The pressure of learning when you should win

Zach Harper —  December 17, 2012 — 20 Comments

PekBound

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a good team.

This is fun to say. This is also weird to say. Last season, we were enjoying an incredible ride for the first 41.98 games of the campaign. Kevin Love was playing like an MVP candidate (remember when Wolves fans still liked him?), Nikola Pekovic was emerging as the Chuck Norris of the NBA, and Ricky Rubio was dancing around our hearts with his one-handed bounce passes and defensive effectiveness. They had us believing that the playoffs were a legitimate possibility because Rick Adelman was coaching three really good players and a bunch of middling role players.

Then the ACL tear happened and then the bone spurs in Pek’s ankle happened and then Love was concussed and we were left with Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, and a rat maze of feces the team couldn’t get out of. The lone highlight after Love’s showdown with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City ended up being the Wolves finally winning an April game.

The fallout of the falling out of the 2011-12 season led to a huge roster overhaul. As now we see the roster before us. The crazy thing is it’s not even our complete roster. The Wolves are still missing Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, and Malcolm Lee right now. Josh Howard is out with a hyperextended knee too. The Wolves are getting by with Andrei Kirilenko’s awesomeness, Pek coming into his own the last few games offensively and playing great defense all season, Alexey Shved proving a spark off the bench before and in the lineup now, and the Barea-Ridnour combo playing really good basketball as of late.

And Kevin Love might actually get an immune system. Oh yeah, and some Spanish kid came back to be our backup point guard for a little while.

That doesn’t even mention Dante Cunningham being a perfect player off the bench, Derrick Williams making better decisions, and Greg Stiemsma protecting the rim between 3-point celebrations.

Stiemsma Celebration

So now we get to tonight’s game. The Wolves are on a four-game winning streak and three of those game came with either a poor showing from Kevin Love or no Love at all. And while that leads to pitchforks and torches from the townsfolk, it really just shows us this team is really talented. The Wolves aren’t so talented that we should pretend Kevin Love doesn’t matter, isn’t important, or shouldn’t be here long-term. That would be completely asinine.

Because this team is so talented when you get a matchup like tonight against the Orlando Magic, it puts you in a weird place. The Wolves should absolutely beat the Magic tonight, even if it is on the road. Even if it’s the third game in four nights, it shouldn’t matter. The Wolves are a much better team with a better coach than what Orlando is sporting. Orlando has played above expectations this year, battled injuries, and Jacque Vaughn looks like another successful Popovich disciple. But that doesn’t mean they should win this game against Minnesota.

The problem is Minnesota has a big game against the Miami Heat tomorrow night and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. This is what the people like to call “a trap game.”

This isn’t the same bad Orlando team we saw on November 7th. They have Jameer Nelson running the show and that’s about 100 times better than the E’Twaun Moore-Ish Smith combination we say, and I don’t even think Jameer is that good anymore. The Wolves won’t be able to pressure the ball like they did in the first matchup between the two teams.

However, this will be a good measure of just how good this Wolves team is. Good teams handle the teams they’re supposed to beat. When it’s a team they’re supposed to beat on the road, it might be fairly tight for much of the game, but the good team should still end up winning relatively comfortably. The return of Rubio galvanized everybody Saturday night, but playing against a lesser opponent with that hangover could be a recipe for playing content and not showing the same hunger we want from this team.

This game is a litmus test for the Wolves as much as the upcoming Miami game (no Rubio that night) and the Oklahoma City game will be to round out the week of action. It’s exciting to see what the Wolves are made of through all of these different situations. They’ve powered through the injuries. They’ve powered through national articles and exciting returns. Now they get to power through what could easily be a big sack of malaise in Orlando. They have a chance for their first five-game winning streak since January of 2009 when the Wolves were coached by… yep, you guessed it… Frank Stallone
Randy Wittman Kevin McHale.

As this team gets healthier and the rotation builds toward what we envisioned in the fall, we’ll get to see a lot more tests for just how good this team is. This is weird and a lot of fun.

