Kevin Love played out the 2011-2012 regular season without much incident. Although he wasn't altogether thrilled with the state of the Wolves once injury pulled Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic out of the lineup, Love largely played the part of the good soldier and had some monster performances even after his team had been picked apart due to various unfortunate ailments.
But since he's grouped up with Team USA for Olympic tryouts and preparation, Love has been a bit more outspoken than usual. Shortly after the Team USA finalists convened in Las Vegas, Love piped up to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports about the Timberwolves' current course and standing:
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Love urged Minnesota's management to acquire the necessary talent to make the franchise a contender. If the Timberwolves don't start winning this season, Love isn't sure how long he'll want to be a part of Minnesota's future.
"My patience is not high," Love said. "Would yours be, especially when I'm a big proponent of greatness surrounding itself with greatness? All these [Team USA] guys seem to have great players around them.
"It's tough seeing all these guys that are young and older who have all played in the playoffs. When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about. If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen."
In itself, that's but a single outburst, and a deserved statement; Love is ahead of the Timberwolves' curve, and it's only natural that he would feel a little left out upon getting to Vegas and hearing all of his new teammates' playoff war stories. Minnesota has some work to do in terms of outfitting Love and Rubio with suitable supporting parts, and though their offer sheet for Nicolas Batum fell through, good effort alone likely isn't enough to appease Love in his playoff pursuits.
Being around so many great players clearly has Love thinking big and looking forward, to the point where he also voiced a bit of relief to Brian Murphy of The Pioneer Press in regard to some of the Wolves' offseason turnover:
Love likes the acquisition of guard Brandon Roy, who returns after a knee injury forced him into retirement, and expects Minnesota to be a winning team. But he wants to be able to do more than play .500.
"If we get everybody back healthy, with Ricky back healthy, if Roy comes in healthy, and if we can get off to a good start, we're going to be good. But we really have to add as many as pieces as we possibly can, veteran guys," he said. "There was some bad blood in that locker room we were able to get out of there and smooth things out. That should help us out going forward."
Asked to elaborate, Love responded: "Just what I said. We had bad blood in the locker room. We got that out."
Forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph, guard Martell Webster and center Darko Milicic were the most notable players Minnesota jettisoned this offseason.
It's not difficult to again trace a connection back to Team USA; Love spent a year with some characters not necessarily known for being constructive presences in the locker room, and now shares a basketball habitat with great players and true professionals. It's a different atmosphere with a different standard, and one befitting a player of Love's talents.
All of this calls to mind an interesting narrative turn.
Team USA has long been regarded as a character-building threshold of sorts for young stars; if you believe all of the program hype, involvement alone hardens work ethic, instills defensive principles, and teaches leadership. We've seen countless stories written over the years of how the Olympic experience changed the career of one player or another, largely by learning from the example of the more experienced veterans on the roster.
Only Love has thus far gleaned something very different from his experience. After previously putting his head down and doing what he could to power through a tough season, Love now knows how easy it can be playing alongside other stars. He knows how a team of vets is supposed to function, and perhaps in a sense, has now come to recognize Minnesota's slight dysfunction. Love may learn and grow as a player, but should teams that are still on their developmental path now be concerned when their young centerpieces commit to USA Basketball? Does the program not only provide a training ground for excellence, but also a vaulting of expectation?