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Celtics

Robb: With Love Headed To Cleveland, Ainge Must Work To Discover Next-Level Talent

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
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Kevin Love  (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Love (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — The Kevin Love saga has mercifully come to an end for Celtics fans.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported today that the framework of a Cavaliers and Timberwolves trade is in place for the superstar power forward. Love heads to Cleveland and has given a verbal agreement to sign an extension with the Cavs after next season, while the Wolves gets Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and a 2015 protected first-round pick (via Miami) in the deal that should become official later this month.

This development should come as no surprise. Any realistic chance the Celtics had of landing Love ended once LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers jumped into the fray as a suitor for Love in July. Two No. 1 picks in the last couple of NBA Drafts dwarfed anything the Celtics could have possibly packaged together from their treasure chest of assets.

Boston’s future first-round picks are nice, but when there is no certainty where they may fall in the lottery (if at all), those selections lose some luster. Danny Ainge wasn’t going to overpay with an absurd number of them and young players for Love anyway, but that was probably an offer that Flip Saunders and Minnesota might not have been interested in based on their franchise goals. With Wiggins, Minnesota will have a young promising star they can sell to the fan base — you can’t do that with future picks.

So now, Ainge’s focus will turn to constructing a team that can compete with a James/Love/Kyrie Irving trio a couple of years down the road. That group already has to be considered the Eastern Conference title favorite for next year, especially as more solid veteran role players like Mike Miller and Shawn Marion jump aboard for another chance at a ring.

The mountain the Celtics have to climb to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference just got a bit more challenging. Instead of James staying in Miami with an aging core of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade over the next few years, he’s bet big on some younger legs. Irving and Love are entering their prime right now and are hungry for a chance to win after never having tasted the postseason during their brief careers.

The fact that both will be locked in at max deals for the next few years will limit some of Cleveland’s flexibility if the trio does not work together as planned. The mid-level exception will be the only major weapon the team has in free agency moving forward, but the allure of playing with James should be enough for veteran free agents to take less for a potential winner.

For now, Ainge needs to stay the course in Boston with his team building and remain patient. The Celtics have already positioned themselves well from a defensive standpoint in the backcourt with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley. The issue now is targeting the right additional pieces via trade and free agency. A player with Love’s talent is probably not going to become available again anytime soon, so Boston’s front office will have to do their homework exploring various trade possibilities and potentially take a risk on a guy they think can help take them to the next level a few years down the road.

Just who that guy is remains to be seen right now, but the good news is the Celtics should have the assets to acquire someone like that by the end of this season.

For now, Celtics fans can wave goodbye to the Love saga and take solace in knowing we will always have memories of the Love weekend tour of Boston, the Rajon Rondo meet-and-greet at Fenway, and the Celtics looming as an “intriguing” destination.

The Love path wasn’t meant to be this time around for Boston, but knowing Danny Ainge, he won’t stop working the phones until he’s found a new avenue to bring the Celtics back to the NBA’s elite.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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