It is do-or-die time for Kevin Love. No more excuses, no more failures, and hopefully no more injuries.
We all know how it goes. The superstar gives his small market team a chance to surround him with enough talent to be a contender. If not? They force their ways out of town either openly or behind closed doors.
The process worked for Kevin Durant with Oklahoma City, but it hasn't for just about all the others.
Will Kevin Love be the next Durant or the next Carmelo Anthony?
The Minnesota Timberwolves have made one move after another to build this entire roster around Love. Every move made in recent years has been made in order to suit Love's skill-set, starting with the trade to shift Al Jefferson to Utah in order to make room in the starting lineup for Love to develop.
However, we all remember the now infamous Adrian Wojnarowski article about how Love was unsure about the team's future. Has that doubt been assuaged with the happenings of this offseason? Was Flip Saunders able to alleviate the sting of Love's past displeasures, or were the damages irreparable?
This year will likely be the deciding one. If Minnesota misses the playoffs again, things could get hairy. There are only a few ways this situation can unfold, and not all are pretty.
Injuries once again belie a promising team
This scenario would overflow the land of 10,000 lakes with the tears of downtrodden Wolves fans. Minnesota fans simply cannot watch this team fail due to injuries anymore. A healthy Timberwolves squad going 0-82 still wouldn't make fans cringe half as much as the term "knuckle push-up."
The basketball gods have to be on their side, right? Rubio and Love's injuries were mostly flukes. Aside from that, Nikola Pekovic and the recently acquired Kevin Martin are the ones prone to consistent nagging injuries.
However, the team can definitely take solace in the fact that there are no more Brandon Roys on this team to plug up roster spots from the training room.
The question here is, if this does somehow happen again, what does Love do? Can he afford another mulligan? He is only 24, but his patience might be running thin regardless.
If more unforeseen injuries sadly derail this group, Love could definitely still lean towards forcing his way out of town. Let's hope Saunders has already left a good enough impression on him to make sure his ground is covered if this scenario unfolds.
It hurts to even put this scenario into written form. Torn ACLs seem to be going around like the plague, and with Rubio over a full year removed now from his, it will be time for him to come into his own.
Rubio can be the Robin to Love's Batman. His otherworldly passing ability and pesky defense alongside Love's relentless rebounding and staggering offensive game should bring back memories of...(dare I say it?)...John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Yeah, I went there.
All goes well, Minnesota falls a bit short
What would we make of this?
The season couldn't be deemed a total success. This year has to feel like "playoffs or bust" for this franchise.
On paper, Minnesota can stack up to the powerhouses in the west. They have substantial talent at every position for possibly the first time in team history.
But what puts those powerhouses over the top? That's right, a superstar.
If Love cannot guide a healthy T-Wolves team to the playoffs, does it get chalked up to overall inexperience or lack of adequate talent? Is Love really good enough to get them over the hump?
At that point, Minnesota must ask questions that no one really knows the answers for, such as do they trade Love while he still has the superstar label? Can Derrick Williams step in for him after a possible trade and live up to his hype as a former No. 2 overall pick?
On paper, it is hard to see Minnesota missing the playoffs again. This core group of guys should be able to take this team very far in the playoffs, so for this scenario, it is very much a wait and see approach.
If a healthy Minnesota team barely misses the playoffs, Love will surely be disappointed, possibly even vocally so. However, it would still be a solid improvement and, given the strength of the conference, they could easily win 45-50 games and not get in.
Love has had enough
The 2012-13 season went like this. Imagine Tiger Woods stepping up to tee off at Augusta. Everyone quietly awaits and looks on hoping to see the first glimpse of a revamped athlete ready to get back to his glory days.
Then...splash! His shot looked great off the tee until it veered off straight into a water hazard.
(Cue the collective groan.)
Love likely chalked up last season as a mulligan. There were so many injuries that the team's medical insurance carrier likely dropped them. With a finished product on the court like there should be this season, expectations are to be as high as ever before.
An egotistical rant saying something like, "HOW ABOUT GETTING ME SOME REAL TEAMMATES?!?" seems a bit out of the realm of possibilities, especially since Flip Saunders has loaded up this year. This team is ready to go, leaving Love mostly out of excuses.
What could actually take place is that Love waves the white flag. We know he wasn't pleased about not getting the max contract from David Kahn, who was saving it for Rubio. Instead, Love received an early opt-out clause. Will he start looking forward to that and try to get out of the stormy winters of Minneapolis after another failed season?
Love could also resent the fact that Pekovic recently held out and successfully reeled in his own five-year contract. Is that another nail in the coffin?
Had a great talk with Pek just now. This guy has come so far in the last few years. Couldn't be happier for him. We got our big fella back!!— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) August 16, 2013
This season will be telling in more ways than one. We will also truly find out if Love is even capable of being the superstar-type player who can carry his team to title contention. In the past couple of years, it has been Rubio, not Love, who the team has rallied around and taken after. There is no doubt Love is the best player, but if Rubio is the leader, will Love be okay with it?
In this scenario, mostly everyone stays healthy throughout, but the team just proves to be not good enough to contend. If this turns out to be the case, it is difficult to see Love wanting to stay. It would be near impossible for management to sell him on a roster that even in its early stages of completion, cannot make the playoffs.
Minnesota would be selling high provided Love has another big season. With the right move, they could seamlessly replace him with Derrick Williams and also fill out other parts of the roster just like Denver did in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
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