Souhan: Wolves have work to do to rebound from Kevin Love deal

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2014 - 6:58 AM

Flip Saunders got a good deal given the situation, but the real work is just about to begin.

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NBA first-overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, of Canada, wearing a hat, shoots a commercial with a bunch of kids after signing an endorsement deal with BioSteel Sports Drink at his old school in Concord, Ontario, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette) ORG XMIT: MIN2014082316334747

If you’re a Timberwolves fan, today your emotions shouldn’t be merely mixed. They should be puréed.

Your local-guy general manager — I believe his name is Phillip Saunders — just pulled two No. 1 picks and a quality power forward out of a hat.

Phillip traded a player who didn’t want to be in Minnesota, and had the power to leave in a year, for a smorgasbord of promise and talent, while dumping a couple of players he valued about as much as bitcoins.

Phillip did well, considering a leaguewide bidding war for Kevin Love never materialized. Out go Love, Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute and a first-round draft pick acquired from Miami. In come Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young.

Phillip can take a victory lap, as long as he understands that when the lap is complete, he’ll be back at the starting line.

Any celebration of this as a good trade should be tempered by the fact that, until and unless Wiggins becomes a superstar on a winning team and stays with the Wolves long-term, this evokes memories of the Kevin Garnett trade that sent the Wolves into a funk from which they have never recovered.

Winning this trade means losing lots of games the next couple of years for a franchise that already has trouble filling seats and TV-adjacent couches.

This is what it means to be a Timberwolves fan: On the best day a Wolves general manager has had since Kevin McHale acquired Love in 2008, the fan base has to brace for another three-year rebuilding plan that might take eight, or 10, or forever.

The trade that sends him away is as bittersweet as Love’s Timberwolves career.

Love earned some nitpicking about his play, with his sometimes-indifferent defense and his too-cool-for-the-cold-state demeanor.

If fans can rub the hate out of their eyes for a moment, Love left little choice but for us to remember him as the second-best player in the history of a franchise whose best, Garnett, is one of the 50 best to ever play the game.

As a Timberwolf, Love honed his body and his skills, became a dominant rebounder, an excellent shooter, an Olympic gold medalist, a deft passer. Had he ever won a playoff series, or won the hearts and minds of fans, today would be a lot harder for locals to accept.

But he didn’t. Love never exuded joy like Kirby Puckett, or end-to-end competitiveness like Garnett, or everyman class like Justin Morneau, or humor like Kent Hrbek or Jared Allen. Love treated his time in Minnesota as what it came to be: a boot camp in which to train himself for a lucrative and possibly spectacular future.

The best deal Saunders could make will send the second-best player in franchise history to a team with which he may win multiple championships in exchange for a talented youngster who may someday be as good as Love.

It was a necessary trade, executed with intelligence, offering distant hope.

It’s a lifesaver thrown to a drowning man — something not to be celebrated but to be grasped desperately with both hands for as long as is necessary.

There is a contradiction hidden within the now-official trades, as well. Saunders has drafted two young, raw-but-talented players from UCLA — Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine — with his two first-round picks. He acquired two top-of-the-draft, raw-but-talented players on Saturday, in Wiggins and Bennett.

The future is not now. The future is not even in the near future. So why include a first-round draft pick in the deal to bring in a veteran power forward, in Young, who can leave next summer?

Young won’t take the Wolves to the playoffs. Love at his best couldn’t do that.

The Wolves have existed for about 25 years now. In those 25 years, they have just once built a championship-caliber team — when they made the one-year, sell-your-soul-to-Hades deals with Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to help Garnett.

For the Love trade to be eventually viewed as a coup, Saunders and company will have to prove this iteration of team management can develop a star and build around him. To date, the Wolves have made those two activities look as difficult as riding a unicycle while juggling chain saws.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. @SouhanStribjsouhan@startribune.com

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