The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't had anything to celebrate this season aside from Kevin Love.
The 22-year-old forward is having a season unlike any since the days of Moses Malone. His 20.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game have Love headed for the first 20-15 season in 28 seasons. The rebounding savant has quickly become one of the NBA's must-see players and is still getting better in this his third year.
For all the personal promise that characterizes Love, there is little for his team, which is 13th in the Western Conference at 17-52. Love is under contract for two more years at under $4 million, but won't be so cheap for that long.
Love's brilliance on the court is wasted as long as he plays in Minnesota. Here are five reasons why he deserves to be traded to a contender.
Love is still under his rookie contract for this year and next at $8.2 million total. At his current numbers, he's playing for about a third of what he's worth.
Now, this could very well be a career season, which is rare for a player in his third year, but it has been remarkable nonetheless. Love probably isn't worth $15-20 million, but $10 million? $12 million? Those sound like numbers that both respect what Love is doing on the court and provide his team with a major bargain for his services.
Currently, the Timberwolves simply can't afford to pay him the $70 million over six years that they are reportedly set to offer him and build a viable roster. They are currently 28th out of 30 in the NBA in payroll at just $53.1 million. How will the small market team pay its star while moving toward a playoff-caliber roster?
Love intimated that he doesn't want to leave Minnesota, but does he honestly believe that the team can simultaneously compete AND respect him with the money he deserves?
Given the way that Love has exploded this year, it is reasonable to say that he might be at the beginning of his prime. His scoring proficiency, rebounding prowess, passing and new ability to shoot the three begs the question: how much better can Kevin Love possibly get?
It's not a knock on his ability to improve. It's a testament to how good he's played this year.
Players don't typically hit their prime at the beginning of year three, but in the above-the-rim, hyper-athletic nature of today's NBA, guys like Love have a pretty low shelf-life. His 6'10" listing is very generous, which makes him an undersized and under-athletic power forward.
He is more skilled and intelligent than most of the NBA population, but only because he has to be to survive. His relative lack of athleticism has mandated that he be smarter and more polished than his more athletic opponents.
How long can this arrangement last? Does he have 10-12 more years at this level? No, he doesn't. Does he have the potential to reach 30 points and 20 rebounds? Also a no. Based on these factors, I'm inclined to think that Kevin Love has reached the beginning of a four-year prime.
It would be a shame for a player in his prime to waste his best years on a bottom-dwelling small market team. Free Kevin Love! Let him play with real NBA players!
Love is a smart, humble and realistic NBA player in a world of naivety, entitlement and arrogance.
He scores 20.7 points and takes 14.3 shots per game, not because he demands to. He does it because he has to on a team whose second-best and third-best scorers are the temperamental Michael Beasley and Luke Ridnour. He would just as easily settle into 13 points and eight shots a game on a team with scoring-minded players.
For this reason, Love could fit in with any team that has a rebounding dearth. He has no ego, does not incite drama or discontent and will be happy to fall into the background on a winning team. This should should greatly broaden the market of teams that would trade for Love, which in turn increases the odds of a trade occurring.
Clippers' rookie phenom, Blake Griffin, gets a lot of attention every time he unleashes an earth-rattling dunk. Blake Griffin plays in LA, the No. 2 market in the NBA. If he played in Minnesota, everyone would know he's really good and athletic, but would they know the extent of his talents as they do with him in LA?
What if Kevin Love played in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix or even Denver? How many hundreds of hours more of media coverage would his epic season be getting? The guy is averaging almost 21 points and 16 rebounds per game! He'd be the most popular player in the league if he played on a big team.
The fact of the matter is that Love is underappreciated right now because he plays in Minneapolis. People know he has this innate knack for rebounding, is white, has off the charts basketball IQ, does "Charlie Sheen" with Charlie Sheen and somehow finds a way to score 20 points a game (I only made one of those up), but can anyone really appreciate his game with the lack of attention that his team demands?
I don't think we can, which is why Kevin Love deserves the attention and fanfare that comes from playing on a better and more popular team.
Sometimes, really really good players get drafted onto really really awful teams.
I'm not talking merely about bad teams that toil in mediocrity. I'm talking about teams that seem predestined, fated to lose, no matter how much they try.
The most recent example of this we've seen is the Clippers. Some really good players have been ruined, either for their entire career or most of their prime, being held captive on the Clippers. Here's an extensive list of players who fit those criteria:
Michael Olowokandi (first pick in 1998)
Lamar Odom (fourth pick in 1999)
Tyson Chandler (second pick in 2001)
Shaun Livingston (fourth pick in 2004)
Al Thornton (fourteenth pick in 2007)
Incomplete: Al-Farouq Aminu (eighth pick in 2010)
Incomplete: Blake Griffin (first pick in 2009)
Each of these players had hype and potential that rivaled their skills. Each of them falls into one three categories: Horrific Injury that Derailed a Promising Career, Stunk and Faded into Oblivion Within Three Years, Unfortunately Delayed a Prosperous Career by Several Years.
Each player's career has followed a different trajectory and some have gone on to solid careers (Odom and Chandler), but each was stricken by the Clipper Curse significantly and immediately after being drafted.
Kevin Love is at risk of the same ailment. A few years playing on a team of destiny could follow him around and manifest negatively in various ways.
If he doesn't get away from the Wolves soon, he might never become familiar with what winning is like.
Knowing a winning culture is important for a good player, wouldn't you say?