The Case for Minnesota Timberwolves Shelving Kevin Love and Planning for 2013-14

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 16, 2013

Kevin Love isn't sure when he'll play his next game for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The longer he remains sidelined, the stronger the argument against him returning at all becomes.

According to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, Love said of the possibility that he may not play this year: “I’d say that has crossed my mind, but as far as making a decision, I haven’t made that decision yet."

Certainly, the front office and team physicians will have plenty to do with whether Love even gets to make that call. As he continues to recover from a twice-broken right hand, the powers that be in Minnesota will be weighing the pros and cons of keeping the franchise cornerstone away from the action until next season.

In looking at the factors Minnesota's front office will have to consider, it's pretty clear that there's a good objective case for putting Love on the shelf until the 2013-14 campaign.

First of all, the Timberwolves are going nowhere. They've got no chance for a playoff spot this season, so they might as well pack it in and focus on the lottery. Tanking is an ugly word, but the truth is that Minnesota has virtually nothing to gain by winning what few games remain on its schedule.

What's more, it's critical for the Wolves to allow Love to return to full health. He came back too soon once this year already, and the result was a second surgery and more time away from the court. The worst thing the team could do would be to let him return on his own clock, which is obviously wound a little too fast.

Last time Love came back after breaking his hand, he clearly wasn't himself anyway. He shot just 35 percent from the field and 21 percent from long range. Even if he were to stay healthy upon his return this year, what do the Wolves have to gain by watching him struggle to find his stroke for a second time?

Perhaps most importantly, Love's ongoing absence has given Minnesota the opportunity to take an extended look at former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams. The second-year man from Arizona averaged 14.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in over 29 minutes per game in February, which might point to a possible next step in his development.

Of course, he also shot just 42 percent from the field, so there's evidence he might still turn out to be a bust after all. Either way, though, the Wolves are getting a chance to find out what they've got in Williams.

The same goes for the rest of Minnesota's young players. Without Love around as the focal point, secondary contributors are getting larger minute allotments. That's not good for the record book, as the Timberwolves' 22-41 mark can attest, but it's great for finding out which players on the roster can actually compete at the NBA level.

Naturally, there are some counterarguments to keeping Love out for the remainder of the year, and one is particularly compelling.

With Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko capable of entering free agency and opting out this summer, respectively, the Timberwolves don't really know how their best players mesh. Without seeing Love on the court with Pekovic, Kirilenko and Ricky Rubio, it's tough for the front office to make a judgment on how much to spend in order to maintain a lineup that they only know looks pretty good on paper.

If Minnesota spends a bunch of money to keep Pekovic but then finds out that he can't play alongside Rubio and Love next season, there's no way to un-write that check.

Plus, Pekovic and Kirilenko are both sidelined with their own injuries at the moment, which only complicates matters more.

There are definitely arguments for both sides. If the Timberwolves opt to take the cautious approach by sitting Love for the rest of the 2012-13 season, they'll expose themselves to the potential risk of constructing a team without knowing if it'll have the chemistry required to win in the future.

Still, for Love's sake, it makes a lot of sense to hold him out until he's fully healthy—even if that means he's done for the year.