Eventually, Kevin Love is going to have a tough choice on his plate.
Maybe it'll come this offseason, as he determines whether or not he wants to request a trade away from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Maybe the need won't arise until the summer of 2015, when he can opt out of his current deal and hit the open market.
But it will come, and it will always revolve around the same two options—winning and being the alpha dog.
Unfortunately for Love, those two entities have been mutually exclusive during the entirety of his NBA career. Well, mutually exclusive in the sense that he's had one and not the other.
He's never been able to win games at an impressive rate with the 'Wolves, even if he's posted historically excellent statistics night in and night out.
So when he has to choose—and he will have to choose—which option will Love pursue? Will he choose the status quo and the continued ability to enjoy putting up gaudy statistics or the opportunity to play for a contender?
It's Tough to Give up Alpha-Dog Status
It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in sports was to, in a sense, take a step back. A lot of people don't understand. They'll say, 'Why would you do that?' To me, I want more success from winning. I don't want another scoring title. I'm just trying to win.
I felt that it had to come from nobody but me, to say, 'Go ahead, man. You're the best player in the world. We'll follow your lead.' Once I said that, I thought he kind of exhaled a little bit.
Any guesses who said that?
The "best player in the world" phrase should give a hint, as should the fact that the player in question has a scoring title under his belt. Assuming we're talking about a current player (we are), that already limits the choices to Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
From there you can probably figure out that Wade said that.
I'll tell you without any guessing games involved that the quote came during the 2012 NBA playoffs, via ESPN.com's Israel Gutierrez, back when the Miami Heat were still trying to win their first title with LeBron on the roster.
As USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt wrote a year later, "Wade's ego-less approach took shape after the 2008-09 season. He won the scoring title that season, averaging 30.2 points. However, the Heat lost a seven-game series to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round."
It was that ego-less approach that allowed the Heat to avoid plateauing in the NBA Finals. Without him becoming the beta dog instead of the alpha dog, Miami would've been destined for more postseason failure, spurred on by a lack of understanding in the half-court sets.
Wade knew that's what was best, and it was still "one of the hardest things" he had to do in sports.
Just think about that for a second.
Now, consider how difficult it would be for Love to make the same decision at this stage of his career. The Minnesota power forward won't turn 26 years old until this September, so he has a while before the "Oh my gosh, I need a ring" mentality kicks in.
There's still time for him to pursue success as a No. 1 option, thereby avoiding the pain of admitting he can't get the job done by himself. And if he did so, it'll be for the same reason that so many young players let gaudy statistics and shock-inducing paychecks sway their decisions.
You're only young once. Take advantage of it while you still can.
If Love decides he's better off as Robin than Batman, he can forget about the omnipresent nature of 20-point, 10-rebound games. No longer will he average 26 points, 12.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contest if he's taking a backseat to another superstar.
He'll just win games, or at least that would be the intention.
Winning Is the NBA Panacea
Putting up stats is fun. Winning basketball games is usually even more fun, not that Love has much experience with that.
Even though he's put up incredible numbers throughout his career, the power forward has never advanced past the final game of the regular season. Not even once:
|Year||Love's PER||MIN's Record||WC Standings||Playoffs?|
This is Love's best individual season, but it's also the best his team has done.
And it's not even close.
Not only do the 'Wolves already have more wins than he's ever earned in a single season with 18 games to play, but they're at the highest position in the Western Conference Love has ever experienced.
Love has spent six seasons in the NBA, and he still has absolutely no idea what winning is like. None at all, with the exception of a few short streaks each season. Worse still, the lack of team success has changed his reputation rather dramatically.
Ever heard the phrase "empty stats"?
If you have, it was probably used to describe Love.
Just look at the results when you Google "Kevin Love empty stats." The Internet is filled with plenty of people postulating about the stat-padding nature of the power forward's numbers, even if that's a nonsensical argument.
I'll use the same rebuttal I always have: How can his stats be empty if no other power forward could put up better ones in his place?
"Just as Minnesota's continued lottery appearances are not on Love," writes Bleacher Report's Dan Favale, "his supernatural production is not the result of a player using hapless circumstances to drum up individual value. It means something."
It may be a ridiculous, inaccurate reputation, but it's still one Love would presumably love to shake. And there's no easier way to do that than by winning.
Playing on a contending team lends validity to Love's superstardom, even if he needs help to get there. Should it really be a crime to want more help than Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin can provide him?
Love's predicament is an interesting one, simply because he's reached a level of dominance that allows him to basically choose between these two ideals. He can keep chasing numbers and individual glory, or he can experience a taste of success. There's surely a number of teams—cough, Los Angeles Lakers, cough—that would love to have his services.
For a 25-year-old standout, there's no wrong answer.
But there is a right one.