Kevin Love knows his clock is ticking. He set it himself.
He's undeniably playing with a sense of urgency. Already a two-time All-Star, the 25-year-old is unleashing a new brand of dominance, exceeding even his own lofty standards.
But his numbers, MVP-caliber though they are, still ring hollow. The Minnesota Timberwolves, good as they've ever been during Love's tenure, still aren't quite good enough.
Patience isn't always a virtue. Not with the tragically short windows of prime production for professional athletes. Not when Love's individual brilliance is being wasted by a team that can't deliver on its offseason optimism.
New Season, Same Story
Well, the plot of this campaign is unlike those he's previously experienced. Unfortunately, the direction this is all headed feels all too familiar.
This season doesn't carry the excuses of years past. The medical red flags raised have rarely made an appearance.
The team is mostly healthy. It just hasn't been very good.
There's an unlucky element in Minnesota's 17-18 record (No. 10 in the Western Conference). The Wolves have the league's 10th-best net rating (plus-2.7 points per 100 possessions). Based on their point differential (plus-4.6 per game), their expected win-loss record is 24-11, via ESPN.com, which would be the West's fourth-highest winning percentage (.673).
But a run of bad luck is one thing. Being consistently undone by the same problem is quite another.
The Wolves don't need to look far for their source of misfortune. Late-game execution, or rather the lack thereof, has derailed this team's anticipated climb up the standings.
Minnesota is 0-10 in games decided by four points or less. Loss No. 10 was a crushing 104-103 collapse against the Eric Bledsoe-less Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. The Wolves held a six-point lead with 1:51 left in regulation, but went scoreless the rest of the way as the Suns rode a game-clinching 7-0 run to the victory column.
Fool them once, shame on you. Fool them 10 different times with the same trick, and that's the sign of a bigger problem.
In Love, Minnesota has one of the league's premier scorers. Only Kevin Durant (29.5) and Carmelo Anthony (26.3) are averaging more points than the Wolves forward (26.1).
But he's a weapon that's nearly impossible to use down the stretch. He doesn't have the scoring threats around him to hold defenders away.
Kevin Martin is Minnesota's next best option, but he's a better receiver (40.0 three-point percentage) than creator (42.3 field-goal percentage). Ricky Rubio (8.8 points, 34.7 percent shooting) isn't a threat from anywhere. Corey Brewer's a nonfactor from distance (29.9 three-point percentage). The floor isn't spaced well enough to give Nikola Pekovic room to operate by the basket.
So, Love is left trying to work magic around a helpless cast of characters. Again.
And that act sounds like it's getting old.
This is a show-and-prove season for the Wolves. Minnesota put that stipulation on itself.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor and former president of basketball operations David Kahn balked at Love's request of a five-year contract extension in 2012. They instead gave him a four-year deal that included an opt-out clause after the third season per Love's request.
That opt-out option, which will come in summer 2015, hangs over this franchise like a threatening storm cloud. Love has made it perfectly clear that the only way to clear up those skies is by finding the team success that has eluded him thus far—Minnesota hasn't made the playoffs since 2004.
"My patience is not high," Love said, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. "If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen."
Love made those comments in summer 2012. Before an injury-riddled campaign led to another empty season for him and the Wolves.
There's still time left to salvage this season. But this situation feels more volatile than a typical near-.500 team.
While the basketball world was busy digesting yet another crunch-time collapse on Wednesday, a different problem had gotten under Love's skin.
"We can't have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that play good minutes just sitting there and not getting up during timeouts,'' Love said, per Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports). "That kind of (ticks) me off."
While Love never named those players, Krawczynski said he was referring to veterans J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham. Cunningham saw a season-low 11 minutes in the loss. Barea was pulled at the 8:07 mark of the fourth and never returned.
"It's two guys that we expect more from them,'' Love continued. ''I think they expect more from themselves."
This isn't the first time he's targeted words at the reserves. The last time, his words were met with a response:
Barea already took exception to Love merely saying "5 bench points is not OK" v. Dallas. Can only imagine how this plays out.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) January 9, 2014
If there is a locker room schism, it's not hard to figure out which player the Wolves front office would support.
But the last thing this team needs is a house divided. Particularly with prospect of Love going on a home search just around the corner.
Is This the Breaking Point?
Probably not. But whatever it is, it definitely isn't good.
This season was supposed to be different.
What will Kevin Love do in 2015?
Love was supposed to have more help. The Wolves were supposed to be entrenched in the playoff picture. Love's exit story was supposed to be moved to the backburner.
None of that has happened.
Love's the best one-man show in the business. He has the highest on-off net rating (plus-21.5 points per 100 possessions) in the entire league, via 82games.com.
Minnesota is no better than another face in the crowded Western Conference. If the Wolves get out on a playoff run, it will have to look unlike anything they've shown so far.
Love's potential departure story is as big as its ever been. And it's growing by the day.
This team needs to do everything in its power to keep its MVP candidate happy. It won't like him when he's angry.