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Updated: June 25th, 2014 2:48pm
Zulgad: Saunders appears to be making right moves in Love situation

Zulgad: Saunders appears to be making right moves in Love situation

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Flip Saunders has said he doesn't have to trade Kevin Love if he doesn't want to. He has refused to get into any specifics when it comes to how unhappy Love really is in Minnesota. Saunders hasn't responded to the minute-by-minute reports that numerous teams are either in or out when it comes to trade talks involving his star player.

In other words, Saunders is doing exactly what the Timberwolves should want from their president of basketball operations.

Whether Saunders works a trade to send Love packing Thursday night during the NBA draft or continues to conduct the Love auction, it would appear the veteran coach, but still relatively inexperienced executive, is handling a tough situation with the savvy that this organization hasn't seen from a member of its front office in many years.

To come to this conclusion, we need to make two important assumptions about what really is going on at Target Center.

First, Saunders, while not willing to discuss the Love situation publicly in any detail, is burning up the phone lines behind the scenes with the long list of potential suitors that exists for Love. Judging by reports of the teams dropping out and then getting back into the sweepstakes (Golden State and Chicago come to mind), his message is likely this: Give me what I want or don't waste my time.

Second, Saunders is creating the perception that if he doesn't get the return that he wants for Love he's willing to make the superstar miserable by forcing him to stay in Minnesota this season. We all know that's highly unlikely, but if Saunders says that enough to other executives they might just believe it. It also might cause Love to go into a complete panic, considering the forward is under contract for 2014-15.

While holding onto Love entering next season would be a mistake because it would start to drive down his value, there is nothing wrong with his rights remaining Wolves' property at this point.

Saunders still has plenty of leverage and the potential deals that are either on the table for Love, or will be on the table, only will become clearer when the draft is over and teams have made their selections.

As far as the distraction that is involved with attempting to trade a player like Love, Saunders appears to have gotten a short-term break.

He can thank Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James for that.

Anthony opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks this week and reports surfaced Tuesday that James will do the same with the Miami Heat. This caused ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" show to promise listeners on Wednesday morning that they would cover the James story, the Anthony story, and more, when they returned from a commercial break.

Love's name wasn't worth a mention because he's simply another star in the NBA and not thought of as a primary attraction by fans or the media.

That doesn't mean other teams won't be willing to give up a lot to obtain Love and it doesn't mean he's not a very good basketball player. It does mean that while the national media has turned much of its attention to James and Anthony's futures, Saunders can maybe gain a shred of peace in trying to jettison Love for the best available package.

We can say this with certainty: Love's situation is, at best, No. 3 among the NBA's offseason topics and that's assuming we have heard the last from Donald Sterling.

Ideally, the Love topic won't be a hot one much longer. Saunders needs to trade him and he knows this. But, for the time being, the way he's going about his business appears to be strategic and methodical.

This has put Saunders in the driver's seat. If he can remain in that position through the time he deals Love, Wolves fans should be very pleased with Flip the executive. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Kevin Love
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