Despite Love's Strong Rookie Season, Trade Still Hurts T-Wolves' Future

Andrew ScherberContributor IApril 14, 2009

Many experts and fans questioned Minnesota Timberwolves VP of Operations, Kevin McHale, and feared he had made yet another huge blunder after the Timberwolves sent guard O.J. Mayo to the Memphis Grizzlies for Kevin Love among others in last June's draft-day trade. 

Remember, McHale was the guy who got caught in an illegal contract negotiation and lost several first-round draft picks, crippling the franchise...for Joe Smith.

He drafted Rashad McCants ahead of Danny Granger, traded Brandon Roy away for Randy Foye and $1 million and, of course, failed to surround Kevin Garnett with the supporting cast he needed to win a championship as a Timberwolf. 

Early this season, it appeared as if "McFail," as many cynical Wolves fans have dubbed him, had done it again.

Mayo's fast start with the Grizzlies this season made him an early front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award while Love struggled to even get playing time under then-Wolves coach Randy Wittman. 

In addition, the other main piece that Minnesota acquired in the deal, forward Mike Miller, was struggling with his jump shot and the Wolves were losing games—lots of them.

But now, as the 2008-09 season is coming to an end, it appears as if Love has caught up to (or even overtaken) Mayo in terms of value for many Wolves fans. The former UCLA star has emerged as one of the league's best rebounders already and showed marketed improvement as the season went on and his minutes increased.

Mayo, on the other hand, seemed to hit the proverbial “rookie wall” after his strong start. His shooting percentage has dropped, and his shot selection has been questionable at times, not to mention that many experts say that small guards who can score are far easier to find than big men who do everything that Love can.

Love looks like a solid NBA player. That's all well and good. But if the Wolves' goal in last June's draft was to build toward a championship in the next five years, they should have held onto Mayo (or drafted Love's college teammate Russell Westbrook).

Sure, Mayo might have slowed from his early season pace and he may take a few ill-advised shots, but a rookie who averages over 18 points per game is definitely not as easy to find as some have argued.

At times, Mayo, who was a highly touted superstar from the time he was in high school, has shown flashes of brilliance during his first year. He is a dynamic scoring threat from the perimeter, which is something Minnesota desperately needs to give balance alongside their lost post-scoring stud, Al Jefferson.

But aside from what Minnesota lost when they shipped Mayo along with Marko Jaric, Antione Walker, and Greg Buckner to Memphis, what the Wolves gained—mainly Love—isn't going to help them become a championship contender as much as people think. 

It isn’t that Love isn’t a good player. On almost any other team, he would be an extremely solid starting power forward.

He does all the dirty work on the boards and can even step out 15 feet and hit a jumper here and there.

But on the T-Wolves, he creates a unique problem.

You see, starting Love alongside Jefferson seems like a good idea on the surface, but neither player is a natural center. Neither player is a good interior on-the-ball defender who is capable of blocking, or even altering, shots in the paint.

This creates a huge problem because the league, especially the Western Conference, has many dangerous post players who are still young and will be around if and when Minnesota ever becomes a playoff team: Yao Ming, Andrew Bynum, the Gasol brothers, and Greg Oden among others. 

So, by moving into the future with Love and Jefferson as your starting four and five, the Wolves are basically conceding that they are going to be among the worst interior defensive teams in the league for the long-haul. Hardly a good way to rebuild you team. 

Many fans in Minnesota who realize this want the team to draft a legitimate seven-footer in this year's draft. A center who can come in and provide some much needed shot-altering ability to the middle of the Wolves' lineup. 

Herein lies the problem with that.

Hasheem Thabeet and most of the other legit big men in the draft will require the Wolves to select them with the first of their three first round picks this summer.

This means that the three players the Wolves have invested in the most for the future will all be big men, with either last year's No. 3 overall pick (which turned into Love), or this season's lottery pick relegated to a reserve role while the other starts alongside Jefferson.

Also, a team with such a bad history in the draft can ill-afford to admit to its fan base that, "we suffered through 82 games of terrible basketball so that we could draft a backup center/power forward in the draft."

In fact, no team that flirts with the “worst team in the league” title for consecutive seasons can afford to draft bench players in the lottery. 

Had the Wolves kept Mayo, they would already have one of the league's premier young scoring guards to go along with the best young low post scorer in the game, whom they could then have allowed to play his natural power forward position.

Now, the Wolves are forced to look for scoring AND defense elsewhere.

They will need to get much better in terms of perimeter defense in order to compensate for their front court situation while still lacking the talent at the guard positions necessary to become a more balanced team.

They fell in love with Love during his preseason workouts, and that was it. They totally neglected to foresee the defensive issues that would stem from teaming him in the front court with their franchise player. 

The good news is that owner Glen Taylor has reportedly said that McHale will not return to the team as a member of the front office—only as coach if he so chooses.

The bad news is that the impact of the former Celtic great and current-Wolves goat will be felt by the organization and city for years to come.

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As always, the Timberwolves’ front office “McFailed” to think before they acted.