Former teammates Kevin Love and Al Jefferson faced each other at Target Center on Friday, nearly four seasons after Kevin McHale’s Timberwolves frontcourt of the future was busted up with a trade that sent Jefferson packing.
McHale envisioned Jefferson’s unorthodox low-post game and Love’s multi-faceted skills complementing each other when he swung a draft-night trade in 2008 that acquired Love’s rights from Memphis.
McHale’s successor as general manager disagreed. David Kahn traded Jefferson away to Utah, saying the two players’ shared lack of length and defensive acumen left the Wolves too susceptible on defense. He never mentioned that he was able to dump Jefferson’s $13 million salary without taking back any similar salaries in return.
Three-plus years later, Jefferson is in Charlotte on the first year of a three-year, $41 million free-agent deal he signed last summer with the Bobcats and Love is still in Minnesota making headlines nightly for reasons both on and off the court.
Timberwolves fans never got to see how the two might have worked together in the long run.
So just how would it have worked if the Wolves had kept the two together rather than trading Jefferson and eventually placing Nikola Pekovic beside Love at center?
“I think it would have been great,” Jefferson said. “He’s more of an inside-outside guy and I’m more of an inside guy. His three-point shooting is really amazing. He can spread the floor. I think it would have been great, but it’s also good with him and Pekovic because Pekovic is a monster. He’s a beast down there. The way those two have been playing together, as long as they’re healthy with [Ricky] Rubio, they got a nice little foundation down there.
“But you know, everything happens for a reason.”
Jefferson and Love played two seasons together, even though Love missed the start of their final season with a broken hand and Jefferson missed the last two months of that season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees.
That was before Love bloomed into an All-Star and superstar, starting with that 31-point, 31-rebound game the November after Jefferson was traded away. But Jefferson said Friday that he could always see this coming, even Love’s 26.4-point scoring average. That’s second-best in the league behind Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
“He always had a high IQ for the game, even as a rookie, and he learned real fast,” Jefferson said. “You could just tell he was going to be special.
“He wanted to learn, he wanted to get better. I knew he had a chance to be whatever he wanted to be in this league. … I gave him some advice, but I didn’t work with him like I worked with Enes Kanter in Utah. To be honest, I was stealing some things from Kevin when he was a rookie.”
Jefferson called his relationship with Love “big brother-little brother,” even though there was a time when national media reports claimed it was competitive and tense.
“Kevin and me? No, no,” Jefferson said. “I mean, there was tension with everybody when you were only winning 12 games. Me and Kevin always had a great relationship. Of course, we had a couple bad days that I can remember, but it was always love. That’s why his name is Kevin Love.”