Just Returns

William Bohl —  June 2, 2014 — 14 Comments

2013 NBA Draft Lottery

This weekend, Kevin Love took a well-publicized trip to Boston, feeding the frenzy surrounding the bizarre courtship that’s underway for him, a player under contract for the 2014-15 season. Some may view the jaunt to Beantown as little more than a 25-year-old multimillionaire kicking back in one of America’s finest cities; the more cynical among us look at it as a calculated maneuver to inform the Wolves front office (and, perhaps, the fan base) that he’s already begun to move on.

In the midst of all the uncertainty, Flip Saunders, Milt Newton and Glen Taylor are supposedly searching for a new head coach. This weekend, while hosting draft prospects at Target Center for a workout, Flip rebuffed the idea that coaching targets were turning down the Wolves due to Love’s ambiguous status with the team. “That’s not true,” he said. “I could hire someone in five minutes.” A few days before, General Manager Milt Newton spoke to the Associated Press and said something similar: “We’re not rushed for time to select a coach, the process will take care of itself… I guarantee we will have one before the season starts next year.”

As far as the Love speculation itself, Flip was direct and downplayed the encroaching media circus. “My position hasn’t changed… Last I knew, Kevin was under contract with us. And I expect him to be playing for us next year. I don’t really dictate where guys go on vacation. They can go wherever they want to go.” Milt Newton was more willing to discuss the alternative timeline. “Our first inclination is to keep him on board. If that’s not the case, you best believe we’ll be a better team based on what happens.”

Saunders’ dismissiveness notwithstanding, the Timberwolves now find themselves in an uncomfortable spot on two fronts: the coaching search and the status of their franchise player. One feeds the other, an ouroboros of misinformation, spinning narratives and grandstanding. Dave Joerger was coming to Minnesota, it seemed, until he suddenly wasn’t anymore. Tom Izzo and Billy Donovan politely declined Flip’s advances. And meanwhile, Love is meeting up with Rajon Rondo in Boston, one of the cities reportedly on his wish list.

It’s understandable why coaches would be hesitant to commit to Minnesota until the situation is resolved, one way or another. Love’s actions are also understandable, if a bit unsavory for fans of the team; he only has so many cards to play, and openly visiting prospective trade targets is one of them. Given his contract status, Kevin Love’s leverage only goes so far. Thus, Saunders’ proclamations about “expecting (Love) playing for us next year” are sensible. He is, in essence, attempting to extract a king’s ransom from some team, rather than publicly putting the franchise cornerstone on the open market, thereby driving down the price. Both sides – Love, and the Wolves’ front office – are exhibiting prudent, if prickly, tactics.

That being said, the stakes of the staring contest between Kevin and Flip are much, much higher for Saunders, who must proceed cautiously. Until two weeks ago, the perception in Minneapolis was that he had somewhat mended ties with Love, who was now more open to sticking around. Everyone sort of took him at his word that he was achieving this goal. Maybe Flip really thought he was repairing the franchise’s relationship with Love, only to be stunned at his recent power play. Or maybe Flip was putting on airs. In any case, it’s painfully obvious that nothing changed when the cantankerous David Kahn was shown the door and the affable Flip Saunders sauntered in.

Love wants to go, and eventually, he will. Love will get to play somewhere else, free to make a fresh start with his new team. LeBron James was reviled when he left Cleveland, even by the national media, who robbed him of an MVP in 2010-11 as retribution. LeBron endured his trials and tribulations, and is now almost-universally beloved, except for a small, almost silent contingent of Clevelanders. Everyone moved on.

The Love divorce from Minnesota will be even less complicated. He’ll leave town, a la Deron Williams (from Utah) or Carmelo Anthony (from Denver), and the fans he leaves behind will be upset for a little while, but then they’ll get over it. If Love ends up in a good situation with the right teammates, playing an exciting brand of basketball while contending for a title, who knows? We might just cheer for him, or at least appreciate his newfound success for the sheer entertainment value.

