In the midst of a recent grooming session — which means it's time for me to shave, too, I suppose — Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star power forward Kevin Love briefly and colorfully addressed the widespread speculation that he's more than likely going to return to Southern California, where he was born and where he played his college ball, to don the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers. From GQ's Steve Marsh:
Now that he looks like a leading man — and with free agency looming as an option at the end of next season, and the Wolves not exactly killing it on the court — everyone assumes that his next big move is to Los Angeles. He's dating actress Cody Horn, a California girl, and his Beach Boy uncle, Mike, co-wrote “California Girls.” So fess up, Kev: You're gone, right? “People think it's so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota,” he says. “And I'm not s******g on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I'm having fun.” Note the present tense.
(Ah, the twist of the knife in that last sentence, huh?)
In the here and now, Love's statement is bang-on. Minnesota enters Wednesday's play a full seven games ahead of the 18-35 Lakers, who are tied with the Sacramento Kings for the West's worst mark. While the Lakers roster is devoid of beyond-next-year talent save for the injured, waning and exceedingly well-compensated Kobe Bryant, the Wolves have Love's "Bruise Brothers" running buddy, rugged screen-setter/post-scorer/fear-inducer Nikola Pekovic, locked up for the next four years, and gifted playmaking point guard Ricky Rubio under their control for two more seasons. Add in Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer on the wings, and you've got the elements of a competitive squad in the years ahead.
Except, of course, that that squad isn't that competitive right now. The Timberwolves stand at a disappointing 25-28, six games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race and eight games worse than their expected win-loss record, despite having the league's 10th-best offense and 12th-best defense on a per-possession basis, according to NBA.com. ("The numbers lie," as Britt Robson wrote.)
The roster might be constructed sort of inside-out and backward, the point guard can't shoot, the high-priced shooting guard isn't getting to the line, and the team's already capped out through the end of the 2014-15 season, at which time Love can decline his '15-'16 player option and become a free agent if he so chooses ... when the Lakers could be flush with cash to add a top-dollar free agent, provided they keep enough powder dry over the course of the next year and a half or so, and would have only one year remaining on Bryant's $28.5 million extension, providing a pathway to more cap space with which to add supplemental talent in the years ahead. (L.A. has also, historically, been a much more attractive prospective destination for free agents than Minneapolis, which doesn't hurt from a roster-building perspective.)
The Lakers wouldn't be alone in that scenario, of course — just about any team with the means to acquire Love, whether via max-level cap space in free agency or via an enticing enough collection of future picks and young players to trade, is sure to throw its hat into the ring for a 25-year-old All-NBA-caliber power forward who ranks fourth in the league in scoring and second in the league in rebounding. CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reported Tuesday that the Dallas Mavericks were looking to get involved in the chase for Love, but Mavs owner Mark Cuban promptly scuttled that report on Tuesday, according to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:
“I know what we’re talking about and not talking about,” Cuban said before Tuesday’s game against Miami. “We take pride in the fact that you never read about our deals before they happen. So if you read about them, you know what that means.” [...]
“Whether it’s free agents or trades,” he said. “But it’s actually changing some because it’s just a lot harder to make trades these days. If you read about it, you know it’s not true. I don’t know if we got the Beach Boys booked.”
At the moment, only one town's got Love's act on the marquee, and there doesn't seem to be any reason not to take him at his word. If he believes Wolves boss Flip Saunders can build a winner around him, then staying in Minnesota (where he can make more money than he can anywhere else, thanks to the Wolves owning his Bird rights) makes as much sense as looking elsewhere. Should the Wolves continue to underperform their statistical output, continue to lag behind the Western Conference playoff pack, and once again find themselves watching the playoffs with relatively little improvement from the non-Love-and-Pekovic pieces of the roster, though, circumstances could change. It seems like it'd be hard for an Olympian and All-Star starter to have very much fun with another year in the lottery, after all.
- - - - - - -