Kevin Love sat mostly expressionless at his locker after yet another late-season loss. He stared at the floor, unable or unwilling to raise his head to make eye contact as he answered questions from reporters.
He looked like a penniless man who had just played his last hand in Vegas. He was mentally fried and emotionally worn to a nub after six years of losing in a woebegone organization.
Love’s reaction reeked of a guy in desperate need of a new home. As illogical as it seems, the Timberwolves need to make that happen. They need to trade the NBA’s best power forward. They must swallow hard and chart a new direction without their current face of the franchise.
Thanks for the memories, David Kahn.
And thanks, Glen Taylor, for allowing someone so professionally overmatched to preside over your franchise.
Several reports surfaced over the weekend trumpeting Love’s desire to opt out of his contract after this coming season in order to become a free agent. Those reports felt more like blunt reminders about the tenuous relationship between the Wolves and Love and the urgency to heal wounds inflicted by Kahn’s idiotic contract strategy and the drain of perpetual losing.
The idea that the Wolves have no choice but to trade Love at one time felt knee-jerk, like a last-resort option. The organization finally appeared on solid footing with Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic as the foundation, Rick Adelman as the coach and Flip Saunders overseeing the operation.
Yep, that was a fun 15 minutes.
The Wolves, of course, are allergic to prosperity, and the hope that Love would pull the organization out of its abyss and become a lifer here stretched the limits of rational thought. It’s hard to blame Love for feeling as if he’s spinning his wheels.
Love played collegiately with Russell Westbrook, trains with him in the summer and remains close friends with the Oklahoma City point guard. You think it doesn’t eat at Love having to watch his friend win consistently at a high level on a team with legitimate championship aspirations? That’s called professional envy.
Agreeing to trade a top-10 player would be a kick in the pants, but the Wolves can’t risk losing Love for nothing in return. If it’s true that his representatives have informed the organization that he plans to walk next summer, the decision is simple.
Saunders has worked hard to build a relationship with Love and earn his trust, but that alone doesn’t guarantee anything. The team has tried to sell Love on his legacy, on the premise that better days lie ahead and yes, on the fact that it can pay him $26.5 million more than any other team.
Apparently, Love has turned his thoughts elsewhere, so it’s time to stop begging and wishing and clinging to false hope.
The Wolves can’t go through another season of this, or half a season, if the team decides to wait until the trade deadline. Questions about Love’s status and reports about his unhappiness will follow the team everywhere. It would become suffocating.
The onus now falls on Saunders to turn this lemon of a situation into something promising. We already know Saunders can coach. We’ll soon learn more about his chops as a personnel boss.
Saunders faces the unenviable task of trying to hire a new coach for a team that has missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons without fully knowing whether its franchise player will be around much longer. Any coach would be reluctant to sign up for that.
The best window for action is now, though. Teams know the Wolves are in a tough spot with Love, so that hurts Saunders’ leverage in negotiations. On the other hand, Love is one of the league’s best players, so it shouldn’t be difficult for Saunders to create competition among multiple teams.
At a minimum, the Wolves should demand a top-five draft pick as well as an established young player. The top end of this draft class offers special talent with the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Julius Randle. Any of those players would help soften the blow.
From Love’s perspective, a change of address would bring increased expectations. Any team trading for him will be forced to give up a bounty, which means Love will be expected to make that team championship caliber. He’ll need to prove that he’s more than a player who just puts up stats. The reaction also won’t be so forgiving if he shows up to practice with a broken hand and a curious explanation involving knuckle pushups.
Love has worked diligently to transform himself into an elite player. He gave the Wolves everything he had this season, and yet his departure looks inevitable.
What a shame.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org