Kevin Love's Image Rehab Starts Now

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Kevin Love's Image Rehab Starts Now
USA TODAY Sports

It's nearly impossible for a star player to demand a trade from the team that drafted him and come out unscathed in the process. Kevin Love has proven to be no exception.

After this report from ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne came out during the playoffs and was met with no rebuttal from Love, the entire process began.

Kevin Love has made it clear to the Minnesota Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Unlike Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard, who both issued trade demands, Love never had to explicitly express that he wanted a trade, at least publicly. By just letting the news stay out there and having the media do the rest, Love made a sort of soft trade request and forced Minnesota's hand.

For Minnesota, it became about losing Love in free agency for nothing or getting something for him, and although it's not 100 percent official yet, the lined-up trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers tells you which way team president Flip Saunders decided to go. Love's silence throughout the proceedings played a big role.

David Sherman/Getty Images

For obvious reasons, that silence might have rubbed some the wrong way. And when Love did speak, he was largely non-committal or was inadvertently showing how he had removed himself from the organization.

Love used the word "they" when discussing the future of the Wolves in an interview with Fox Sports' Aja Dang earlier this offseason:

"If they're healthy, they can do a lot of damage. With Flip as the coach -- kinda been there, done that, in the Eastern Conference and in the Western Conference, having seen and really played all sides in the basketball world, I think he's going to do a great job."

In all honesty, that was one of the few missteps. We've seen multiple star players ask for trades and want out, like Anthony, Howard and Chris Paul, but Love's demands probably drew less ire from NBA fans as a whole.

Timberwolves supporters were obviously upset, but more familiarity with the situation of a star asking to be dealt seemed to lessen the general blow. The levels of rage over these types of issues have already been exhausted to some extent.

It doesn't hurt that Love isn't viewed as a selfish player. Aside from the issue with the league veto, Paul wasn't killed for wanting to leave New Orleans, in large part because his game is focused on helping others as opposed to himself. It's natural to want to connect a player's personality and desires to the style of basketball he plays. 

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Love isn't Paul, as he's a below-average defender and heavy user of possessions, but there are parts of his game that stand out as unselfish. You think of the outlet passes, or the plays from the high post, and Love has more of a "team-oriented" persona than a few other stars who have asked out of bad situations. Anthony and Howard were easier targets, even if that's unfair on a few different levels.

Minnesota's failure to make the playoffs in Love's six seasons also seemed to be viewed as a justified reason for him wanting to play elsewhere, at least outside of Minnesota.

While you can recognize both sides of the argument, Love's disagreements with the comments Saunders made didn't exactly generate much public sympathy for Minnesota, much like Pat Riley's little temper tantrum with the media about LeBron.

Here's what Saunders said in a radio interview back in June (via ESPN.com):

"Why does any player have a right to be frustrated?" Saunders said on KFAN 101.3 in Minneapolis-St. Paul. "You're either part of the problem or part of the solution. Should the team be frustrated? Yeah, the team can be frustrated. But I don't think any one individual should be frustrated."

And here's how Love responded to Saunders' comments on ESPN's SportsNation:

Flip's a great guy. He was great for us last year when [Rick] Adelman was the coach, bringing us all together. It was his first time back with the team, and now he's taking over the coaching reins, and I congratulated him, talking with him, back and forth, and when he says something like that, same as when Ricky [Rubio] talked about me being a leader, I just continue to work hard, keep on the grind, and use some of it as fuel ... but what they said, it holds true, some of it.

There's an understandable desire from some fans to see Love take responsibility for his team never making the playoffs. He's the star player, and it makes some uncomfortable to see someone of his profile get frustrated and join up with a bigger star in order to have success. 

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

It also seems like most Minnesota fans have come to expect a certain degree of loyalty over the years, as most of the city's longest-tenured stars (Kevin Garnett, Joe Mauer, Adrian Peterson) stuck around despite a lack of team success. 

Others may be sick of losing and ready to try anything else. Here's Matthew Deery at MinnesotaConnected.com with his take:

It’s hard to dispute that the Wolves have had competitive rosters over those seasons, but still no playoff push from any of the teams. Although Love isn’t entirely to blame, I’ll make the argument that he was the best player on the squad and undisputed team leader, so most of the blame falls on his shoulders. That considered, hearing of his trade to Cleveland, goodbye Kevin Love, good riddance, you will not be missed by this Timberwolves fan.

Love's image hasn't been decimated after this offseason, but it did take at least a few dings. Again, that's to be expected. 

Really, though, there's nothing Love needs to do or say to justify his departure to join the best basketball player in the world in a weaker conference where his chances of playoff success are exponentially greater. He gave himself one of the best chances at winning a title, and staying in Minnesota wouldn't have done that.

You may not agree with it, but that's what Love maintained he wanted on the rare occasion he did speak about his future this offseason.

Here's what Love told ESPN's SportsNation:

No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win. At the end of the day, I've played six years, haven't made the playoffs yet, that burns me and hurts my heart, so I really want to be playing.

Love did exactly that by joining Cleveland, and there shouldn't be much residual resentment from NBA fans on the whole. LeBron's homecoming seems to be viewed in a largely positive light, and so Love joining him won't bring on the same mercenary vibe it did for Chris Bosh when he joined the Miami Heat. LeBron and Love will have detractors, naturally, but they'll have plenty of fans, too.

For all those reasons, Love shouldn't have to go through a lengthy image revival. There are little things he can do to smooth things over in Minnesota, like taking out a full page in the paper and thanking the organization and fans. He can speak warmly about his former teammates in the media.

Those, of course, are minor acts that won't swing opinion drastically. The main thing Love needs to do now is win.

The silence and the desire to leave, justified or not, may have hurt Love's image a bit, but there's nothing fans love more than a winner.   

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