The Dilemma of Love

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The Timberwolves of Minnesota were once a competitive and storied franchise. In the early 2000’s led by a young Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves made the playoffs 8 years in a row from 1996-2004. After 7 first round exits, they finally reached the conference finals only to be beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers who ended up losing to the Pistons in what would be Shaq’s last season in Hollywood. The Timberwolves may not have reached their ultimate goal, but they were noisemakers in the West and were a team to be reckoned with. Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston where he won a championship in his first year with the team – a complete f*** you to Minnesota who nurtured him and raised him for 12 years only to watch him win what they wanted the year they got rid of him.

Since 2008, the Timberwolves have drafted players such as O.J Mayo (traded for Kevin Love) Mario Chalmers (traded to Miami) Nikola Pekovic (from Miami) Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson (traded to Denver) Wayne Ellington, Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams. Of that group, only Kevin Love, Pekovic and Rubio are still with the team. Pekovic turned out to be a steal as the 31st pick in the 2008 draft, while Ricky Rubio continues to mystify both critics and coaches alike with his lack of shooting and general improvement. Fast-forward 6 years, and it’s 2014. The West is as strong as it’s ever been with only 6 of its 15 teams below .500 and the top 3 teams being the top 3 teams in the entire league record wise. The Timberwolves are still on the outside looking in. Why? Maybe it’s the lack of a big market to attract free agents. Maybe it’s the weird obsession they have with drafting point guards such as Jonny Flynn, one pick after they had just drafted Ricky Rubio. But, there is no purpose to dwell on and regret the past, what they have is what they have and they have to deal with it. The future is where they’ll need to be smarter.

The Timberwolves are 36-37 right now and although the season is not over, it’s highly likely they will end up below .500 once again and while they aren’t technically out of the playoffs, being 7 games behind the Mavericks with 9 games remaining isn’t exactly where they want to be. Their failures have been a product of a lack of improvement from Ricky Rubio, a significant lack of production from the bench, and a lack of commitment on defense.

Ricky isn’t even on the FG% list for point guards on ESPN.com because to be on the list a player must be on pace for 300 field goals made… Make your own conclusions for what that says about a player who’s averaged 32 minutes a game in 73 games this season. He’s shooting 37% from the field and 35% from 3-point range in case you were wondering – he’s only scoring 8.9 points a game. Compared to last season he actually has improved his shooting percentages – 1% from the field and 6% from 3-point range. Congrats, Ricky, you no longer suck at shooting, you’re just really really bad. The problem with a point guard who cannot shoot is that guards tend to sag off and play more below the three point line and around the free throw line extended, kind of like how people guard Rajon Rondo, at least Rajon was a constant threat to get to the basket. The sagging defense creates more traffic in the lane, and enables teams to either double on Love in the post, or help really hard off Rubio knowing that he’s not a threat to hit an open three. His offensive weaknesses hurt the team, and for a team that isn’t particularly strong defensively, they need to be as explosive offensively as humanly possible.

Besides Ricky Rubio, the Wolves are probably in possession of the league’s most disappointing and lackluster bench. They average 27 points a game, rank 22nd in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency. When Kevin Love is on the court Minnesota scores 109 points per 100 possessions and give up 102 points per 100 possessions. However, when he is off the court, they only score 94.4 points per 100 possessions and give up 104 points. It’s clear both offensively, and less but still defensively the Wolves are stronger with Kevin Love on the court then without him. And while he is the superstar, it’s unfair to put the burden on him of having to literally play every minute of the game to prevent his team from dropping off.

The Timberwolves’ defense also holds them back significantly. Rubio although is a master at picking pockets, is not a strong one-on-one defender and rarely prevents penetration in the paint. Inside, Kevin Love and Pekovic are both below-the-rim players and don’t have the length or athleticism to defend the rim. Kevin Martin is a below average defender as well, and if you look down the entire roster, they don’t have players who are strong defenders. Their best defender is probably Gorgui Dieng the raw rookie who has proven he can defend the rim and be an inside presence given the minutes, but if Pekovic is still around there is going to be limited opportunity for him.

So what do they do?

The Timberwolves are in a strange position. We’ve seen this whole “superstar tries to force his way out of town” kind of thing many times in the past 4 years with LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony. However, Kevin Love is the only superstar in this group whose team is still bad with him on it. The Cavaliers reached the finals in 2007, were the best team in the NBA through the regular season in 2008-2009, and 2009-2010. They also reached the playoffs every year from 2005-2010 – advancing to at least the Conference Semi-Finals in each of those appearances. Dwight Howard and the Magic made the playoffs every year from 2006 to 2012 even reaching the finals in the 2008-2009 season. Carmelo and the Nuggets made the playoffs every year from 2003 to 2013, and although 9 of those appearances were cut short in the 1st round it gave the team and the city both hope and something to build off of.