Flip Saunders, on the other hand, is chained to the coming decision. It’s his. He’ll own it. Whether that’s fair or unfair, Flip paying for the sins of a past regime, this is what he agreed to when he marched back into the offices at 600 1st Avenue North to be the Timberwolves’ chief decision-maker. So while Kevin Love moves on, Saunders will be here, and if the pieces received in the seemingly inevitable trade don’t pan out, he will be remembered as the guy who traded an All-Star and got little or nothing for it.

Or, if he holds onto Love through the summer and the Timberwolves open training camp with him on the roster, the cacophony will grow louder and louder as tensions mount, the distraction of any impending deal making the locker room an increasingly uncomfortable place, possibly submarining the season. Would Flip want any part of that? Is it possible he’ll deal Love as much for the basketball reasons as self-preservation, and the preservation of what remains of the team?

It’s easy to view the Summer of Love from the outside and wax rhapsodic about what the Wolves ought to do, or what they should get back in a trade. It’d be much different to be inside the luxury suites, offices and long-distance phone calls where the actual business is done. Few people have jobs where a singular moment will define their entire tenure, and to most people, such a thing sounds like a frightening proposition. But that’s what Saunders faces, right now, and the franchise is in a holding pattern until it’s done. Despite his assurances. Flip will have a hard time hiring a coach until the raincloud of Love’s discontent moves on from the greater Twin Cities area.

All this talk – the incessant, speculative, often insipid talk – is leading to a single act. After it’s over, several players will be in new cities and (likely) future draft picks will be in the Wolves’ hands, but Flip will stay put, reflecting on the shuffling that’s been done, knowing that the talk is over, and that consequences are on the way, and he’ll be the guy to bear the brunt of them.

Trading a star rarely nets you just returns. Flip Saunders has more to lose in this situation, both on the court and off of it.

William Bohl

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14 responses to Just Returns

  1. He can do what he wants, but if that’s part of how he’s choosing to end things (even if it’s under instruction from his agent), he deserves the Laettner treatment every time he returns to Target Center and I would actively root against any team he plays for. No player would deserve the disrespect Kahn gave him (though his “suffering” is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things and maybe we can call it even for giving him max $ to play 16 games in ’12-’13), but the fans and Flip were very supportive of him last season, and the games he and his agent seem to be playing are a slap in the face considering the money he’s getting paid to represent this franchise. Past mismanagement doesn’t excuse this charade.

    Also, it’s hilarious that Boston is considered a solution. They’d make the playoffs, but there have been rumors surrounding Rondo’s satisfaction for years, and they have no other promising young talent and would become the new Hawks (mid-tier playoff seed, out in the 2nd round every year).

    I’m not looking forward to perennially winning 27-35 games, picking 10th in the draft, watching the team exaggerate the talent level, and overpaying mediocre players until Taylor sells the team. Did you like the 08-09 season? Get ready for years of that!

  2. Love meeting Rondo at a Red Sox game solidified him leaving very soon, in my eyes. It didn’t help that the injured/strike-out machine in Minnesota, known as David Ortiz, was tweeting how he could help a move to Boston. Unlike the Ortiz situation this one would come with great fanfare and more than zero teams (other than Boston) would be buying into Love’s services.

    I couldn’t care less where Love goes and would deal strictly on the placement of picks to be received. A big giant who gives a s*** for any offers with picks in the middle/late 1st rounds. Picking the “correct” player has never been Minnesota’s strong suit and a single digit lottery pick would hopefully result in plucking a better player. It was nice having you KLove but don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out if that’s how you’re going to end your time here! (By “vacationing” somewhere and meeting people on other teams like a visiting free-agent would) I could be wrong but I imagine this is the first time he’s ever met Rondo outside of work.

  3. Unless some team actually is willing to pay for him with a deal that’s at least 90 cents on the dollar, I’d say the ‘Wolves should call Love’s bluff and keep him. Then see if he’s willing to leave that extra $26 million on the table to go where he wants.

