He has already injured his hand twice, and the risk of another injury far outweighs the benefit of him further building his chemistry with Ricky Rubio and his other teammates as they (hopefully) return from their ailments at the end of the year.
Love finished the 2011-12 campaign on the bench due to a mild concussion, broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups right before this season began and then re-injured his hand less than 20 games after returning from the initial injury. These are serious medical conditions that could have serious ramifications for the rest of his career if they are not addressed properly.
He may be the best power forward in the league, and fans will pack the Target Center or flick on the television to see him play—even if the Timberwolves are not in contention—but the team has a chance to be something special next season, and it is not worth jeopardizing Love’s health just to sell a few extra tickets.
The problem is that Love, like any other professional athlete, wants to get back on the court as soon as possible. “At the end of the day, the decision is still mine and I’d still like to go out there and join the team,” he told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The hand is great, my body feels great. It’s going to be a big offseason. Part of coming back [yet this season], you want to give the fans something, but you also want to do something for the team and yourself. You kind of want to see what you have here when you have a full team, and we really haven’t had that yet.
Although it may be his passion for the game that is the primary driver behind his desire to get back on the court, there is some logic to what he is saying. Not only is Love an attraction in and of himself, but Wolves fans would get to see what this team could do when it is reunited.
Think about it: Minnesota probably could have made the playoffs if everyone had remained healthy this year. Brandon Roy is unlikely to return, but Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko are healthy now, and Chase Budinger has been cleared to practice with the team. With Love in the lineup, the team would have its starting five—Rubio, Alexey Shved, Kirilenko, Love and Pekovic—with key contributors coming off the bench, such as Budinger, Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea and the improving Derrick Williams.
Suddenly, they look like a competitive basketball team and give fans hope for the future.
The Wolves will have great incentive to put Love on the floor.
Only 70 percent of their 10,000-person season-ticket base renewed this year, largely because the club has not gone to the playoffs since the Kevin Garnett era and the other local professional teams are playing well. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and the kids are tearing it up on the ice; the Vikings are building around Adrian Peterson, who could become the greatest running back in NFL history; and the Twins are finally building a pitching staff to compliment the offensive prowess of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
The Timberwolves do not want to become an afterthought in the Minnesota sports market and have to offer fans hope for the future. To play Love right now, however, could have dire consequences down the road. Say he does re-injure that hand: Does that mean that, without an entire offseason to heal, it is more likely to break again and again, derailing a once promising career? Or what if he suffers another concussion? Will injuries start to reoccur more frequently after that?
You don’t want your power forward to hesitate to shoot the ball or drive to the lane, especially when Love can hit outside shots and barrel through the middle when he’s healthy.
The hardest part of keeping Love on the bench will be convincing him that this is the best thing for both himself and the team. He sounds like he wants to play right now and has been outspoken about his distrust in the Timberwolves management before. (You can imagine that, upon hearing the news that Minnesota has shut him down, Adrian Wojnarowski might just send him a little text wondering if he would like to sit down for another chitchat over dinner.)
The best-run organizations look at the big picture before making decisions, and the Wolves have to realize that even if Love thinks he can play again this year and the fans are calling for his name, they don’t want to end up in a situation like the Vikings had two years ago, when Adrian Peterson got injured late in the season; it not only cost the team a shot at the No. 1 overall pick, but it forced them to hope that their star running back would recover apace in the offseason. "All Day" did, of course, make a miraculous comeback, but it is not something to bank on.
There’s no telling how long it would take Love to recover from a second concussion or a third hand injury. As much as Timberwolves fans would enjoy seeing how this team would play with a complete roster, hopefully they will realize that the best thing to do is try and keep everyone healthy for next season.
Love should sit this season out. Minnesota’s postseason hopes have long been dashed, and we’re not even sure if Budinger will return this year. Kirilenko and Pekovic have returned, but neither have a history with head or hand injuries.
There is an old axiom in sports that says winning solves everything. If the Wolves come roaring out of the gates at the beginning of the season next year, the fans will return, and everyone will be happy. In order for that to happen, however, Love must be healthy. Therefore, team management should adhere to another timeless adage:
Patience is a virtue.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.