Timberwolves fans and media have been in a weird position since mid-May, when news broke that Kevin Love wanted out of Minnesota, and sooner rather than later.
Ever since Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his bombs on us that Sunday morning, most Wolves observers have ridden a roller coaster of emotion. We’ve been angry and resentful, we wrapped ourselves in the familiar blanket of resigned despair, we warded off irrational hope that Love could net a worthwhile asset in return, we allowed ourselves to freak out when the best basketball player in the world decided to go home to Cleveland (where he’d possibly like to be teamed up with our disgruntled power forward in exchange for the rights to the top pick in the draft), and, finally, we’ve gotten used to the waiting game.
It’s been two and a half months, already, and technically Kevin Love is still a Timberwolf. It’s odd.
In that time, Love has been picked apart both on and off the court. Now that most of the rest of the player movement period (encompassing the Draft and Free Agency) is over, what we’re left with is a whole lot of time without the NBA and one final, juicy transaction to wait out. And since everyone SUCKS at practicing the virtue known as patience, the days are filled with the myriad ways to ponder whether a proposed Love-for-Wiggins swap is fair for both sides, whether the Wolves should do it, whether the Cavs should do it, whether Love would like to play there, and on, and on.
I’ve been more than content to stay out of the Love fray, as the subject has been covered (almost too) extensively already. I just don’t care to speculate on whether or not “he’s a winner” or “if he’s a leader” or whether he’ll work better as a complementary, rather than focal, player. I know all about his defense (which isn’t good, but hardly dreadful), offense (one of the most unique players in the history of the game), toughness (I watched him get beat up, a lot, and keep coming back for more) and I know that he’s better at everything than David Lee, no matter what anyone says. I’m perfectly fine leaving it at that.
Or, I was, until Kevin Love informed USA Basketball that he plans on skipping the FIBA World Cup, which begins at the end of August, due to uncertainty regarding his status with the Timberwolves. Pretty straightforward, right? If your future’s in the balance, and you need to stay healthy, why risk injury unless it’s absolutely necessary? Simple, isn’t it? Who could blame Kevin Love for dropping out?
Well, some people found a way to do just that. Usually, I’d be content to let it go, but even Bill Simmons, perhaps the most widely read NBA writer out there, found time to pile on Love. Of course, it came out after the fact that Love’s withdrawal was the result of a mutual agreement between the Timberwolves and Love – but the fact that such popular basketball minds missed the point, and were ready to lay it all at Love’s feet, has prompted me to speak up in his defense.
For starters, Love doesn’t just want to get out of Minnesota. He wants to be traded to a team where he could spend the next 5 or 6 years. He’ll exercise his Early Termination Option in hopes of receiving a long-term extension at raises of 7.5% annually, something only his new team could provide. If he waits until free agency to bolt, the most he could sign for is 3 or 4 years at 4.5% yearly raises. The difference could end up being anywhere from $20 to $30 million in total money over the life of his next contract.
Let’s just consider the idea of Love tearing something in his knee, or having a nasty spill on a rebound and injuring his shoulder, or some other relatively serious injury scenario… all while practicing and/or playing on an exhibition team in an international competition that isn’t even the Olympics. What then? The Wolves would be unable to make a deal, and Love would be out tens of millions of dollars.
Representing one’s country is great, but is it worth that sort of gamble? Granted, every player (and the NBA teams who employ them) are also at risk of an injury costing time in the regular season, but consider the following: almost every player left on the U.S. roster has multiple guaranteed seasons remaining on their current contracts. Some are still on their rookie deals (Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Damian Lillard), and some have already signed lucrative extensions (DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Paul George, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons, Derrick Rose, John Wall). Two of the three remaining players, Kenneth Faried and Klay Thompson, have one year left on their rookie contracts before negotiating extensions or hitting restricted free agency, but even they have the safety net of the one year qualifying offer in their fifth season should a devastating injury occur. The only player on Team USA’s roster without any guaranteed money on the books beyond 2014-15 is Love’s replacement, Paul Millsap.
The allure of representing one’s country has a certain pull that’s hard to describe; that’s why all of the above players agree to play in the first place. But the competition, which is a glorified exhibition, doesn’t pay the bills. Nor is it really considered when looking back and evaluating players’ careers – does anyone think less Tim Duncan because he doesn’t have a gold medal? Does anyone think more of Antonio McDyess because he has one? Plus, no one should fault Love (or any player) if they terminate their relationship with USA Basketball after playing once at the Olympics; Shaq, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook, to name a few, all cut out after a single appearance.
And as for the bizarre comment from Simmons that Love “needs reps on a big stage”…. well, playing in these international competitions is rather thankless. The impression is that the U.S. should always win, no matter what, even though the playing field is the closest to level that it’s ever been. Spain, who is hosting, will be a formidable opponent. France, Argentina and Lithuania are not exactly pushovers. And while the FIBA World Cup will capture the imaginations of basketball junkies around the world, the general population, who doesn’t really care much for Olympic basketball, probably won’t pay much attention. This hardly qualifies as a big stage.
Some people have an axe to grind with Kevin Love, and pounced on this opportunity to do it once again. But asserting that Love left the team “high and dry” is laughable; everyone associated with USA Basketball knows the situation Love is in. If a trade had been done on draft night, Love would probably be playing, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. As it is, he’s in limbo, so he must do what he needs to do to secure his future. And as peeved as I am that he’s leaving my favorite team, it’s hard to fault him for that.