legitimate playoff contenders, or at least on the verge. Boston would become one of the best teams in the paltry Eastern Conference, and Indiana would still be in a position to contend for the NBA Finals.

As for Minnesota, they'd still be another piece away from competing with the best of the West, but the amount of assets they'd acquire would put them closer to competing, assuming no other deal can be found for Kevin Love and there is little-to-no chance of re-signing him.

Remember, this is pure speculation, but salary cap exercises like this are fun to play around with, and it gives a deeper glimpse into how some of the league's general managers could be thinking about making huge blockbuster moves once the dominoes begin to fall after LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony make the first move.

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