By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Be mad at Kevin Love all you want. Slap the head off of that bobble-head if it makes you feel better.
But understand this: He’s doing the right thing, forcing his way out of a tough situation in Minnesota. Love has already let the Timberwolves know that he will test the market, meaning that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.
And that means the Timberwolves need to ask themselves if it makes more sense to waste the next few months trying to change Love’s mind or to spend the next few weeks sorting out the best trade option and getting something rather than nothing for the face of their franchise.
Survey the list of superstar and even All-Star talents in recent seasons who have decided they wanted to work elsewhere, and almost to a man each and every one of them found a way out, no matter how ugly the fallout. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Chris Paul in New Orleans. Dwight Howard in Orlando. Deron Williams in Utah (the Jazz jettisoned him before things got ugly). When a star wants a new destination in this day and age, dating back to LeBron James and his departure from Cleveland, it’s difficult to keep him in the fold.
The Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the only teams to stare down its franchise player, Kobe Bryant, and not buckle to a trade demand (real, admitted to and or imagined)/request for an exit in some shape, form or fashion. Keep in mind they were working with an armored truck worth of cash, a rich championship history and freedom to manipulate the situation in whatever way Bryant wanted as part of their fool-proof recruiting pitch.
Love is in a completely different place in his career. He’s yet to sniff the aroma of the playoffs after six seasons in the NBA. The fact that he’s had enough in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves have been unable to surround him with the supporting pieces necessary to reach the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference, should surprise no one.
But this isn’t about Love’s exit strategy or even what a downtrodden Timberwolves franchise is going to do in the event that they have to part ways with a bonafide superstar (owner Glen Taylor and front office boss Flip Saunders, it’s your move). This is about the fact that Love recognizes that it’s now or never if he wants to graduate from that short list of first-line stars who haven’t dipped their toes in the postseason waters.
Love is wise to take control of his own destiny and write the next chapter or two of his legacy on his own terms. Whichever route the Timberwolves decide to take, he’ll have plenty of suitors willing to wait out the process in an attempt to add him to their mix.
Even more intriguing for some of those interested parties — the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Lakers headline the long list — is whether Love is slated as the No. 1 or No. 2 option in the future. Whatever their designations, a Love-Steph Curry–Klay Thompson trio with the Warriors and new coach Steve Kerr would be pure fireworks. He could be an absolute game changer alongside Anthony in New York and certainly with former MVP Derrick Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau. The possibilities are endless.
Still, for all of his well-deserved individual hype, there are some, a scant few NBA front office types, who repeatedly point out that Love’s spectacular numbers never did lift the Timberwolves to that next level.
Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio even questioned his leadership abilities in the wake of the news that Love wanted to explore his options elsewhere.
“Each situation is different, but this is a results league,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And he’s never led a team to the postseason. Chris Bosh takes a beating from people, always has. But the one thing you couldn’t argue when he was in Toronto was that he could lead his team to the playoffs. I think Love is in a similar situation in that he could be the ideal No. 2 in the right place, the guy who serves as the linchpin in a championship situation. He’s that skilled and that talented. And he works his tail off. But he has to get to the playoffs for any of us to know for sure. And in this day and age of analytics, that one metric that still matters is whether or not you get there.”
It’s clear that making the playoffs, being a “winner,” is the one thing that matters to Love.
He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be placed in this current predicament, where his name will be run through the rumor mill relentlessly, if that wasn’t his No. 1 priority.