Kevin Love is the NBA’s latest and greatest Available Superstar, a three-time All-Star who is still years away from his prime that wants nothing to do with a Minnesota Timberwolves franchise that has frittered away the first six years of his career. Love has had to watch as former Wolves coaches and general managers either refused to treat him like a contributor deserving of starter’s minutes (Kurt Rambis), or worthy of a maxed-out contract (David Kahn), or even worthy of competent teammates (Kahn, many times over).
He’s now dealing with the third president of basketball operations and fourth coach of his time in Minnesota, with the latest coming in the form of one man – Flip Saunders. Longtime Wolves owner Glen Taylor is smitten enough with Saunders that he brought him back into the Minnesota family to not only run the show (despite no previous front office experience) but also coach the team after Saunders decided to enhance his own value with a series of dubious head coaching interviews.
Now out to protect his phony-baloney job, Saunders has decided that Love should feel just fine with dropping 26 and 12 and having his season finish in mid-April every year. Because nobody should have the right to be vocal about the unnecessary and fixable constraints of their job. It’s the American way.
Host: “Doesn’t he have a right to be frustrated?”
Host: “You don’t think so?”
Saunders: “Just like I told Garnett, he didn’t have a right to be frustrated. Why does any player have a right to be frustrated? You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”
Saunders: “Should the team be frustrated? Yeah, the team can be frustrated. But I don’t think any one individual should be frustrated.”
Saunders: “I tell a story. I tell a story about – we were in the locker room when KG was in like his third year in the league, and Sam Mitchell was sitting in the locker room. KG was in there, and we had lost a couple games, and we were all sitting there talking. KG started going, ‘Hey, you’ve got to start doing more.’ And he’s talking to some of the bench guys. ‘You’ve got to start doing more.’ And Sam said, ‘Hey, hold it, hold it. Let me tell you something. You’re making all the money. Hey, it’s your responsibility. You make the money, you’ve got to live up to that.’ So, that was the mentality, and from that time, KG never ever from that point, he always took responsibility.”
And we all know how fantastically perfect KG’s career in Minnesota turned out. Surrounded by solid but unspectacular locker room influences like Sam Mitchell, Garnett never made it out of the first round of the playoffs until his ninth season in the NBA, and he never made the playoffs as a Timberwolf in the three seasons that followed that year. His prime was wasted on propping up the unproppable, and though he eventually won a ring in Boston in 2008, by then Garnett was several years past his prime.
Six of Love’s current teammates have made the playoffs, and none of his teammates have been working on the Wolves for as long as Love has. None of Kevin Love’s teammates are anywhere near as good as him. His owner didn’t even deign to offer him a max contract a few years ago. He should be the very picture of frustration.
And now Kevin Love, in the years following the horrid work of Kurt Rambis and in the months following Rick Adelman’s understandably dispassionate final year as Wolves coach, has a re-tread coach in Flip Saunders whose playbook doesn’t seem to jibe with the modern NBA, installing himself as lead man because, well, “we interviewed Vinny Del Negro!”
And then Saunders takes to the airwaves to basically call out Love for being a poor leader, and ungrateful for what he has been given.
Minnesota fans should be frustrated. David Kahn and Kurt Rambis were easily the worst general manager and head coach of their era, Kevin McHale mixed his bouts of genius (acquiring Love and Garnett) with a litany of terrible, short-sighted moves, and Saunders’ first year as GM was less than auspicious. The Timberwolves have whiffed on a series of draft picks, and the one lottery pick that has stuck with the team (Ricky Rubio) is the worst-shooting guard to receive major minutes in the modern era.
Worse, in a league that sends more than half of its teams to the playoffs each year, Minnesota’s seasons are more or less shot to hell by the time the snow starts to melt. Well before that time, in many instances. This isn’t akin to Kevin Durant missing out on a ring or Carmelo Anthony failing to go deep into the postseason – Love hasn’t even made the playoffs. He’s not blameless, Love would like some of those blown would-be late-game heroics from 2013-14 back, but by and large a series of coaches and especially executives under owner Glen Taylor have failed Kevin Love. Absolutely failed him.
And now he’s got to hear his new coach tell him to clam it because, well, Kevin Garnett did – and it got him all the way out of the second round just once in his 12-year career in Minnesota.
Worse, Kevin Love may not be traded on draft night or even this summer. We can’t blame him for not being frustrated at that.
- - - - - - -