By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
VIDEO: News on Kevin Love
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Love‘s passive-aggressive ploy to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves and get to “a place that I can win,” will happen, although likely not until at least Aug. 23 when the Cleveland Cavaliers can, under NBA rules, trade their newly signed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins can’t be traded for 30 days after signing his contract, which he did Thursday. It instantly put a halt on a Minnesota-Cleveland trade (at least in terms of making one official before then). It also compelled Love, a three-time All-Star, to pull out of Team USA — on grounds of injury risk and scuttling a potential trade — which is now gathered in Las Vegas and will compete in the World Cup in Spain.
Other than missing out on the trip abroad, this does feel like a fortuitous Summer of Love in the making. LeBron James‘ surprise return to Cleveland opened the door for Love to walk in as a supporting star rather than a leading man somewhere else. Nobody imagined a LeBron-Love coupling before James’ announcement on July 11, and what could be more attractive to Love, who had already, it seemed, mentally checked out of Minnesota?
While attending a video game conference in Los Angeles on June 11, Love, who played at UCLA and has long been thought to want to play for the Lakers, was asked about joining the purple and gold. Above all, he said, he wants to go to where he can win. In the same interview with Fox Sports, Love was asked the Wolves’ chances for making the playoffs next season. His answer, whether conscious of his wording or not, clued everybody into his state of mind: “If they’re healthy,” Love said, “they can do a lot of damage.”
The omission of “we’re“ and “we” was easily interpretable as Love viewing himself as a free agent and not a player under contract next season with the Wolves for $15.7 million. Imagine the firestorm had Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard committed such a gaffe.
And what of Love suggesting the Wolves, if healthy of course, “can do a lot of damage?” If it’s true without him, what’s their potential with him? Seems exactly the situation Mr. Double-Double desires.
Since that interview, Love has gone silent. His representatives, citing a scheduling conflict, pulled him out of a July 13 celebrity softball game prior to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The likelier conflict had more to do with a questioning Minneapolis-St. Paul media and a predictably hostile hometown greeting.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess, starting with the franchise’s bungling of Love’s contract extension in January 2012. Owner Glen Taylor and former general manager David Kahn refused to give Love the maximum five years he wanted and offered four, adding a player option after Year 3. Management’s unwillingness to commit angered and offended Love.
Love, meanwhile, has gone diva. Some fans sympathize with his dealing of years of organizational dysfunction. Mostly, the Minnesota fans have soured on him and his tactics. If current team president and coach Flip Saunders somehow doesn’t do a deal prior to the start of the season, there’ll be some awkward moments at Target Center.
History will show that Love’s botched contract to his now distancing from the franchise are only the bookends in a string of unfortunate events that truly sabotaged an era centered around Love and point guard Ricky Rubio before it could begin in earnest.
The year 2012 will go down as a debilitating one. Six weeks after Love’s contentious contract, Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee. He played just 41 games in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, a promising rookie start in which he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists. He wouldn’t return until Dec. 15 of the 2012-13 season, but the injury, admittedly, rattled Rubio and severely curtailed his progress.
The death knell for the anticipated 2012-13 season, however, occurred well before Rubio’s return. In October, Love broke his right hand while away from the team’s facility. How did it happen? The team announced he broke it doing knuckle pushups at home. As odd as it may seem for a basketball player to include knuckle pushups as part of his workout routine, Love claimed he had always done them.
He missed three weeks of the season, less time than anticipated. But in his 18th game back, Love broke the hand again. The Wolves were only 9-9 with him, but Rubio had just come back and there was optimism. Now Love’s season and the Wolves’ playoff hopes were done.
Team dynamics became more complicated when then-coach Rick Adelman left a team besieged by injury for stretches starting in January 2013 to tend to his wife, who was seeking medical answers related to unexplained seizures. Adelman contemplated retirement after the season, but returned. Minnesota continually lost close games and numerous times failed frustratingly to scratch above .500.
We’ll never know what might have been if Love had gotten a five-year deal, or if he had never taken up knuckle pushups, or if Rubio had never torn his ACL.
And now Love seems determined not to explore what still could be in Minnesota.