This week has unleashed another round of one step forward, two steps back maneuvering for professional basketball in Minnesota.
The step forward was that the Timberwolves did not lose out in the NBA draft lottery as they traditionally do. Word has it that Flip Saunders and company employed a successful new strategy – burning incense in the war room in an attempt to drive away the draft lottery demons.
But also this week, the team was dealt an unusually harsh blow with the news leak that star forward and face of the franchise Kevin Love is barnstorming his way out of town. Unfortunately, no amount of Harry Potter-style sorcery is available to reverse the course of this development.
Though Love still is under contract for one more season with the T-Wolves, his agent leaked word to ESPN that he had gave an ultimatum to the team: either trade me now or I walk next year.
The loss would come as a huge blow to the team after a season in which it finally seemed to assemble the right pieces to contend. Love combined with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin were a respectable squad and put together a solid campaign that just fell short of the playoffs.
But after six seasons of consistent losing and playing for one of the league’s longstanding pariah teams, Love’s disgruntled ultimatum is not unreasonable – nor unexpected. Prognosticators and pundits have been predicting this very event since David Kahn refused to offer Love the maximum five year deal back in 2012. Kahn was predicting that Ricky Rubio would emerge as a superstar (he hasn’t yet) and that Love would be comfortable playing second fiddle next to him.
Though Kahn was wrong on about 99 percent of the actions he took during his tenure as T-Wolves general manager, he was actually right in a sense with his gamble on Love. Love has not developed into the type of superstar that a team can be built around. Rather, his skill set and temperament fit best where he can play a supporting role alongside a more dynamic and charismatic game changer.
These second fiddle type players are absolutely necessary for the main superstar to succeed – every Michael Jordan needs a Scottie Pippen. Love is the type of player that was lacking during the Kevin Garnett glory years of the early 2000s.
Due to Love’s contract situation, he essentially has his choice of destinations because any team that would give up the required compensation for him will surely demand that he sign a long term deal. Potentially interested teams are rumored to include the usual suspects (Lakers, Knicks) who every year are determined to spend their way to a championship.
Other suitors have included win-now types, which Love is said to be especially attracted to. Teams like Golden State and Chicago have the existing superstar prowess and the ability to create and adequate compensation package. Pairing Love with a Stephen Curry or a Derrick Rose could quite formidable.
If the T-Wolves are lucky, they’ll get a useful player out of the deal and hopefully a high draft pick, but at the end of the day the potential trades floating around have been your typical four quarters for a dollar type deals.
Complicating the matter is that the Love drama has put the search for a head coach on hold indefinitely. In that sense, it might be best for the organization’s long term stability to dump Love now and get something decent in return for him. At least then there would be a rebuilding framework that the new coach could work with.