Zach Harper

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20 responses to The pressure of learning when you should win

  1. Quote “Kevin Love was playing like an MVP candidate (remember when Wolves fans still liked him?)”

    Love took what was an awesome vibe about a team that was winning despite him not being in the line up, and the liability that he has become while he is. and turned into a negative “all about me” moment that we have not seen since Stephon Marbury wore the Wolves jersey. Not since Marbury could not see the forest for the trees have we seen a player bash management because he did not get what he wanted, at the expense of a teammate.. There was no mistaking the message behind the comment “they went for projection rather than the sure thing” It was the kind of temper-tantrum that makes pro sports ugly.

    Kevin Love can be vital on this team or for this team because of his trade value. At this point I don’t care which. I am not alone, and it’s asinine to continue to kiss a player’s behind because you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to call out immature behavior when you see it.

    Or maybe you really don’t see the number of times Love leaves his team to play 5 on 4 basketball because he is too busy complaining about a call he thinks he should have gotten. If that’s the case I suggest you cover an easier sport to pay attention in like Golf.

  2. I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to call him out (even though I’ve said it was immature to say those things around this time and when he did this in the summer) or I know what type of reporter Woj is and have heard horror stories over the last three years that make me think Love was duped into thinking this was going to be an article about how much he liked his team?

    One of us has a lot more information than the other person and the other person is you. If you want to call me out for something, at least be accurate about it and stop pretending you’re doing more than assuming anything about the situation.

  3. I was stunned when you hinted at the possibility that Zach does such a poor job watching basketball that he should cover Golf. Maybe I should have stopped reading when you slapped me in the face with your brilliance by changing ‘guts’ or ‘courage’ to ‘intestinal fortitude.’ That’s a great way to draw more attention to you than to your argument.

    But let’s talk Love.

    He wants to be in Minnesota, but he also wants to be a star for someone that recognizes him as a star. If we want the 24 year old Love to show more maturity and use better judgment when speaking his mind, shouldn’t we also hold accountable the 71 year old Glen Taylor for these same things? How can Love not take offense when the team owner tells the media he does not view Kevin Love as a star? I feel most teams would have already made Kevin Love a franchise player based on his court performance and his rate of improvement. And it is not like Love misunderstands what is going on. Whenever a reporter brings up this issue, he always mentions how much he loves Rubio and feels that Rubio deserves great money and great support. Love does not want anything at the expense of his teammates, he simply believes it is his time and that he can win a title if he has a franchise fully supporting him. Kevin Love has dealt with plenty of rudeness from this franchise. Yeah, the NBA olympian is going to be a little bitter.

  4. Hello, you two. You probably agree more than you disagree. But I was the first one to “call him out” in my mind last season. It’s just plain obvious to me.

    He seemed particularly distracted lately. I wonder if he could see the offensive fire power around him form? Injuries can occur under these circumstances, like preconceived.

    Maybe at one time he was more able. Isn’t it just like success, big money, that poor quality follows? (quoting Gin Blossum’s now).

    By all means, move him. With his recent comments, he either doesn’t seem very smart, or I think he just requested he and the beard try it on a less competitive squad?

    And then someday the ex-Houston guy will come back, and Lee, and another big can help Pek. We should be really clever. I enjoy that European mentality: they aren’t phased a bit by Love or any other obstacle.

  5. Pretending I know more about the situation than I do? Did Love say these things to a reporter or didn’t he? Exactly what am I pretending? That he said it but didn’t mean to say it? Who is it that’s pretending here Zach?

    Love did not enter the league yesterday, and if you’ve heard horror stories about this reporter how is it possible a 4 year vet hasn’t. Yes someone is pretending… But it ain’t me.

    There is a time to call management out, does anyone in their right mind think this season is that time? Love and his long memory can take a hike, because according to you his long memory does not include what reporters can be trusted and which ones can’t. Yeah… Golf is probably your sport.

