The NBA draft concluded and the disgruntled All-Star remained employed by the Timberwolves. And the team’s first-round pick appeared to utter an expletive after being selected.
In other words, it was a typical Wolves draft night.
As promised, Wolves coach/basketball boss Flip Saunders wasn’t pressed to trade Kevin Love by the “artificial deadline” of Thursday’s draft. Saunders stood pat on Love and also kept his first-round pick, using the 13th overall selection on UCLA guard Zach LaVine.
Michigan State forward Adreian Payne made more sense at that spot because he’s more NBA-ready than LaVine, and the Wolves eventually will need someone to replace Love.
LaVine looks like another project for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years. The Wolves used their lottery pick on a 19-year-old who started one game in his one college season.
Saunders sounded enamored by LaVine’s natural, if somewhat raw, talent, calling him the “best athlete in the draft.” At least Saunders didn’t apologize or backpedal after taking a UCLA guard in the first round for the second consecutive year. He clearly felt better about this selection than his depressed reaction after taking Shabazz Muhammad last year.
It wouldn’t be the Wolves without some draft-night absurdity, though. LaVine’s reaction after hearing his name caused social media to hyperventilate through expert lip readers.
LaVine appeared to mouth a four-letter word (“f--- me,” he seemed to say) either in disgust or relief. I suspect the latter, but since it’s the Wolves, the natural assumption was that LaVine felt a sudden rush of dread.
Don’t worry, Zach. Wolves fans everywhere have said that same thing for years.
Speaking of Kevin Love, Saunders said trade discussions were “pretty quiet” on Thursday.
For those hoping for a resolution to this Summer of Love stare-down, don’t panic. The trade market remains open postdraft, and a deal that sends Love elsewhere still seems inevitable, whether today, next week, or later this summer.
Saunders is taking the right approach by not rushing into a bad decision just because it’s obvious to everyone in basketball that this relationship seems damaged beyond repair. If Love doesn’t want to be here and has made it clear that he’ll opt out of his contract, Saunders really has only one play.
At the risk of sounding like an English teacher, the use of certain pronouns by Love and Saunders in recent interviews told us all we needed to know about where things stand between the two sides.
Love referred to the Wolves as “they.” Saunders referred to his team as “we.” Both were intentional, as if to send a message to the other.
This was Love’s response to Fox Sports when asked about the Wolves’ playoffs chances: “If they’re healthy, they can do a lot of damage.”
Sure sounds like a guy who’s already emotionally removed himself from a situation, doesn’t it?
On the day he named himself coach, Saunders attempted to steer conversation away from the Love chatter by insisting the Wolves won’t adhere to a “lone warrior” approach. He used “we” in describing the culture he intends to instill as coach.
Those comments weren’t made off the cuff, either.
Against that backdrop, the Wolves are staring up a steep hill. To steal a phrase from the World Cup, the Wolves find themselves in their own Group of Death. In their case, it’s the Western Conference, which towers over the Eastern Conference like a big brother in a back yard wrestling match.
Seven teams in the West won at least 50 games this season. The Wolves haven’t won 50 games in a season in a decade.
Phoenix won 48 games this season and missed the playoffs. A 50-win season earned Memphis the seventh seed.
Portland is on the rise. Golden State has a nucleus of young, exciting talent. The Houston Rockets look primed to make a run at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, which would transform a solid playoff team into an instant title contender. The Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. San Antonio is San Antonio.
All of those teams are either entrenched as legitimate contenders or ascending to that level. Good luck to the Wolves trying to dig out of this mess.
How fast LaVine develops will be integral to that process. But it speaks to the skepticism surrounding this organization that LaVine’s choice of words became the main talking point on draft night.
Can’t say I blame the guy.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org