  4. I don’t see any reason for the Wolves to deal Love this summer. Stay the course and maximize this year, a top 5 seed may be enough to hold onto Love after showing a significant team improvement otherwise they can always do a sign-and-trade next summer without having lost out on the opportunity of this year.

    Dieng’s improvement really changed the dynamic of this team and could allow a defensive minded coach to really get the most out of this roster. It also allows them to possibly deal away Pekovic coupled with someone else to clear up salary space and bring in more talent that better fits their need for 2-way players.

    Rubio’s improvement may be as important as any other player on this roster. His offensive aggressiveness and confidence grew as the season progressed but was too little too late. If he can get his field goal percentage up by knocking down shots and finishing with more regularity (which teams are constantly daring him to do) then this team may have something.

    Though with the Pelicans and Nuggets looking to be improved and healthy next season they may still not have enough.

  5. Speaking of unsavory, Simmons has been touting the Celtics as the #1 destination for Love for the past few weeks in his columns and the BS Report, which seems to be one of those Sports Guy-fulfilling prophesies. He’s very widely read and influential, so if he says it is a thing, eventually people will start thinking it is a thing, whether it actually is a thing or not.

    I like Simmons generally, but I find this kind of blatant homerism problematic . . . it is fine for him to be a Celtics fan, but he is also an NBA analyst for ESPN and a loud voice in mainstream sports media. I think it is a conflict of interest and unprofessional of him to be trying to push pieces where he wants them to go. I know he thinks it is keeping it real but the reality is that he is no longer the Boston Sports Guy on aol.com and he needs to act like it.

  6. I would just like to say that I love your use of the word “ouroboros.”

  7. Kahn deserves a huge chunk of blame for the trouble this team finds itself in, but why is Glen Taylor not being blamed more? Flips been put in a pretty difficult spot by Taylors past decisions. I’m sure Flip thought he could turn around Loves unhappiness with the front office, but ultimately Taylor is still there as a reminder to Love that the team didn’t see him as a max type franchise player. Not sure Flip ever stood a chance.

  8. Let’s be honest here- Something like nine teams have won the title in the last thirty plus years. That’s insane. To be one of those teams you need a transcendent star or a team that plays into the team concept and is stout defensively (Pistons). The T-Wolves were going to be neither of those teams paying Love max money. If Love somehow stays we’ll eventually get into the playoffs. But Love being the player that he is and the current roster construction as it is, we wouldn’t get much farther. I mean looking at past champions clearly shows that for the T-Wolves to become a championship team they would need A) For Love to become a superstar and pair him with at least another star level player (think D-Wade, Gasol, or Tony Parker) or B) practically the entire roster 1-12 would have to overachieve greatly defensively while maintaining the same offensive proficiency. Those scenarios are far-fetched. So, frankly we’re better off starting over without Love (Martin and Budinger too if possible) rather than hoping he’ll stay and max out as a middle of the road playoff team. Why is this so hard for people to understand?

  9. ^ agreed. There was an old saying by I believe an old Pittsburgh pirates GM. Ralph Kiner was trying to get a raise and the GM told him “we can finish in last place with or without you”

    I know most Wolves fans love Kevin Love. I do too. But the fact is he’s not a superstar. He is a very very high end star player but not someone who is gonna carry a team to a championship no matter where he plays. He is gonna need another alpha dog there at least and probably two. If Lebron had this Wolves team he would probably take it to the Finals. There are pieces on this team it just doesn’t work out with Love and there’s something to be said about that. I know the West is a tough conference but there was no reason this team shouldn’t have made the playoffs this season. There’s just something missing here and let’s hope if Love does go in a trade, they get back a glue guy that can unite the team and bring it all together.

