<
>

A Love-ly weekend for Boston fans

Kevin Love visited Boston this weekend, sending Celtics fans into delirium.

It’s one thing to be daydreaming about possible trade scenarios for a player like Love after a 57-loss season. It’s another for the 25-year-old All-Star to show up unannounced in late May and strut around Boylston St. while sipping an iced latte and mugging for pictures.

Then Love shared a moment with Celtics captain Rajon Rondo on Sunday at Fenway Park and Celtics fans were ready to start printing up No. 42 jerseys (or dusting off those old Vin Baker shirts to tweak).

Why was Love here? A report from Dirty Water News suggested Love said he was here to "check out the city and see what it’s like." That will do little to quell rampant speculation that Love was here to get a feel for an unfamiliar city that could potentially be his next basketball home.

Love is expected to opt out of the final year of his current contract -- a four-year, $60.8 million extension signed in January 2012 -- which would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Minnesota Timberwolves risk losing him without compensation if they don’t move him this offseason (or before February’s trade deadline).

Enter Boston with its war chest of assets. The Celtics have a rare mix of available draft picks (as many as 10 first-rounders over the next five drafts), cheap young talent (recent top picks Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger headline that list), and an ability to offer salary cap relief (Keith Bogans’ nonguaranteed $5.3 million salary next season). The Celtics might not be able to offer the most glitzy package (Cleveland wins that battle if it dangles this year’s No. 1 pick after vaulting in the lottery), but Boston certainly has the goods to make a play for any big-ticket player that becomes available.

Of course, this is the same route that Boston took to land its last Big Ticket, and that worked out pretty well. As part of the team’s last rebuild, Boston bundled two first-round draft picks, young talent (Al Jefferson), cap relief (Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract) and filler, then shipped it to Minnesota for another Kevin, who helped deliver Banner 17 during his first season in green.

The idea that Boston could pry another franchise saver from a Wolves team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years seemed almost preposterous. There’s no way history could repeat itself, right? Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said Sunday he expects Love to be playing for Minnesota next season. If that sounds familiar, it's because the Wolves expressed a similar sentiment before dealing Garnett to Boston.

Celtics fans began to dream earlier this month when news first bubbled that Love planned to test free agency next summer. It still felt like a bit of a long shot, especially after the Celtics landed at No. 6 in the draft lottery last week. Many fans actually talked themselves out of the idea of adding Love when it was suggested the Celtics might have to give up as many as four first-round picks to entice Minnesota to consider a deal.

Then Love descended upon the Hub and Celtics fans kicked the “Come to Boston!” recruitment into overdrive. Random photos of Love around the city started popping up on Twitter on Saturday. Love wears a smile in almost every shot, seemingly unfazed by the locals' desire for a snapshot. He was caught dining at Cask 'n Flagon before sitting in the EMC Club at Fenway on Sunday afternoon.

While Love has admitted in the past to being unfamiliar with Boston as a city, he’s no stranger to the team’s history. As a high schooler, he preached an affinity for a VHS copy of “Winning Basketball” with Celtics legends Red Auerbach and Larry Bird. In a book sharing his name, Love was quoted as noting, “My dad [former NBA hoopster Stan Love] likes to say when other kids were watching Big Bird, I was watching Larry Bird.”

Some have suggested that Love, a native of Santa Monica who played collegiately at UCLA, only desires to play out west for a team like the Los Angeles Lakers. Might this trip to Boston have been aimed at examining what life could be like on the opposite coast?

If Love had a sense of humor, he’d visit some of the other potential bidders for his services next month. He could be spotted at the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame or Wrigley Field or the Golden Gate Bridge, just to mess with fans from each city (and Minnesota’s front office).

Ultimately, Love’s fate rests in whether the Wolves are willing to move him and what they can fetch in return. The Celtics have the assets to make a bid for him, but how much are they willing to part with?

Love’s visit simply reaffirms how antsy Celtics fans are to accelerate through this rebuild. A player of his stature seemingly represents an immediate chance to restore the team to contender status. Boston fans tried to charm Love with their hospitality, all in hopes he’ll come back for a longer stay. Even if he doesn't, just remember that what Celtics fans really crave is a championship-caliber team, regardless of who helms that roster.

But even David Ortiz got in on the fun of recruiting Love, Tweeting on Sunday night, "Yo @kevinlove if you need advice on moving from Minnesota to Boston just let me know #CityOfChamps"

Yep, if we learned one thing this weekend it's that Celtics fans love the idea of Love playing in Boston.