With the news that Kevin Love has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward has completed an injury trifecta: He has suffered a concussion, broken his hand twice and had knee surgery in the past two years.
Resist the temptation to label him a “red flag” player, however, as the time away from the court now will serve Love well in the future.
The fifth-year player out of UCLA broke two bones in his right hand doing knuckle push-ups in October, before the season began. He returned to play against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 21, only to reinjure his hand against that very same team 18 games later on Jan. 3, leading me to believe that he came back too early.
Love is a competitor and, like many players in the NBA, he wants to be on the court as often as he can. He expressed interest in playing with the team at the end of the season before choosing to go under the knife, a move that would have shown Timberwolves management and fans alike what Minnesota is capable of doing with Ricky Rubio, Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and Love all on the court.
It would have ultimately been a mistake, however, for him to return this year. Love would not only have been playing with a shooting hand that has been operated on twice this year but also with a knee that needed to be operated on.
No amount of time away from the game will change the fact that his head and hand injuries are more likely to reoccur now that he has had a concussion and two hand operations, but with an entire offseason to convalesce, he is doing everything in his power to assure that he will be healthy enough to play a complete season for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
The Wolves should not overwork Love or, really, anyone next year. After seeing just about everyone suffer some sort of ailment this season, Minnesota would be wise to conservatively manage minutes in 2013-14.
This isn’t really a “Timberwolves thing” as much as it is a league-wide phenomenon. Basketball is a taxing sport, and every team has to play 82 games. With increasing frequency, professional basketball teams are resting their players, or at least limiting their minutes, at various times during the season.
Smart coaches will treat their stars like position players in baseball, giving them time off every now and then so they can make it through the grind of the regular season.
In this past year alone, we’ve seen the snake-bitten Denver Nuggets lose Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried after going on a 15-game win streak. The Los Angeles Lakers have lost Kobe Bryant for the season. Derrick Rose has yet to play a game for the Chicago Bulls.
Part of this is the nature of the game: Star players get injured. But part of this is also due to how a coach allots playing time.
Popovich knew he had an aging squad going into the season and rested his guys as needed, even during marquee matchups. Back in November, four of the Spurs stars—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green—did not travel with the team for a nationally televised game against the aforementioned Heat on TNT.
Pop received a $250,000 fine from NBA Commissioner David Stern for sitting his best players but is looking pretty smart now, as his team is in contention with the young Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the Western Conference.
Whoever is coaching the Timberwolves next season, be it Rick Adelman or someone else due to Mary Kay Adelman’s illness, he must manage player minutes accordingly. There is no reason why Love or any other player has to play every night. There are paying customers and television viewers and League Pass purchasers, but, in the end, the team is better off winning in May than it is in November.
As long as Love is playing for a coach that manages minutes accordingly, there is no reason to label him a “red flag” player.