Why Is Kevin Love Getting a Free Pass in Midst of Trade Demands?

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Why Is Kevin Love Getting a Free Pass in Midst of Trade Demands?
Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Kevin Love isn't getting the Dwight Howard treatment.

He isn't enduring the same criticism as Carmelo Anthony.

Chris Paul received more flack for orchestrating his escape from New Orleans. 

Steve Nash might have even withstood more resentment for being complicit in joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

Why is Love so different? Why is he, a disgruntled superstar, receiving the equivalent of a free pass when, essentially, he has requested the Minnesota Timberwolves trade him?

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com did say Love stopped short of demanding a trade, but there is no difference between pointedly asking for an out and making it clear you intend to leave eventually. If there is, it's inconsequential and barely worth mentioning.

Like Howard, Anthony and Paul before him, Love is trying to grab early control of his NBA destiny by forcing Minnesota's hand. Never mind that his free agency is one year away. He wants out now.

Why is that all fine and dandy, more than it was for other utterly unhappy, bellyaching superstars?

 

Remembering 2012

David Sherman/Getty Images

Nearly two years ago, perception of Love's time in Minnesota changed. 

Talking to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the stretch forward painted a picture of extension talks gone awry and a franchise brazenly devaluing its own superstar—who the Timberwolves didn't believe was a star at all.

"I don't know who labels people stars, but even [T'wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: 'I don't think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn't led us to the playoffs,'" Love explained. "I mean, it's not like I had much support out there."

With the Timberwolves unwilling to offer him a fifth year, Love accepted a four-year deal on the condition that the final installment of his pact be a player option, thus giving him the freedom to explore free agency one year early.

Next summer, if he's still in Minnesota, Love is going to exploit said option. And while it will be years later, it's difficult to sympathize with an organization that undersold the importance of its best player.

Then-president David Kahn certainly doesn't have the best track record and is undoubtedly responsible for countless botched draft picks and subpar player treatment, but Taylor is still the owner. If he was truly of little to no faith, a front-office regime change—Kahn's dismissal and Flip Saunders' arrival—doesn't do much to erase the sting of past scorn.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Love has evolved.

Look at what Love has turned into, after all. He's made two All-Star Games since putting pen to paper on his extension in 2012. This past season, he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while emerging as one of the league's most dangerous floor-spacing forwards, drilling 37.6 percent of his long balls.

Only six other players have averaged at least 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists for an entire season—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. All of them are Hall of Famers.

The feat itself hasn't been accomplished since 1975-76, when McAdoo did it. That's almost four decades. No one has accomplished what Love recently did in almost four decades. Think about that.

"That's a tough pill to swallow," Love told Wojnarowski in 2012.

Indeed it was. 

But now that same pill is the Timberwolves' to stomach.

 

Playoff Sadz

Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

Not one superstar in recent memory has been forced to cope with the individual and aggregate disappointment Love has labored through.

When Melo pushed his way out of Denver, he had seven straight playoff berths to his name. When CP3 paved his way out of New Orleans, he had three postseason appearances under his belt. And when Superman flew the Orlando Magic's coop, his team was working off six consecutive playoff clambakes, though he was absent for the last one in 2011-12, courtesy of a mysterious back injury.

Love has yet to breathe postseason air.

Though we prattle on about the lack of playoff success incurred by the other three—Howard is still the only one to have made an NBA Finals appearance—it isn't the same thing. 

The Timberwolves haven't made the playoffs in 10 years, let alone since Love entered in the league. They have the second-lowest winning percentage (32.1) in the NBA since he was drafted as well, behind only the Sacramento Kings (30.3).

Losing that much, that often, is difficult. And while there's a tendency to attribute partial blame to Love, he can only be held responsible for so much.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Love's circumstances are different than Melo's or Paul's.

Yes, Love has missed nearly 25 percent of all his regular-season games (112), and yes, he appeared in a beggarly 18 during the 2012-13 campaign. But revolving failures cannot be put on him. Not after this season.

Love ranked third overall in win shares (14.3) this past year, trailing only LeBron James (15.9) and Kevin Durant (19.2). Of every player who finished in the top 15 of that same category, only Anthony Davis, Goran Dragic, Melo and Love failed to make the playoffs.

Are we about to displace blame for the New Orleans Pelicans' and New York Knicks' lottery berths—both of which come without the actual pick—to Davis and Anthony. Of course not. We would be crazy.

Melo, Howard and Paul wanted to play for bigger markets in addition to winning. One only need look at their eventual landing spots. Paul wound up in Los Angeles, Anthony set up shop in New York and Howard had a one-year layover in Hollywood before journeying to Houston. Love wants the same thing.

Between Wojnarowski and Shelburne and Stein, we know that teams like the Lakers, Knicks, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors are all preferred destinations. There are no secrets as to why either. 

The difference between Love's attempted relocation and the address changes spearheaded by his superstar peers is the former hasn't won anything at all.

"I don't need to say how good he is," Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo said of Love after the two met at Fenway Park, per ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg. "The world sees it every night, or sees the stats every night. He puts up great numbers. But I think he wants to win now."

Winning now, or even soon, dictates he leave Minnesota somehow, in some way. After slogging through more than a half-decade of recurring lottery finishes, it's easier to commiserate than despise.

 

Somewhat Similar, Mostly Different

Joe Murphy/Getty Images

What Love is doing now compared to what Paul, Anthony and Howard did before is different.

Especially in the case of Howard.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News highlighted the indecision that plagued the NBA's Dwightmare once Superman was officially traded :

After sticking to his trade request all season, Howard flip-flops at the 11th hour of the trade deadline—with the Nets close to dealing for him—and decides to opt into the final year of his contract with the Magic. In Orlando, the Magic holds a press conference celebrating Howard's loyalty.

'I'm not like the guy that those people are trying to portray me to be. I'm loyal,' Howard said. 'That's just me. That's just my nature. I told my teammates that I'm all in.'

Unlike Howard, Love hasn't created the illusion of devout loyalty. He hasn't publicly ruled out his return to Minnesota, but he hasn't offered an ironclad commitment either.

More importantly, he hasn't stripped himself of future freedom like Howard did.

The Timberwolves also haven't helped their case. Time and time again they've failed to put the right talent around him. On the rare occasions they've shown a willingness to spend, they never seem to make the right decision.

Absence of help matters. Stars won't win titles or even contend for playoff spots alone these days, something Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes mentions as Love's saving grace:

Love can avoid Howard's fate while still getting the trade he wants. The Wolves have a reputation as underachievers who don't service their stars very well. Kevin Garnett managed to escape with almost no damage to his reputation because observers could look at his individual brilliance alongside underwhelming supporting players and say, 'Yeah, I get why he wants out.'

There is no innocent party here. Love isn't a golden boy who has done everything right. He isn't the unchallenged victim.

But he's closer to becoming a casualty of his team's collective failures more so than Melo, Howard and Paul ever were.

That, ultimately, is what matters most.

And, right or wrong, it's what has also inoculated him against suffering the same perceptual fate as Melo, Howard and—to a lesser extent—Paul. 

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference. Salary information via ShamSports.


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