This Minnesota Timberwolves' season has been a waste.
No, not in the sense of no one being able to see Kevin Love grab more rebounds and nail more three-pointers.
With Love hardly playing this season because of his broken and re-broken hand, the Timberwolves and their fans didn’t get the chance to let reality to sink in: Even with a healthy Love—and better health elsewhere on the roster—Minnesota still wouldn’t have been a playoff team in the stacked Western Conference.
And that’s because as good as he is, Love simply isn’t the great star of a great team.
What he is was clearly visible when he played for USA Basketball in the London Olympics: Love is an ideal complementary player with his varied, useful skill set.
But the great players on the great teams command double-teams, either via penetration or post offense, and can score through that traffic or pass by it—thus carrying the offense at pivotal times. That’s why those guys—the max-salary players whom Love was offended Minnesota didn’t invite him to join a year ago with his contract extension—can almost single-handedly carry teams to playoff berths.
Love has never done that.
Is Love overrated or does he deserve more attention?
Love’s hand has healed to the point that he might be coming back for a cameo at the end of this season. Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said on Wednesday night that it was important in a generally important way for that to happen, because it’s always good for guys to play together and learn things together.
It’s irrelevant, though. The Timberwolves are going nowhere.
If he does come back, Love’s knack for getting his numbers will keep his public-opinion value very high. Whatever Love doesn’t do will be excused by rust and just returning from injury.
The reality is that even with Love and the considerable intrigue offered by flashy point guard Ricky Rubio, the Wolves are miles away from greatness. Rubio has an obvious shooting deficiency he needs to work out, but an even greater problem is that Love is a minus player on defense—no matter his monster individual rebounding numbers.
Like David Lee with the Golden State Warriors, Love offers no rim protection as an interior player, which often undermines everything trying to be done in team defense.
Questions have also persisted since Love, 24, kept quiet for two weeks after his initial injury and then on Oct. 31 defensively told reporters he didn’t break the third and fourth metacarpal bones punching someone or something as opposed to doing knuckle push-ups.
Boxer’s fracture is the actual medical term for the injury!
However he got hurt, this is not to say that Love is to blame for the state of everything in Minnesota.
Certainly Love has done well in outperforming his 2008 trade partner O.J. Mayo and in improving his game steadily to the tune of averaging 26 points (with just two assists) in his 55 games last season.
If Wolves general manager David Kahn had drafted Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday or even Ty Lawson (whom Kahn sent out in trade with the 19th pick) instead of Jonny Flynn with the sixth overall pick in 2009, Love and Rubio would have more rising help. If Kahn had drafted DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George or even Larry Sanders instead of Wesley Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2010, things would be far more hopeful.
Kahn has not made many great decisions. But not maxing out Love for five years in an era when it’s riskier than ever to pay the max—especially for a small-market team—was the right one.
And going one daring step further, here’s another right one: trading Love this offseason for an especially lucrative package while so much of the NBA population, both public and private, is sold on Love’s inflated value.
Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for OCRegister.com since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.