We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
I spent my 28th year in disarray. I turned 27 less than a month after my girlfriend—following weeks of tense negotiations and mixed messages—decided not to pick up the team option on my expiring 5-year contract. Instead of staying on the East Coast in the hopes of getting picked up by a new team, I moved to Minnesota and spent the next year honing my skillset, by which I mean drinking too much, staying out all night, living in a one room double in a dorm with a slovenly 19-year-old art school student, and playing out a string of 10-day contracts with different women while trying to believe they were going to pick me up for good. These were—as someone once called a time like this—the wonderful nights, the wonderful days.
You’d be hard pressed to call the 2012-13 season wonderful for Kevin Love. To be more blunt, Kevin Love fucked up a lot this season. Some of those things were out of his control, and some of them weren’t. I’m not here to tell you which were which. I’m here to say I look at Kevin Love and see a man in his 25th year who—at least at least outwardly—is in disarray.
It’s no secret that Love thrives on proving people wrong. He came into the league as a kind of flabby throwback (read: white) big man whose signature talent was the outlet pass. His coach told him not to shoot 3-pointers, so he went and won the 3-point shooting competition. His rebounding turned out to be better than advertised, and then even better than that and then better than that. He dropped weight and grew out his beard from a somewhat embarrassing Color Me Badd chin strap to an Odyssean mane. Essentially, the dough boy on the left below turned into the slab of man on the right.
And then it all went off the rails.
I don’t presume to know his mind, but when Love came back ahead of schedule, it was clear something wasn’t completely right with him. He was flushed a rather bright red for his whole first game back and looked out of shape—hardly surprising since his hand injury had likely come just as he was beginning to get back into game shape following a rest after a summer spent playing for Team USA. His shooting was off, leading to a season 3-point shooting average of .217 and an overall shooting percentage of .352, nearly ten percent lower than it was last year.
To me, it looked like someone who got thrown and tried to get right back up on the horse, tried to just do the same stuff and keep going. And it didn’t work. He re-injured his hand after just 18 games and then lingered at the fringes of the team for the rest of the season, at first hoping to come back for the last 20, then the last ten, then five, before eventually shutting it down and getting knee surgery to help clear out scar tissue.
So here’s what I hope for Kevin Love: I hope he felt sorry for himself. I hope he felt angry about the things that were beyond his control. I hope he felt like an ass for some of the things that weren’t. I hope he made promises to himself to work harder. And then I hope some days he said screw this I’m laying on the couch and eating Cherry Garcia and watching Season 4 of The Wire again.
But most of all, I hope he learned something from all this and I don’t mean in some kind of after-school special way where there’s an obvious lesson, some bromide about hard work or taking one step at a time. Timberwolves aside, for Kevin Love’s sake, I hope when the tried and true ways failed he tried them again and they failed again. And that then he tried different things and those things failed. Right now, he might not even see why or how or in precisely what way parts of every failure can somehow add up to a turnaround, a way up and out.
There’s a world of difference between the circumstances of a millionaire professional athlete and a heartbroken musician considering a career change. I get that. But everyone faces moments in life that are more than challenges to be overcome: they’re eras of fucking up, wastelands where you just can’t get your own skin to feel comfortable, no matter what familiar or novel approach you take. They’re deserts to cross, but you come out the other side, and not because you did your best, but because you did everything but.
I wouldn’t trade my lost year for anything. But there’s no way I would ever want it back. In the end, all I really hope is that Love feels the same.