  10. The thing I hate about this type of situation, every time it comes up, is the fact that Minnesota and the Twin Cities gets so trashed on, as though this is a terrible market to play in, the environment is terrible, etc. It gets cold here, sure. But it gets cold in Detroit, New York, Boston, Chicago, etc. and no one complains about the weather that much in those markets (since it doesn’t once come up about Love going to Boston!). The market is smaller, but it still ranks in the top 20 in the United States. I get that superstars make millions off of endorsements, but seriously, the spotlights shine so much brighter too in those major markets. Melo had more success in Denver, even if his wife is happier in New York. Finally, the Twin Cities are far from a barren wasteland of culture. In fact, per capita, they rank among the top in basically every category of desirable social, cultural, and entertainment options. The only reason it isn’t at the top of every best place to live ranking is due to the weather, which honestly is a relatively stupid reason for an NBA player to care about that much. After all, they spend half of their season not in their home state, and the off seasons in Minnesota are beautiful. The whole attitude of American sports toward “small” and “cold” markets is ridiculous. The Wolves may not be desirable because of the dysfunction of the front office in the past and the on-and-off again Taylor ownership, but I wish national media would stop trashing the Twin Cities. After all, that creates a vicious cycle (all media says no one wants to play in Minnesota, so no one wants to play in Minnesota).

    Getting off my soap box now…

  11. I don’t think most fans would specifically miss Love, at least not in the same way they missed KG (who earned the admiration this fan base showed him). To me, he did some fun marketing things and is rapidly becoming more off-putting (recent photo evidence that he hangs out with the Kardashians is another example). He’s becoming a more productive version of Christian Laettner.

    Fans won’t miss him as much as they’ll miss the chance of being able to win most nights, which this team had last season and will go away with him. The Ricky Bobby philosophy doesn’t apply to an 82-game season; having a chance to win most nights matters and isn’t easy to accomplish. Attendance was already horrible this season for a 40-win team (only the Hawks have worse fan support than the Wolves). Probably, they’ll try to keep the current group together instead of rebuild around Rubio and Dieng, which means 25-35 win seasons and 1-5% chances of landing in the top 3 of the lottery. That’s not exactly a championship trajectory, either.

    Most important is Taylor. When it comes to personnel, all he’s proven at this point is his willingness to overspend when the team might be good and hype up mediocre talent to the fans using annoying promotions when the team isn’t. The Rockets lost T-Mac and Yao to injuries, yet they perennially finished near .500 with a good coach and mediocre players because they found cheap talent and then flipped those players at their peak value, a strategy that got them Harden and puts them in position to get other top talent through trades (getting Howard had more to do with the reasons why some prefer Houston as a city to Minneapolis). If this franchise keeps selling draft picks (even 2nd rounders) and overpaying “proven” players instead of spending much less to develop their own, their future will continue to rely on dumb luck and taking advantage of a decreasing number of teams who make bad decisions.

  12. I agree with others that trading Love now is best in the long run since this team showed that it is not a championship contender. We’ll have to endure some 25-30 win seasons, but agree that it could change by developing good young players (and hoping Rubio develops into a top-notch PG). The key will be how successful Flip is with the bidding war and what he does with the draft picks he gets. Good lord, he can’t do worse in the draft than Kahn.

  13. I would agree with you Ross Funk – I think that a Pek or a Pek & K Mart deal for a max contract wing player would be generally the smartest move actually. Getting an all star like K Love is so hard to do and they are relatively close to being a high caliber team. The problem is the risk to hang onto Love is so magnified. If someone gets injured next year and they do not make the playoffs or even if they did make the playoffs and got beaten in 5 games in the first round Kevin Love leaves. The only chance the Wolves have to keep K Love is if they won 55 regular season games or made it to at least the second round of the playoffs.

    These Boston antics really put the risk for keeping Kevin Love at much much greater due to the probability that hanging on the Wolves would get nothing and this year would be a totally wasted year. Trading Kevin Love prior to the season would be the best thing for the Wolves.

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  1. Flip Saunders and Kevin Love are in a Staring Contest - June 3, 2014

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