Is There Hope in Sight for Minnesota Timberwolves After Losing Kevin Love?

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 8, 2014

FILE - In this April 13, 2014, file photo, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love gets ready to play the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif.  A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that the Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors have restarted trade talks for All-Star forward Kevin Love.  (AP Photo/Steve Yeater, File)
Steve Yeater/Associated Press

You'd be forgiven for thinking the Minnesota Timberwolves are cursed after news of Kevin Love's departure became official, but the truth isn't quite so severe as that.

Chronic mismanagement in a situation where the margin for error has always been razor-thin is the culprit. Maybe that's its own type of curse, but at least it's one that can be practically corrected.

Thanks to the habitual gaffes of the Wolves front office, Love is gone, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

The Minnesota Timberwolves have reached an agreement in principle to send All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew WigginsAnthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick.

Minnesota now has a 100 percent success rate of losing franchise superstars in their primes. Granted, Kevin Garnett was toward the end of his peak when he was dealt to the Boston Celtics in 2007, and there have really been only two such players in the Wolves' history. But both KG and K-Love departed ringless, in search of better shots at success.

Steven Senne/Associated Press

It would take some time to delve into the mistakes that prompted Garnett's merciful liberation. Suffice it to say seven consecutive first-round outs proved management's consistent ineptitude during the prime of one of the NBA's all-time greats.

Fast forward to Love, a player many forget Minnesota didn't draft.

Credit where it's due: The draft-day swap that brought Love over from the Memphis Grizzlies for a package centered around O.J. Mayo was a good one.

But in Love's formative years, he had arguably the worst coaching imaginable. Randy Wittman kicked things off in Love's rookie campaign before losing his job. Kevin McHale took over for the balance of Love's rookie year, and was followed by Kurt Rambis—by all accounts a good guy, but an unquestionably atrocious NBA coach.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Love won 24, 15 and 17 games in his first three years, respectively.

Rick Adelman arrived in 2011, and his experience offered some stability. But those early years had already created a foundation for Love's growing dissatisfaction.

The Timberwolves' woes weren't restricted to coaching. They also extended to some rather spectacular failures in the draft. Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn went ahead of Stephen Curry in 2009. Wesley Johnson was their No. 4 pick in 2010, and Derrick Williams followed at No. 2 overall the next year. In all, Love had to watch the Wolves give up on three of those four players in short order.

Flynn was a spectacular washout, and Johnson and Williams are now clinging to the ends of benches elsewhere.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

The root of everything leading to Love's departure is David Kahn, who occupied the role of President of Basketball Operations from 2009-2013. The ugly drafts are on him, and so is the sub-max deal he offered Love in 2012.

After receiving that four-year, $62 million deal instead of the possible five-year, $80 million pact, Love's frustration bubbled over, per Wojnarowski:

You walk into the locker room every year, and it's completely turned over. There's new guys everywhere. And then it happens again and again. You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a...plan?

If there was, it never developed to Love's satisfaction. And now he's gone. More new guys are headed to Minnesota, only Love won't be there to see them this time.

Those new guys do provide some hope—especially because Kahn is no longer running the show in Minnesota. That's Flip Saunders' job now.

We can't know how Kahn would have handled the recent Love fiasco, but we can acknowledge that Saunders got exactly the kind of talent the Wolves should have been seeking all along. Minnesota needs young players whose costs they can control through the rookie contract structure because the organization simply doesn't attract free agents.

With Wiggins and Bennett (and a future first-rounder), the Timberwolves are essentially getting do-overs on some of the missed draft picks they suffered through in years past.

John Locher/Associated Press

Of course, if the Wolves are serious about shipping Bennett to the Philadelphia 76ers, as a report from Mark Perner of the Philadelphia Daily News indicates, perhaps Saunders has a little Kahn in him after all.

The addition of Wiggins is huge, and if the team commits to Rubio (which seems likely now), it will have a potentially exciting core going forward. Rookie Zach LaVine has all the athletic promise in the world, and veteran Nikola Pekovic remains an excellent offensive center.

Gorgui Dieng has massive defensive potential as well.

Perhaps best of all, Kevin Martin is the only player on the roster (other than Pekovic) with a long-term deal. Serious flexibility isn't far off.

Wiggins is something of a divisive figure, but the hope in Minnesota now is that he becomes the superstar his draft slot indicates he can be. If the Wolves build around him, trust that Saunders and the rest of the front office won't strike out in the draft and focus on the future, there's certainly a glimmer of hope in the distance.

We've seen lots of small market clubs that aren't in destination cities thrive, with the Oklahoma City Thunder being the prime model. It takes smart drafting and plenty of patience, but the Wolves could, theoretically, take a similar approach—as long as ownership abandons any misguided desires to win in the short term, and the fans are willing to accept a longer, more deliberate rebuild.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 9: Russell Westbrook #0, Kevin Durant #35, and Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrate during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at St
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Maybe it feels like the Wolves are cursed now, in the immediate aftermath of losing their second superstar in less than a decade. But Minnesota got as good of a haul as could be expected for a player who wanted out and was going to leave for nothing next year. That's something.

The hard work starts now, and it'll take some time to do it right.

Minnesota can change its fate if it acts deliberately, makes long-term moves and drafts intelligently. For a guide on how to do that, all it has to do is consult the past few years of transactions and do the complete opposite.

Actually, when you think of it like that, the way forward doesn't seem so hard.