  6. @Brian Garner Intestinal fortitude is such a common synonym for guts that the only one who has called attention to themselves is you for thinking I was taking some kind of literary license by using it.

  7. So now I need to teach you about relationships in the NBA world.

    Woj is an excellent reporter. Part of the reason he’s such a good reporter is he has fantastic relationships with agents, executives and coaching staffs. When you’re that locked in to the agent world, you get certain things kept from players, especially when you’re being fed information for a mutually beneficial reason. It’s the reporting version of networking.

    Other than LeBron’s people, there aren’t many groups out there in the NBA that don’t feed Woj information. Reporters seem to fear him (at least quite a few of the ones I have talked to) because they’re worried if they call him out on misleading columns (remember that columns are much different than reporting news like trades, signings, and such) he’s so tuned in that he’ll dominate their beat out of spite.

    Now I don’t know the man well enough to know if he’s that spiteful. From the stories that go around, it wouldn’t shock me but I don’t know that he’d be that vindictive with his colleagues. What I do know is that keeping those kinds of thoughts within a certain compartment of that network (a network players don’t automatically trust) would explain how it doesn’t go around.

    The flip side of this is Love may have known but still trusted him out of stupidity or naiveté or both. He clearly has showed us immaturity with his complaints days before free agency (which I wrote about), his barking at officials instead of getting back on defense (which I’ve tweeted about consistently and written about on this site a couple of times last season), and now with the timing of his comments here (which I literally wrote were immature for the timing). So all of these things that I’m allegedly not mentioning are things I’ve mentioned which lead me to believing either you’re new to the site, lazy, or terrible at reading comprehension. I’m fine with any of those three options but at this point, I doubt you’d be upfront about it. You’ll probably just claim something else is true because from my time over the years dealing with people like you, I’m rarely given the truth in these situations.

    But enough about you, let’s get back to Love. I do not find anything wrong with what Love said but I do have issues with when it was said. I also found it telling that Woj clarified how much Love said he wants to be here with a tweet the day after the article came out. Woj doesn’t do that, so I’m guessing Love and his agent basically asked, “what the hell?” after they saw what was posted (but I’ll admit that’s just an assumption). Love claims he said a lot of good things about the team. You can either take him at his word (he’s never been one to mince words, has he?) or you can believe he’s lying. That’s up to you.

    So did he say those things? Absolutely. You get two guys together who don’t like David Kahn (Love clearly doesn’t and Woj has been slamming Kahn for years in his columns) and you’ll definitely get those types of comments. It doesn’t excuse them; it’s just the reality. But considering how shocked he seemed (and I don’t think he’s a very good actor because I’ve seen the terrible Uncle Drew spot) that the piece was so negative, I tend to believe him there.

    You can choose to pick a side if you want, but I’m choosing not to. You can pretend I’m protecting Love or choosing his side but I can’t call him immature for his comments but say the comments are correct by taking a side. Now if there is anything else you’d love to know, I’m happy to teach.

  8. I’ll admit; I’m disappointed this conversation had to break out instead of us celebrating Greg Stiemsma’s celebration in .gif form.

  9. On a less aggressive note, I have to say how amazed I’ve been at how quickly Wolves fans have turned against Kevin Love. I was sitting in the stands during the Denver game (right after Woj’s article came out) and I was dumbfounded at how much vitriol was being spouted in the general direction of Kevin Love. It’s true, Love came across as a little bitter and distrustful toward management in his interview. But aren’t all of us? There is scarcely a thing he said that I didn’t agree with myself.

    Maybe I’m just biased because I remember watching Kevin Love during the cold, cold winter of 2008, when he seemed to be the only Timberwolf who wasn’t devoured by apathy, and every time he fought for an offensive rebound I wanted to wipe a tear from my eye and take him out to dinner.

    But I also have to say that the phenomenon where sports fans expect eternal, almost servile gratitude from the athletes they root for makes me very uncomfortable.

