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Updated: August 7th, 2014 4:30pm
Zulgad: Saunders deserves credit for looking long term in Love deal

Zulgad: Saunders deserves credit for looking long term in Love deal

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Longtime NBA coach and current ESPN analyst George Karl didn't exactly put his stamp of approval on the Timberwolves expected trade of Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick.

"I thought Kevin Love would bring more," Karl said Thursday during an appearance on "Mackey & Judd" on 1500 ESPN. "I think Flip (Saunders), the ownership and the management decided that they want to rebuild and not regroup.

"This (makes) them into a team that has a lot of good young players that has some upside potential. But the production (for) the coming season could be really up and down. I like rebuilding in the Eastern Conference, but I don't like rebuilding in the (much tougher) Western Conference."

Karl's analysis is not acknowledged to criticize a trade that can't be made official for another 16 days, but rather to give kudos to Saunders.

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Additional listening: The Sports Over Beers podcast welcomed Steve McPherson to discuss the return in the Kevin Love trade. Are the Wolves getting enough?

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There has been skepticism from this corner from the get-go about whether Saunders would be able to get maximum value for Love. There also was concern voiced about if Saunders had the necessary experience as an executive to pull off a trade that wouldn't end up being the latest setback for a franchise that long ago became a punch line.

But not only does Saunders appear to be on the verge of getting a quality return for Love - Wiggins and Bennett are the past two No. 1 overall picks in the NBA draft - but the fact Karl isn't a huge fan of the trade is even more reason to give props to Saunders.

The reasoning is simple.

Saunders holds the titles of president of basketball operations and head coach of the Timberwolves. He's also getting set to celebrate his 60th birthday in February.

I've never been a fan of your head personnel guy being your head coach because usually the latter overrules the former when it comes to making decisions that aren't based on winning now. Saunders returned to run the Wolves in May 2013 and spent one season with Rick Adelman as his coach. Saunders added the role of coach this past June after Adelman stepped aside.

One would assume that Saunders, who also coached the Wolves from December 1995 to February 2005 and was the last guy to take the team to the playoffs, would like to win as many games as possible with a veteran roster this coming season. Especially, when you consider the fact that Flip is no longer a young man.

That could have meant there were two temptations when it came to dealing the disgruntled Love. Hold onto him into the season and hope he played up to his capabilities, this would have been a foolish decision, or make a trade that gave you the most experience back, or at least the most known commodities, and hope the team could make a run to the playoffs.

That's the type of deal that Karl would have wanted and it's why there are some who felt Saunders should continue to hold out for Klay Thompson when it came to the Wolves' talks with the Golden State Warriors. But it's pretty clear now that Saunders the executive overruled Saunders the coach and for that owner Glen Taylor should be thankful.

The Wolves are unlikely to be a playoff team in 2014-15, meaning their streak of not making postseason appearances will reach 11 years, but this trade stands to put some long-term pieces in place to build a roster that could have success over a sustained period.

The report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on Thursday morning explained that the plan is for this to be a two-team trade, but top-notch reporter Jon Krawczynski, who covers the Wolves for the Associated Press, said there is still a chance that Philadelphia will end up as a third team in this deal.

That's because Saunders would like to get power forward Thaddeus Young from the 76ers. It's not certain who or what (draft picks) would go to Philadelphia, but Young's stay in Minnesota could be a short one, given that he can opt-out of his contract after next season.

That might be a slight concession by Saunders the executive to Saunders the coach. Nonetheless, it only would serve as a slight one given the prize to any return for Love would be Wiggins and the potential he brings to Minnesota.

This potential almost certainly wouldn't be immediately realized, making Saunders' job as coach that much tougher, but Saunders the executive knows that adding Wiggins is the best idea for the future health of a franchise that hasn't been healthy in years.

And for that, 16 days from now, Saunders should be applauded.

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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