The playoffs aren't absolutely, positively out of reach yet for Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But it's a day that's officially coming soon for them, obviously, given the Wolves' seven-game deficit in the race for the West's No. 8 spot with 12 games to play when they awoke Friday.
No less an authority than Love proclaimed the Wolves' playoff dream extinguished after their collapse against Phoenix last weekend. The visiting Suns scrambled back from a 22-point deficit to inflict yet another dagger in a season lowlighted by Minnesota's 4-12 record in games decided by four points or less, which is universally seen as the reason -- along with the Wolves' latest slew of injuries -- that Love's wait for his first taste of the NBA postseason is about to hit six seasons and counting.
Which inevitably leads you to ask: What next?
The suggestion is already in circulation that the Lakers will attempt to use their forthcoming high lottery pick in June to assemble the sort of trade package that finally convinces the Wolves to part with Love and end the uncertainty that hangs over this franchise even before the 25-year-old enters the final year of his contract. Yet there is just as much defiance emanating from Minnesota, as we speak, about the Wolves' ability to keep Love in town.
You continue to hear that Wolves owner Glen Taylor remains determined to try to convince Love to stick around and will keep resisting trade offers until, as one insider puts it, he "has no choice." The Wolves are quietly optimistic about the marketing profile that the Taco Bell-endorsing All-Star starter has established for himself in a supposed small market as well as the relationship new team president Flip Saunders has forged with Love, who would have to be willing to leave some $30 million on the table, Dwight Howard-style, if he wants to force his way out.
So the next big change with the Wolves, by all accounts, is far more likely to take place on the bench, amid increasing pessimism in the Twin Cities that Rick Adelman -- after trying to coach the last two seasons while nursing wife Mary Kay through a persistent illness -- will want to return for a fourth season in charge.
Adelman nearly walked away last offseason and, according to sources close to the situation, has convinced more than a few folks in team circles that he's going to invoke his right to opt out of the final year of his original four-year contract and step away for good this summer. Luring the former Blazers, Warriors and Kings coach to Minneapolis was widely acclaimed as one of the few true successes of the David Kahn era, but Adelman's partnership with the Portland-raised Love hasn't been able to offset the close-game plague or the injuries to manufacture the playoff breakthrough many expected by now.
If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.
The obvious response is Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league's longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves' 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.
But that might be too obvious.
There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.
There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.
Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State's Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.
An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.
And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.
That's because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden ... and because Saunders will be there watching.