Timeline of How It All Went Wrong for Kevin Love and Minnesota Timberwolves
Love, who can hit free agency during the summer of 2015, now finds himself with options, with loads of suitors for his services. And we're hearing the rumors every day.
Will the star power forward end up a Chicago Bull? How about a Golden State Warrior? Or a Houston Rocket? Or anyone else?
As Love's relationship with the Timberwolves has deteriorated over the years, it's become more and more imminent: If the Wolves hold onto him for this season, the upcoming year will probably be his last in Minnesota.
But team president and newly minted coach of the Timberwolves Flip Saunders has different ideas. From ESPN.com news services:
"The last I knew Kevin was under contract with us, and I expect him to be playing for us next year," Saunders said Sunday after a workout of draft prospects. "I don't really dictate where guys go on vacation or what they do. They can go wherever they want to go."
Regardless of what Saunders says publicly though, it would be the intuitive move to trade the superstar on the last year of his deal, especially when it appears he won't be re-signing.
It seems like the Wolves have been turning down trades for Love since the beginning of time. We know the Cleveland Cavaliers were making offers for the three-time All-Star even before last year's draft. It's probably safe to assume Minnesota has been inundated with Love trade proposals for some time now.
The awkwardness between the Wolves and Love isn't new—it's been building up for years. And now, both parties are at a point where the relationship is likely unrepairable.
Kahn Goes Point Guard Crazy
The Timberwolves won only 24 games in 2008-09, Love's rookie year, but stockpiled a load of picks for the 2009 draft.
Minnesota entered the draft with four first-round selections, looking to make major moves after trading for Love when the Memphis Grizzlies took him fifth overall the previous season. Two of those selections came in the lottery, the No. 5 and 6 picks. But naturally, David Kahn and the Wolves botched those decisions.
Minnesota ended up taking Ricky Rubio fifth, Jonny Flynn sixth and Wayne Ellington 28th. Meanwhile, it traded the 18th pick and best player it selected, Ty Lawson, for a 2010 first-rounder.
Taking Rubio fifth and trying to convince him to come over to the U.S. made perfect sense at the time. The kid was one of the most highly touted prospects in the draft. But then Kahn went all Kahn on us.
With the very next selection, he took Flynn, who's already been out of the league for two years.
While waiting for Rubio to come over, Kurt Rambis tried Flynn in the triangle offense, which never meshed. And his rookie year ended up being the former Syracuse point guard's best season, as he bounced around a couple teams after hip surgery and before finding himself in Australia by 2012.
A Flynn-Rubio backcourt was never going to work, though. Two point guards who aren't shooters (especially considering Flynn's diminutive size) aren't going to complement each other. And considering Stephen Curry went the pick after Flynn in that draft, Wolves fans (and possibly Love, too) have to be wondering what could have been if their team had paired two of the most fluid guards in the NBA together.
More Botched Picks
2009 may have been the Wolves' first opportunity to bungle draft picks on one of Love's teams, but it certainly wasn't their last.
The Wolves haven't made the playoffs since their draft-night trade for the former UCLA standout. Actually, the franchise hasn't found its way into the postseason since Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell took it to the Western Conference Finals in 2004.
That means lottery picks on top of lottery picks on top of lottery picks. And it also means so many chances to make bad decisions—which keep happening.
Minnesota had the chance to redeem itself for the 2009 draft with three first-round picks, including the No. 4 selection in 2010, but drafted Wes Johnson fourth, and turned the 16th and 23rd picks into Martell Webster and Lazar Hayward. Johnson had just a 9.3 player efficiency rating during only two seasons in Minnesota.
2011 could've spelled redemption again, but nope. The Wolves took Derrick Williams No. 2. This past season, Williams had lost so much value that Minnesota could only give him away to the Sacramento Kings for Luc Mbah a Moute.
We always talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder model. Well, that basically just means, "Draft well when you get your top-six picks."
The Wolves have gone in the opposite direction, and Love can't be happy with that.
The Jefferson Trade
No one likes to lose friends. And is that what this had something to do with?
Minnesota traded Al Jefferson to the Utah Jazz in July of 2010 for Kosta Koufos, a 2011 first-round pick and a 2012 first-rounder. And after just one fully healthy season together, Love felt like his time with Big Al was cut short. From Adrian Wojnarowski's Yahoo! Sports piece in December of 2012:
Looking back, Love still refuses to believe that dumping center Al Jefferson on Utah for picks and salary-cap space – ultimately all misused, of course – was the right choice for the Wolves. For everyone within the organization who believed that those two couldn't play together, Love still contends: Did we ever find out?
Were the Wolves too hasty to trade Jefferson? Did they do the smart thing picking up two first-round picks for a guy who probably was not the best defensive complement for Love? Clearly, Love didn't think so.
It wasn't about the deal, itself. It was more about the timing.
It could have more to do with the Wolves never giving Love a real chance when Rambis was there. After all, he did average 16.7 points and 13.3 rebounds per 36 minutes without much freedom to shoot threes over his first couple seasons. And ultimately, it feels like the Love-Wolves rift comes down to a lack of faith over all else.
The Knuckle Pushups
The 2012-13 season was supposed to be when the Wolves finally made the leap.
