Let’s face it, Minnesota, Kevin Love may be as good as gone in 2015.
After signing a four-year extension with a third-year opt-out option for $62 million last season, Love has not only been the only player to stick around since general manager David Kahn took over in 2009, but has also been his best player.
"I don't know who labels people stars, but even [T'wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: 'I don't think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn't led us to the playoffs,'" Love told Yahoo! Sports. "I mean, it's not like I had much support out there.
"That's a tough pill to swallow."
There are many people who agree with Star Tribune columnist and ESPN radio personality Patrick Reusse, who wrote that Love has a bruised ego because Kahn and owner Glen Taylor chose to give the forward a four-year deal and use the five-year exception on teammate Ricky Rubio.
Others, however, look at what Love has had to endure during his time with the Wolves. Since joining the team in 2008, the double-double machine has seen Kahn deal Al Jefferson, the lynchpin in McHale’s blockbuster Kevin Garnett trade, use three first-round picks on point guards in 2009 and, worst of all, sign and offer a contract extension to Darko Milicic.
Jefferson has gone on to have success with the Utah Jazz—so much so that Love wishes that Kahn had stuck with the duo a little longer.
"We should've at least tried it, especially with the way things were going," Love told Yahoo! Sports. "I was beginning to figure things out in my second season. Everybody knew what Al was capable of, and is still capable of. It was definitely worth the risk of seeing what would happen. If it didn't work, then go another way. But we never tried it."
Hindsight is 20-20, of course, and current teammate Nikola Pekovic has proved to be a quality big man in the NBA, so that trade is a little more palatable.
Taking three point guards in the first round of the 2009 draft?
Not so much.
Now, to be fair, that draft did produce Ricky Rubio, and while there was some speculation that his game would not transition well from overseas, I think we’ve learned by now that the Spaniard’s play works just fine here in America.
In fact, there is perhaps an overlooked storyline here: Kahn wants to give the maximum extension to his own draft pick, Rubio, instead of Love, who McHale traded for on draft day.
Furthermore, Kahn brought in former Laker assistant Kurt Rambis to implement the triangle offense the year after he drafted all those point guards. It’s not far-fetched to think that any point guard would have struggled in the triangle because of the very nature of that system.
So even if Pekovic and Rubio’s play offer an explanation for the Jefferson trade and Flynn acquisition, the Milicic signing and extension is, to borrow from Love’s quote, pretty damn tough to swallow.
The thought process isn’t hard to understand: Milicic was the second overall pick in 2003 and therefore supposedly possesses incredible natural athleticism. What’s hard to understand is why the Wolves management thought that he would be a productive player in the NBA.
The team’s scouts had seven years to evaluate his play during his stints with the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks. At the time of the signing, people had already deemed him a bust.
Ultimately, it looks like the source of the Wolves’ problem is talent evaluation.
Lending credence to this notion is the fact that this franchise has botched many top draft picks under Kahn’s watch. In addition to Flynn, Wesley Johnson (fourth overall, 2010), a much-needed three-point shooter, struggled in his first two years with the team and Derrick Williams (No. 2 overall, 2011) hasn’t been the superstar he was with Arizona.
To be fair, Minnesota always seems to select lower in the draft than it really should and it is really difficult to develop a basketball player, but that’s just the way things are. A lottery selection is made at random and unlike in other professional sports, basketball talent is not fostered for years in a minor league system.
As Bleacher Report’s very own Josh Martin pointed out recently, the Love predicament highlights the perils many small-market teams face in the NBA. Because there are less people living in the Twin Cities than, say, Los Angeles, New York or Chicago, the team will bring in less revenue from television and at the gates than a big-market team.
On top of that, history has told us that basketball players want to either play in areas with beaches and clubs (LeBron James, Heat), a large city (Carmelo Anthony, Knicks) or a combination of both (Dwight Howard, Lakers).
As much as we may like snowfall in the winter and the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka in the summer, it’s not enough of a draw that players will overlook the mismanagement that has taken place here.
Despite all that has taken place since Kahn arrived three years ago, however, the embattled GM has three pieces he needs to put a contender on the floor: a quality point guard, an inside presence and an incredible coach in Rick Adelman.
The story right now should be how much this team desires a trustworthy outside shooter, not that management has underappreciated Love’s contributions. If Love stays and this team adds a shooter, Minnesota could really be something special and, really, a championship would erase all the mistakes this franchise has made in the past from fans' memories.
If Love departs, which the Wojnarowski piece paints as a borderline inevitability, it will be the same ol’ story we’ve heard before:
You never appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.