  10. NO, BRIAN! SHOW SOME TESTOSTERONE!

    I have to say I expected this reaction from fans but I can’t believe it’s kept up like this. I figured it would die out after a day or two. Maybe that’s because he played poorly the next two games? People pretending this team doesn’t need him or that they can easily get equal or better value for him in a trade seems insane to me.

    It seems like a lot of fans think they need to choose a side between Love and Rubio when they really like each other and are good friends. It’s pitting two players against each other without a reason to do so. Why do you have to pick a side of a fight that isn’t happening? It feels like a defense mechanism in preparation for Love possibly leaving. Like if we start hating him now, it won’t hurt so much if he leaves.

    Maybe that’s not the case but that’s how it comes off to me.

  11. I think that it has to do with the fact that he is complaining while the team is really good. At the beginning of the season and during the Olympics when nothing been proven yet he had a right to complain. But now when we have been close to .500 with half our team injured and it is pretty obvious that the team is a legit playoff contender. It comes across as something a malcontent would say.

    I think it was also compounded by the fact that he had two atrocious games right after the story came out and the team won in spite of his performances.

    He hasn’t been all that good shooting the ball this year ( because of his hand). I have been rather annoyed by him running his mouth when the rest of the team is pulling him along. And I have had thoughts that we could be really good with Rubio Shved and Pek.

    That being said I am sure he will start to play better and I would really hate it if we traded him to the Lakers.

  12. My first impression was that he seemed to be trying to lay a foundation to justify ditching the team at the first opportunity and not look like a selfish ass for doing so. But I also know that many ESPN writers have a real hard-on about him joining the Lakers, and would probably highlight anything that would give that impression.

    Woj’s subsequent tweet gave me the impression that the latter option seemed more likely; that the article turned a “hey, things could have gone better” sentiment into a “I hate being here” one. I really can’t imagine any reason for Woj doing that other than mending some fences. And when you look at how Love’s historically acted, I don’t think he’s trying to cover for Love. (ie. that he’s stepping away from an honest portrayal that went badly for his subject.)

  13. In the interest of fair play, Woj should publish the transcript of the entire interview. That might settle a bit of this.

  14. This issue still exist because the Wolves play on TNT on Thursday.. Well, and the Minnesota sports fans don’t let anything slide. They chase guys out of town faster than they welcome them. And of course, because Love played like total sh!t for 3.5 games since he made his comments.

  15. @far north….Maybe I was a little rude about the intestinal fortitude thing, but I stand by what I said. It has a feel of bureaucratic writing. To me it is so much better to get to the point and use the word guts. Often simple writing makes for stronger writing and makes a better image in the reader’s mind. Style is preference. I apologize for that.

    Zach needs to be covering TWolves basketball though, not golf. Quit that please.

    I thought the first half offense against Orlando was special. I was very pleased with the execution, and feel we have such good pieces for the style of play. Tonight, so many times I thought: “Wow Kevin Love is perfect for this offense.” I still adore Love, and wish I could attend every game to support him. Too bad I live in Arkansas. I wish Minnesota fans all felt the same way. All we want is Love and the team to play well, should we not do our job and give our players the best environment to flourish? I am a big believer in everyone on the roster, especially a core of Love, Rubio, D. Williams, and Pekovic. Minnesota will be a difficult out in the playoffs, especially when you consider what a season’s worth of team chemistry will do for Minnesota’s strengths—execution and teamplay. This should be a peaking time for the Wolves franchise; the fans should focus completely on helping with every player’s confidence. I enjoy Minnesota basketball now more than at any other time, and Love’s bitterness does not affect my expression of that joy. And really, I like Love’s transparency and strong personality—it helped developed his lack of fear. Remind yourself of his game against the Thunder or his deep GW 3 against the Clippers in LA. Kevin Love can impose his will against a team, and a player like that can win you a playoff series.

  16. @ Brian
    I loved your post. Thank you so much for writing.
    “Maybe I’m just biased because I remember watching Kevin Love during the cold, cold winter of 2008, when he seemed to be the only Timberwolf who wasn’t devoured by apathy, and every time he fought for an offensive rebound I wanted to wipe a tear from my eye and take him out to dinner.”

