There is a strong argument for the Minnesota Timberwolves to keep Kevin Love: He is the longest-tenured player on the team, a double-double machine and, as we know from his absence, the Wolves are not a playoff team without him.
There is also a case to be made to trade the former UCLA star: He may opt out of his contract in 2015, he has ties to Los Angeles and he was awfully vocal about how he feels about Minnesota's front office.
In this article, I will provide both sides of the argument and then offer my opinion on what I think will happen and what the Wolves should do moving forward.
Trade Kevin Love
Of the three reasons to deal Love, the ties to Los Angeles is the weakest.
I get it—we see LeBron James go to Miami and Carmelo Anthony leave for New York and we think, “Damn it! All the best players want to leave small, colder cities.” While those two players have had success in larger markets—and in James’ case, a warmer area—let’s drop the “small-market” inferiority complex.
Minnesota is a great place to be an athlete: Fans are engaged with all four major professional teams and passionately followed the Kevin Garnett Timberwolves. The Target Center was packed last year when Ricky Rubio and Love were going full bore, and it will pack again if people feel the team can win. In other places, fans get distracted and become indifferent about .500 teams. Here, you just have to break our collective heart.
I believe Love wants to play here; he just doesn’t want to play in a discombobulated situation. If the Wolves were run like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder or Memphis Grizzlies (pre-Rudy Gay trade, presumably), it appears that he would be gung-ho to stay here for the rest of his career. As he told Yahoo! Sports:
Look at different teams around the league...Look at a San Antonio that continues to add talent around [Tim] Duncan and [Manu] Ginobili and [Tony] Parker. Look at what happens in Oklahoma City, the players they continue to add around their star players. Even the trade they had where they lost [James] Harden, they still added players that were going to fit well in their system. And speaking of small markets, look at a team like Memphis and all they've been able to accomplish. They're getting the most out of their entire organization.
If Love leaves for L.A., or any other big market, it is not going to be in a situation where Minnesota was one player away from a championship and he just wanted the bright lights. It is going to be because the team never built around him and Rubio.
If Love were to leave, it would be in 2015, when he can act upon the early termination clause in his contract. He will only be 27 years old and should have a lot of good basketball left in him.
This worries fans that do not want to see him play his best years in another uniform. At the same time, in the worst-case scenario, the team cannot just let him leave without getting any value for him.
Here is where the broken hand comes into play.
Let’s say Love is never able to shake this injury. Try as he might, the hand is damaged and he is never the same shooter he once was, is less capable of wrestling the ball out of an opponent’s grip with rebounds and has trouble posting up because he cannot dribble as well as he used to.
Suddenly his value decreases.
Injuries, by nature, involve a lot of educated guessing. Even the best professionals cannot tell how a player will heal. Obviously, if the Wolves had a crystal ball, they never would have signed Brandon Roy. It didn’t workout, but, hey, if his knees had held up, Minnesota would have had the shooter they desperately need.
By no means should the team trade Love on a whim, basically saying, “He might get hurt, so let’s ship him out.” By that logic, everyone on the team should be dealt, because everyone except for Luke Ridnour has been hurt this season and Ridnour’s a veteran.
At the same time, if they get the right offer, why not pull the trigger?
You would hate for it to come out a few years from now, when Love’s contract was up, that the team could have swindled somebody in a trade and they instead end up getting a Garnett-style return on him because either a) Love was injury-prone, b) they waited too long to trade him and got desperate—or both.
There’s also Bill Simmons’ Ewing Theory, which he revisited recently. Love passes the test. You can take that for what you will.
Last, but not least, maybe the team feels he is a locker room cancer. Or worse, general manager David Kahn harbors a personal vendetta with Love for going public with his opinions to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Yahoo! Sports journalist who has voiced some notoriously anti-Kahn opinions.
The former is more likely than the latter, and really, we don’t really know any of this for sure. Still, it is not far-fetched to think either could be happening right now.
If that is the case, and say a veteran like Andrei Kirilenko comes forward and says, “What the hell? I’m no slouch,” or breakout players like Alexei Shved, Nikola Pekovic and Dante Cunningham feel unappreciated (especially Pekovic, who can leave at the end of this season), then maybe it is time to cut ties with the vociferous Love.
That is something that must be evaluated internally and handled carefully. After all, the team does not want to miss out on fair value for Love just because he rattled a couple cages.
Keep Kevin Love
The best argument for keeping Love should be obvious: The team cannot make the playoffs with their current roster sans the forward. This season is proof of that.
Yes, there have been myriad injuries. Yes, Rubio was not playing at 100 percent for a while. And yes, the other four teams in the division could all be playoff teams this year.
Still, things have gotten a little bit better in terms of injuries and, for the most part, the latter two are things that are out of the team’s control. And, to be honest, when the Wolves are healthy they are more talented than anyone except Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division.
Here’s the thing: We really don’t know how good Minnesota is.
In my mind, if this team was not injury-plagued this year, they make the playoffs. Hell, I saw them advancing a round or two if they got lucky. I think they would fare better than most people believe they would, but I guess we’ll never know.
Unless you try to keep the team to together as much as possible: Don’t do a complete overhaul. Don’t bring in anyone who could be potentially disruptive—no matter how talented they are. Don’t split up Love and Rubio. Just do it to see what happens.
A little continuity wouldn’t be a bad thing. Familiarity begets chemistry and having an altruistic passer and a dominating big man on a team full of buddies will turn Rubio into a scientist and Love into a monster. The Wolves turnaround will be less Cinderella and more Frankenstein. Tell me that wouldn’t be entertaining. Hell, Mary Shelly would probably turn over in her grave.
So what will it be, wise guy?
I know I’ve recently come up with trade scenarios involving Love and tracked his decline this season and spent a lot more time discussing reasons to deal him in this piece than I have arguing the merits of keeping him. But I say they should keep him around until the 2014-15 season and then shop him if it looks like the team is not going anywhere.
My reasoning is threefold.
First, I’m not sure how many available players in the league are better than Love at the forward position. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol come with baggage and Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are untouchable at this point. The Wolves need a shooter, but that won’t matter if Love is dealt and Pekovic leaves in free agency.
Secondly, I’m not sure the Wolves want draft picks right now. Derrick Williams is still a work in progress and other picks—namely Johnny Flynn and Wesley Johnson—have not worked out.
Finally, let’s keep the team together.
They looked promising at the beginning of the year, and it is unlikely that the team has this many injuries again next year (or so you would hope). Hopefully, Love and Rubio begin the season healthy, Shved and Pekovic continue to develop and guys like Mickael Gelabale and Dante Cunningham continue to improve.
It is wishful thinking, but so is hoping that management gets fair value for Love.
In the end, stability is exactly what this franchise needs.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.