Rubio and Williams were entering their second NBA seasons and would be a year matured. Andrei Kirilenko was on board for the run. So were Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and Nikola Pekovic. Finally, the Wolves were going to contend for the playoffs.
Until they didn't.
A 31-win team was ravaged by injuries all year, none worse than the ones that forced Love to miss 64 games that season, all stemming from a broken hand.
It turned out Love sustained that injury in one of the more fluky ways possible. Here's part of his statement from after he got hurt:
Yesterday, I had a post-practice commitment and decided to work out at home with my personal trainer. While doing various pushups, including knuckle pushups, which are part of my regular workout routine, I hurt my hand. I immediately knew something was wrong and called head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam.
Knuckle pushups! Who knew?
Love tried to make a comeback, but needed surgery after he broke the same hand a second time. The injuries only pushed back the Wolves' chance to make a run by one more year, an additional season of frustration for the playoff-less Love.
Don't do knuckle pushups, kids.
The Knuckle Controversy
As Love stated, knuckle pushups were part of his usual workout routine, but that didn't stop the critics from being heard. The star power forward may have seemed like he was being earnest in his answer, but apparently, some disagreed.
Not everyone believed the legitimacy of the excuse for Love's broken hand. That's right, even people within the T'Wolves organization doubted Love, as he told Wojnarowski in December 2012:
Even people in my own organization were asking if it was a legitimate injury, people calling my honesty and integrity into question, and that's what really hurt me.
No, indirectly questioning the integrity of your best player is probably not the best way to keep around a superstar. But that is exactly what the Wolves started to do, and that Yahoo! piece only made Love's frustration with the organization more apparent...
You Won't Get Five
You have a superstar. You give him the five-year max contract. That's the way the NBA works.
Except in Minnesota.
Instead, the Wolves handed Love a four-year contract extension in January of 2012, allowing the final year of that deal to be a player option. That's not committing to a guy, and speculatively, Love wasn't particularly happy with the Wolves' failure to commit to their perennial All-Star.
Love confirmed that speculation to Yahoo! Sports in that same Wojnarowski article from December 2012:
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. I mean, it's not like I had much support out there.
That's a tough pill to swallow.
Seriously, you should click on that piece and read the whole thing. It will give you a heck of an insight into Love and his frustration with the T'Wolves organization, and after two more seasons of no playoffs, you'd have to imagine the Wolves' power forward is in the same mental spot he was back then.
Wojnarowski wrote that Love was disappointed with the constant roster turnover, upset the team didn't seem to have a plan. Now, at least Kahn is gone, but that may not change much with the team still failing to make the postseason. More from Woj:
Love will never get over how badly he wanted the designation as the Wolves' franchise player, how deeply he believed it had been deserved and how Kahn was so smugly defiant in refusing to recognize it. When the Wolves should've been throwing a parade that Love wanted a five-year maximum contract designation a year ago, the franchise could forever regret the consequences of telling a superstar player he wasn't worth that commitment.
The Barea Problems
Love has just gotten more and more frustrated.
After the Wolves experienced one of their many close losses this season, a bad habit for this year's squad, this time falling 104-103 to the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 8, Love continued to speak freely. He called out some of his teammates. From ESPN.com news services:
"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, referring to the poor body language exhibited by veterans J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham in the fourth quarter. "We all need to be in this together. That kind of pisses me off. We're supposed to be a team."
Love may not have been frustrated with Barea and Cunningham just in that moment either. This could have been a buildup.
As ESPN noted, near the end of Love's 18-game 2012-13 season, tumult started to gather in the Wolves' locker room over the star's absence from the squad. Love continued after that Suns loss:
"Those two guys, if and when I did that last year, when maybe I didn't sit out [behind the bench] for the game for all 48 minutes and so on and so forth, they would have killed me. They would've aired me out. That's tough."
Needless to say, it's probably tough to keep around a superstar when you're letting your role players push him over the edge time and time again.
Oh Playoffs, Where Art Thou?
Are the Wolves cursed? Maybe. Or possibly this is what happens when you're constantly making poor decisions.
Ultimately, if Minnesota were clinching playoff berths and contending for championships every year, Love's return to the Timberwolves would seem far more likely. From everything the best Minnesota baller since Garnett has said, this is about winning more than anything else. And the Wolves just haven't won.
Love has never sniffed the postseason. He's never even played on a team that's finished above .500, coming closest this past season when Minnesota finished 40-42. Still, this year was as frustrating as any.
The Wolves started the season 0-10 in games decided by four points or fewer. Imagine if some of those losses went the other way. We could be talking about a different Love narrative. But they didn't.
Now, arguably the best coach in franchise history in Rick Adelman is retired. Adelman was a personal friend of Love's, one of the major reasons he became such an appealing candidate to the Wolves. But he still couldn't make the postseason during his three years in Minnesota.
So, if Love thought that was the best-case scenario, then how hopeless must he now feel in Minnesota? If he's as demoralized as he seems, only a trade would make sense for both sides. And that's why we can probably hold our collective breath until the fast-approaching day when Love will be wearing a different jersey.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
*All statistics current as of June 10 and from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.