Kevin Love has been a darling of the advanced stats portion of NBA fans for years. His three point shooting percentages coupled with his ridiculous rebounding rate made Love extremely efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Now, of course, you don’t have to believe in the advanced stats to know Kevin Love is considered one of the top players in the NBA.
Despite all of Love’s ability, however, he’s been unable to lead the Timberwolves to the playoffs even once since being drafted in 2008. That isn’t entirely his own fault of course, but this isn’t baseball. One star player in the NBA can and oftentimes should be enough to at least squeak into the playoffs. The problem with Love is that all of his value comes on one side of the ball. His defense is among the worst at his position, and his lack of hustle after certain offensive possessions hurts the team immensely. Multiple times this season Love would miss an easy layup on a play he felt he was fouled on, complain to the ref and watch the man he’s supposed to defend beat him down the court by 5 steps for an easy layup. That sounds meaningless in a game that each team scores close to 100 points, but the Wolves horrible record in games decided by 5 points or less is the sole reason they missed the playoffs.
Kevin Garnett is and likely will always be the greatest Timberwolf in history. The team has never made the playoffs without him on the roster. I’ve seen people point to the increased strength of the Western Conference over the last 10 years as a reason for Love’s inability to make the playoffs, but I don’t buy it. From 1996-2003, the Timberwolves made the playoffs every year. They’re worst record during that stretch was in 1996, when they finished 40-42. That 40-42 horseshit record is what the Timberwolves finished with again this year, in what appears likely to be Love’s final season as a Timberwolf. That will be Love’s best season here.
And to be honest, Wolves fans should be hopeful it was his final season. Love is a talented player who will be hard to replace, no doubt. But he’s a west coast kid and wants to live out there. That’s fine. He has trouble keeping his mouth shut at the right time, and for someone who can’t seem to carry a team on his own, you can’t have that kind of loud mouth leading a losing team year after year. He’ll say something stupid once or twice a year.
David Kahn is more responsible for the team’s losing obviously as he put together botched drafts and terrible free agent signings, including Love’s idiotic 3-year extension instead of the obvious 5 year he should have given him. But at some point, the star player has to take the blame for constantly losing. Love will need to go to a team that already has a better player, or a team that has a dominating defensive center AND a tweener 3/4 that can guard the quicker 4’s that give Love trouble. His defensive issues can be hidden to some extent in the right systems, but by being out of position and oftentimes caring more about getting offensive rebounds than defensive positioning, he’s negating a lot of his offensive value.
Having a star player like Love basically admit he doesn’t want to be in Minnesota is always going to be hard for fans to stomach, but it’s for the best that he leaves. Love will likely go to a team that will play deeper into the postseason than the Wolves ever have, and ideally the Wolves will get a high enough lottery pick this year that they can start to build a real roster that not only scores bunches of points but also plays defense. A best case scenario would see the Lakers move into the top 3 picks, and then send a package centered around that pick for Love. As long as the Wolves take any of the elite prospects that aren’t named Julius Randle, it’ll be almost impossible NOT to improve the team’s defensive numbers by losing Love. I’d be pulling for Andrew Wiggins in that scenario, as I think his length and defensive ability when paired with Rubio’s defensive instincts would give the Wolves a nice core that isn’t offensive-minded only. However, Parker or Embiid would be fine too, although an Embiid pick would have to be followed by a Pekovic trade in the near future.
Regardless of who the Wolves end up trading Kevin Love to, the fact of the matter is he’s never had a winning season and he doesn’t seem likely to if he stays in Minnesota. As someone with no ties to this state it’s a bit ludicrous to expect Love to want to stay and deal with more and more losing, but that’s what made KG so special. Even after a few losing seasons, he still wanted to stay. He didn’t want to go to Boston at first. He eventually reneged on that after talking to Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale, and he’s undoubtedly happy he did. Love will continue to be praised for his shooting and rebounding, and he will have some monster games over the course of his career. But as we’ve seen over the last seven years, numbers don’t mean anything when you’re losing. And anyway you slice it, when Kevin Love leaves Minnesota, he will certainly and undoubtedly be a loser. We’ll see if he can change that label elsewhere.
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