When all of these players went to their new teams, (Miami, Los Angeles, New York) the direction of their old teams was simple and clear: Rebuild. The Cavaliers grabbed Kyrie Irving and are in the process of rebuilding their young squad. The Nuggets restarted with Chandler, Gallinari, and Mozgov and are now being led by Ty Lawson, granted they have had a plethora of injuries and a coaching change hold them back, they knew they were going to start over. The Magic grabbed a ton of assets and draft picks and they have just begun rebuilding with a team of young talent such as Victor Oladipo, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. The Timberwolves are in a strange position because yes they are bad, but in Kevin Love’s 6th season they were supposed to be a playoff team, yet they are still bad. So does that mean once Kevin is gone they rebuild on top of the shitty team they have? Or do they try acquiring more stars and shooting for the moon to win immediately? If they’re rebuilding then they’re getting rid of Rubio, Pekovic and Martin and starting with what? Dieng and… They don’t have any other pieces to build on considering Rubio and Shabazz Muhammed have both been wildly disappointing this season.

Kevin Love has been around the stars of the league during the Olympics and All-Star Weekends and has returned home to Minnesota many times wondering why they all have success but he doesn’t. Wondering why he isn’t surrounded by talent like his friends Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook. The Timberwolves are on thin ice and it’s time for them to make a move.

The only way Kevin Love is going to stay is if the roster is drastically improved. He wants a big market, so the Timberwolves are already at a disadvantage so the biggest thing they can do is improve on paper. Kevin Love doesn’t want another high draft pick, because it’s so vividly clear that the Timberwolves are not the best pickers. He wants to make the playoffs; he’s been with the team for 6 years and expected them to be in the hunt in the West by now. The problem is that the Wolves don’t really have the tools to do this. The only thing they can do is trade Pekovic as Gorgui Dieng has jumped onto the scene as a viable rim defender, but Pekovic is dealing with injuries and whatever they receive in return for Pekovic will likely not be enough to change Kevin’s mind.

Besides possible trades, the Timberwolves have about 66 million on the books this summer so there is no room for them to sign any free agents that will be able to make an impact on the team. Therefore, I think if I’m the Timberwolves front office, I trade Kevin Love before he has the chance to inevitably opt-out and go somewhere like Los Angeles or New York. If they look at past examples, that I’ve stated before, both the Orlando Magic and the Denver Nuggets traded their stars rather than waiting for the off-season. The Magic are a promising young team, and the Nuggets as well – both full of assets and talent. The Cavaliers however, are toxic and despite the talent they have, chemistry issues and defensive lulls have held them at the bottom and have even got their newest star, Kyrie Irving ready to leave when his contract is up. Don’t wait on the summer of 2015 and hope to god that he re-signs, don’t let the player control the organization, control the player before he has a chance.

Trading Kevin Love is obviously a very hard thing to do. When you have a talent like Love’s, your instinct is to never let him go, no matter what. However, with the Wolves out of the playoffs for another year, and no strong case or way to keep him in Minnesota past next summer, trading Love is the right thing to do. I think the Timberwolves, when trading Love will have to see if one of the draft picks they land has superstar potential and if not Rubio and Pekovic will likely leave on their own accord anyway. The trade that has been most prominent in the media and in the rumor mill is a trade sending Kevin Love to Los Angeles. The Lakers are the perfect destination for him, and for the Timberwolves a team crazy, and championship obsessed enough to give them the right deal.

Per ESPN’s Marc Stein: “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.”

What this means is Kobe’s influence along with the dream to be back in championship contention has choked and blinded the front office of any rational decisions, and now the Lakers are being pressured (probably by Kobe) to do anything they can to win now in Kobe’s last two seasons in the NBA. Kobe is coming back next year, and with a vengeance and what he doesn’t want is 1. Mike D’Antoni and 2. A rebuilding project. Therefore, although it’s probably not the right move to make for the future, some feel that the Lakers owe it to Kobe to make one last final run before they rebuild for real. So if the Lakers were to put a probable top-5 pick in this year’s draft in the package for Love then they would most likely make the deal. If the Wolves also do the smart thing and begin tanking the rest of this season for better draft position for their own pick, then if a Kevin Love trade with the Lakers went through, the Wolves could have in their possession two top-10 picks in this year’s draft – a beautiful way to start the new era of a ‘Loveless Minnesota.’

I know some might say the Wolves have picked poorly in the past, what’s to say they won’t pick poorly again, well, two reasons: 1. This is arguably one of the deepest and most talented draft classes ever so to have two top-10 picks both bust would mean that the Timberwolves are cursed. 2. Just like gamblers never know how to say no, and shooters never stop shooting to get themselves out of a slump, the Timberwolves front office, any front office for that matter, will never say no to two top-10 picks in a draft class stacked with star talent. Additionally, for the Minnesota fans probably considering moving or suicide after a Kevin Love trade is made, the potential and intrigue of two top-10 picks would be enough for them to stay supportive of their team through the next era of basketball. *** Reminder: All of this depends on the Lakers possibly giving up this pick. If not the Lakers, there are plenty of teams vying for Love’s services, many of which have assets and picks at their disposal.

Kevin Love is capable of carrying a team. Do not question that. He averages 26 points and 13 rebounds, he’s shooting 46% from the field, 38% from 3-point range, his team is better with him on the floor, his PER is 27.44, Kevin Love’s only flaw is his lack of defensive intensity and athleticism, the latter which he surely makes up for with strength and rebounding position. The team is not a failure because of Kevin Love, rather an accumulation of the failures from his organization and his teammates that are stated in depth above. His team and his organization has let him down, and is now ready to run away from the freezing and unsuccessful seasons in Minnesota and go to a big market with a championship in their future. The Timberwolves need to let go of their love, before their love leaves them. Trade him before it’s too late, rebuild, and try again.

 

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