    I think I wiped a tear from my eye just reading that. I have such passion for Minnesota basketball, and it feels great hearing from such passionate fans.

    @Zach Harper
    I really enjoyed your post about the fans’ defensive mechanism to Love’s leaving. I had never thought about that, but it is so obvious when you say it. This actually somewhat reminds of the Robin van Persie situation with the Arsenal Gunners in soccer. He wanted better surrounding players, and when it happened he still left. Many fans went from unconditional love for van Persie to distrust then to resentment very rapidly. If Love stays we may build a statue of him. If he leaves…

    His grit and relentless attitude on the glass reminds me of my first draw to Minnesota basketball—Kevin Garnett’s intensity and energy on defense. Love’s breakout season felt like a rebirth as a Minnesota fan—we had found our guy. Both of these players have kept Wolves basketball alive for me. For that, Love will always be my second favorite Timberwolf, whether he leaves or not.

  17. I wonder who is immature when an article can make you flip 180 degrees on your assessment of a player. Those of you who say sell Love now are bandwagoners. No real fan of timberwolves would say that. No real fan of timberwolves would stop supporting the best player even after reading an article with some negative lines in it. Love IS our best player and I am going to continue to cheer him until he isn’t. And I’ll probably still appreciate his play if he does leave. After KG left I was bitter for a couple years, but not at him. He deserved playing on a better team after Taylor’s complete failure to put a competitive team together more than for one season. This is the first time Love has a good supporting cast and I’m excited to see how far we can go.

  18. pagingstanleyroberts December 18, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Ivan’s comment hits it right on the head: “I wonder who is immature when an article can make you flip 180 degrees on an assessment of a player.” On offense, a team does things with sets and discipline within those sets, but they also do things based on matchups and which players the defense has to pay more attention to. Love is one of those players. Cunningham and Williams are options when they’re open; Love is an option even when he’s covered. That will eventually matter. Also, they’re not a good rebounding team with Love out. Cunningham and Williams don’t have the instincts or technique to grab the rebounds that Love does, and the stats bear that out.

  19. The feeling of having to choose either Love, or Rubio stems from the stupid limit of 1 5-year contract per team. If we could do two, then we’d feel a little more confident that we’d be able to keep both players. Belive me, if we had a choice, Rubio and Love will be in Minnesota for the rest of their careers…

    That being said, it seems that Love feels that 5th year designation is a must have… Also the wolves fans more than likely feel as though the 5th year designation is the only way we can keep Rubio, and not have him venture off to New York, or Los Angeles.

    We’ve seen far to many stars, bolt off for greener pastures (and bigger markets) that we have a major inferiority complex, and Loves musings about “other places” hits a major weak spot in our psyche…

    Sure he acts immature with the negative things said, his complaining to officials (something that Minnesota fans tend to attack right away, blue collar ethic is a must for this market, (Adrian Peterson is like a god to us right now because of that ethic.), and the ridiculousness about wanting respect when a team gives you the most it can give you in a 4 year contract….

    However the main thing he tweaked with the fans was the implication (and not all of it was from him) that he will leave and not look back, no matter where we are in regards to building a great team. That is what gets Minnesota fans all riled up, and our for blood. The rest of it just adds fuel to the fire.

  20. Hey Zach… I like your blogs. I’ll just suggest that you don’t need to waste so many words responding to those sarcastic, shallow commenters. That’s one thing I really like about this site…. The level of conversation is about a zillion times higher than the Strib commenters. Here, seems like mostly smart fans who are really into the Wolves. Very refreshing that you don’t get comments like “Fire Kahn!!!” or similar rabid vitriol in every other comment. So just ignore the 8th graders, or dispatch them with a sentence or two. Engaging risks stooping. They don’t listen anyway and maybe they’ll just go away. Meanwhile, keep up with the good stuff.

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