Major League Baseball is about to enter its All-Star break, and the celebrity softball game it has lined up for Sunday evening at Target Field in Minnesota seems like a real cracker of an event. Ozzie Smith, Jack Morris, Jim Thome, Andre Dawson, Rollie Fingers, Rickey Henderson, Larry Fitzgerald, Fat Joe, Freddy Lynn, Mike Piazza and Rob Riggle will all take to the field. Jon Hamm isn’t involved this year, but I suppose we’ll manage to overcome that.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will also take part, as will Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore. The Timberwolves, however, are curiously unrepresented due to one rather notable dropout. Kevin Love will be giving this event a miss, perhaps in reaction to his ongoing frustration with the Timberwolves' front office amid swirling trade rumors.
The celebrity softball game at Target Field will have one fewer participant but immeasurably less awkwardness.
The Twins on Wednesday announced a revised lineup for the game. Kevin Love is no longer scheduled to appear in the game.
The vocal part of the Wolves' fan base has turned on Love, and it's reasonable to expect his reception at the event would have been chilly at best.
Some would counter that the appearance of president/coach Flip Saunders would result in the chillier of chilled receptions, but it would be a valid expectation that Love’s presence would result in more than a few boos from a spate of fair weather Timberwolves fans in attendance.
The Timberwolves rank a deep, deep third place behind the Vikings and Twins in Minnesota, and the type of fans in attendance on a lovely July evening in one of America’s best cities probably aren’t deeply aware of the vicissitudes and complexities of Love’s career concerns and just how badly two different sets of front office helpers have biffed his time with the team. They just know that he wants out of their town, even while making eight figures a year to routinely miss the playoffs, and they’ll boo that. It’s understandable.
This is why it’s understandable that Love has decided not to represent the men’s basketball end of things at Target Field that night, and why the organizers would accept as much. And when you look at the Timberwolves’ transaction history, it is understandable why Love is pushing for a trade now, and why he’s looking to leave as a free agent in 2015 if no such trade comes about.
What’s less understandable is the way Saunders is handling this.
Unless something completely unexpected happens between now and the fall, Love will be a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves until at least next February’s trade deadline, and even possibly beyond that should the Wolves be competing for a playoff berth. Saunders thinks he can make this work, weirdly.
Flip did offer Love around the league in a token attempt to deal his All-Star, but by ratcheting up the asking price and demanding that teams take on the contract of Kevin Martin along the way, he effectively dissuaded teams from dealing for a player that is just 12 months away from free agency. It was an exercise in good faith performed without a hint of actual good faith. Saunders wants one 82-game chance at making things right while calling the shots from the sidelines in order to persuade Love to stay.
You can see where Saunders is coming from, even if he isn’t going about things correctly. Former Wolves coach Rick Adelman is an absolute coaching legend, but he was borderline dispassionate in his final year as head coach last season, and for good family-related reasons. Saunders’ zone defense-leanings and midrange-heavy offense, in his mind at least, would appear to be a cure for what ails the Timberwolves’ clutch failures and inability to defend at the rim, and Saunders was never going to get more than three quarters for Love’s figurative silver dollar via trade.
If Flip believes that this roster and his coaching style, combined with the ability to pay Love more money for more years (which the previous administration deemed a silly idea), will be enough to secure Love as a Timberwolf for five years beyond 2015, then he’s probably mistaken.
Does he think hanging onto Kevin until his free-agent turn will eventually help this franchise? That’s up for debate. Love staying in Minnesota (if not Target Field) through the summer might be the best move for the Wolves.
For one, the ability to pounce on a franchise player at the trade deadline is a rare event, and Saunders would like to at least top the hauls brought in by Denver (with Carmelo Anthony) and Utah (with Deron Williams) from years past. Secondly, sign-and-trades help, and any amount of draft picks (even if they’re eventually decided upon by Flip Saunders) and trade exceptions can ease this franchise into yet another round of rebuilding.
Lastly? Even Minnesota’s best options last month weren’t all that great.
David Lee can score and rebound, but you don’t rebuild around a guy entering his 30s and making max money. Even securing Klay Thompson, son of former Wolves broadcaster Mychal Thompson, is a bit much. Thompson would immediately ask for a max salary, while working at the NBA’s least-important position. Golden State, that vaunted trading partner, has no draft picks to send Minnesota’s way, either.
It’s always best to deal a player in the summer, when teams are desperate and can talk themselves into anything. In Minnesota’s case, as the league awaits the various dominos that will fall following LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony’s eventual free agent decisions, this might not be the best summer to pounce.
Might not. And, again, if Saunders thinks he’s going to change Love’s mind by keeping him around for 2014-15, he’s badly erring.
In the end, the best possible move for Love may come next February or next July, if Love plays sign-and-trade ball with the Minnesota front office. He won’t be playing ball with Fat Joe and John Smoltz during the All-Star break, though, which is unfortunate.
Not as unfortunate as Jon Hamm’s absence, but still unfortunate.
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