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Flip Saunders still maintains he planned to keep Kevin Love until Andrew Wiggins offer

2013 NBA Draft Lottery

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a photo prior to the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery on May 21, 2013 at the Millennium Hotel in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)

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In May 2014, a report emerged Kevin Love would leave the Timberwolves as a free agent in 2015 if they didn’t trade him.

A couple weeks later, Timberwolves president Flip Saunders said he planned to keep Love.

Of course, Minnesota eventually traded Love to the Cavaliers for a package highlighted by Andrew Wiggins.

Did that prove Saunders was bluffing? He still says no.

Saunders in a Q&A with Zach Lowe of Grantland:

I didn’t have a problem keeping Kevin into the final year of his deal and coaching him. Guys just don’t turn down the extra year and $30 million. Even though he maybe wanted to leave, I thought we still had an opportunity to re-sign him. When you are patient, you can say, “This is what we need to get something done, and if we don’t get it, we’re keeping him.”

Then things kind of fell into place, with LeBron going to Cleveland and [Andrew] Wiggins becoming available. That’s when you can say “lucky.”

Yeah, you’ve told me before you were really willing to keep Kevin into that final year. That doesn’t seem like bluster.

No, it wasn’t. People thought it was. Thoughts might have changed when I announced I would coach. Because what coach wouldn’t want to coach a guy who was All-NBA? Coaches want to win that night. I’m in a unique situation, because as the coach, I live in the present, but as the GM, I look into the future. I try to steer both courses. But people believed I would coach the guy.

Saunders handled a difficult situation well.

Wiggins looks like a budding star, and he’s already proven to be a great return for Love. Most stars who force their way out don’t fetch nearly as valuable a player as Love.

We’ll never know whether Love would have re-signed with Minnesota, but a case can be made he would have. He took the security of a five-year contract from the Cavaliers this summer, even though he probably would’ve made more by taking a two-year deal, opting out and then locking in long-term. Of course, re-signing with contending Cleveland was an easier call than staying with Minnesota would have been, but that shows Love values stability. The Timberwolves could have provided more stability through a fifth season and higher raises than any other team had they kept him.

So, I don’t think Minnesota had to trade Love last summer. Saunders could have tried forcing the power forward’s hand. Maybe that would have backfired and Love would have signed with the Lakers, but it was worth the risk at a certain point.

But when you can get Wiggins, a trade beat taking a chance on Love re-signing.

That doesn’t mean you weren’t willing to take the risk of keeping Love, though.