2014 Offseason, Summer of Love

Shakespeare and Love

Photoshop credit: Steve McPherson

“For it so falls out

That what we have we prize not to the worth

Whiles we enjoy it, but being lack’d and lost,

Why, then we rack the value, then we find

The virtue that possession would not show us

Whiles it was ours”

– William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, Scene I

Some relationships end in a fury, a storm of accusations, screaming matches and slamming doors. Other relationships end slowly, gradually, marked by words left unsaid, the quiet, empty spaces where conversation and laughter used to live.

In Shakespearean tragedies, ill-fated romances almost always conclude with the gruesome, if eloquently narrated, death of one or both the characters involved. Thankfully, the tumultuous partnership between Kevin Love and the Timberwolves isn’t so dire; he’s merely leaving for employment in another city, and possibly soon. The conclusion to Minnesota’s Love affair resembles the second type of breakup, the slow kind, quibbles bubbling to the surface every now and again, the atrophy taking its toll until Flip can no longer bear it and Kevin is sent packing.

The Bard almost always killed his star-crossed lovers, but he had a few things to say about more civil splits as well, especially in his comedies. The above quote from Much Ado About Nothing is a flowery rendering of the timeless adage that “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” And while Love isn’t quite gone yet, and the breakup isn’t complete, many who follow the Timberwolves closely are preemptively employing a common breakup coping mechanism: we’re trying to convince ourselves that we never really loved him at all.

A few weeks ago, following Kevin Love’s awkward appearance on SportsNation, a prominent Twin Cities sports talk show asked their listeners to contact the program to finish following sentence: Kevin Love is a (blank). What followed was ten minutes of the hosts giggling over the various creative insults that flooded the studio, snickering over ones they couldn’t say on the air, and a generalized rundown of the power forward’s many faults. He complains to the referees too much. He’s a lazy defender who doesn’t get back from the offensive end quickly enough. He’s not clutch. He’s never been a leader. He’s cold and distant to the media. He’s all about his own numbers, not about winning. He isn’t Kevin Garnett. In fact, he wouldn’t be worthy of tying KG’s shoes.

Some of the anger from fans is understandable. It’s a predictable, parochial response to an elite athlete maneuvering to abandon his current city. And not all the criticism of Love has been so crass; some of it is perfectly well-reasoned and respectable. But let’s not write revisionist history. If all the anti-Love chatter is to be believed, he’s a bit player who’s completely unworthy of all the attention coming his way, a merely decent player whose contract situation is a juicy soap opera but lacks the moral and basketball fiber to back it all up. The truth might be a bit more nuanced than that.

Kevin Love had just completed his sophomore year of high school in the summer of 2004, when the Timberwolves’ precipitous fall from grace began. Four years later he arrived in the Twin Cities as a pudgy rebounder who was decent in the post. Over the course of his six seasons here, he has remade his body (twice) and become one of the most unique offensive players in the history of the league. Despite his efforts, he couldn’t single-handedly turn things around for the Wolves – their problems preceded him, and will linger once he’s gone.

We watched his post game become more and more nuanced, we watched him morph into a great outside shooter, and we watched arcing outlet passes become poetry in motion. And while he isn’t a good defender, he’s hardly the sieve his detractors claim he is; at least his penchant for grabbing rebounds ends possessions, intrinsically providing some defensive value. It’s true that basketball is the one sport that lends itself most readily to individuals carrying teams to greatness, but that phenomenon is sometimes overblown. Michael Jordan didn’t lead his team to a winning season until Scottie Pippen came along. Lebron James didn’t win a single Finals game until he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Even stars much bigger than Love still needed help to get over the hump. Kevin Love never got quite enough help in Minnesota.

Kevin Love didn’t win “enough” because the team wasn’t good enough, and absent victories, the next best thing is having a terrific individual to entertain a fan base, which is exactly what Love did. The analogy isn’t perfect, but having Love in Minnesota was a little like having an ace pitcher on a bad baseball team – every fifth day, you’ve got at least chance to see something special. Every night Love put on a Wolves uniform, particularly in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2013-14, we had a chance to see something special, and while the losses will diminish his legacy in Minnesota (fairly or unfairly), we shouldn’t lose sight of how great he was during his time here.

In the opening scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another pair of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Hermia and Lysander, try to comfort one another in the face of familial opposition to their relationship. Lysander tries to buoy Hermia’s spirits, despite her father’s arrangement for her to marry someone else, commenting that their situation was hardly unique:

“Ay, me! for that aught I could ever read,

Could ever hear by tale or history,

The course of true love never did run smooth.”

It’s convenient to think of Love as a subpar superstar who isn’t a born and bred winner like Jordan and Lebron, but the facts are messier than that. It’s easy to think he’s not a defensive stalwart because he’s lazy, rather than considering more subtle factors or the possibility that he could still improve. And it’s easy to hate him for forcing the Wolves’ hand by wanting out, instead of remembering that players have forced movement in all sports for decades, all in the name of money or fame or the quest for a championship. Kevin Love is hardly the only athlete to travel down this road. For six years, that path has wound through Minnesota, and instead of simply vilifying the second-best player in the history of the Wolves’ franchise, it’d be better to appreciate, understand, and move on. “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Nor has it for our own Love.

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11 thoughts on “Shakespeare and Love

  1. Agreed, plus they might not get a good enough offer and Love might be dragged back into a Wolves uniform to start the season. Hopefully after Melo’s decision they can get Golden State, Chicago, Boston and Cleveland to start bidding against each other.

  2. I think Kevin Love is a great offensive force. His isn’t a shot blocker, but when it counts he plays good positional deference and gets the defensive rebound. I wish he was going to be in a Timberwolves uniform for years to come. His is still young and I think Flip is putting some nice pieces together. However I believe his time here is done and if that is the case I can think of no better place for him to go than Cleveland. Besides being the city of my and my parents birth, it is a place that deserves a championship of some kind and James, Irving and Love can do that for them. Since I have lived here since I was 9 (40 years) and have had season tickets since they played in the dome, I also think this is the best opportunity to get value in a trade for Love. Finally would you rather see him Dominating the eastern conference, or breaking our hearts four times a year. I wish Kevin Love all the best if he goes to Cleveland, and I hope we get a ransom worthy of King James’ next superstar teammate.

  3. Good or nothing good riddance. LOL, just kidding, I’m sad that he will go and that he never got to make the playoffs but as a fairly new fan of the Timberwolves, I have to say injuries and misfortune and not a lack of effort were the main reasons. I wish him all the best and hope that he does get his moment in the playoffs

  4. I think the loud vocal people drown out the majority. We want him to want to stay but undetstand that runners of a dis functional team that only treated him like the star he is for a couple years didn’t do enough to get him to stay. Love has only said 2 things since he got here. Win and treat him like a star. The Wolves have done neither. Why would anyone want to stay. It’s not his fault that they never have made him feel wanted.

  5. I liked this post but one thing I disagree with is saying, “absent victories, the next best thing is having a terrific individual to entertain a fan base, which is exactly what Love did.” The way I understand the situation is like this… Saying Love entertained a fan base is like saying Robin fought crime in Gotham City: Yes, that’s ostensibly true — Love definitely played a part in getting people excited about basketball. But in terms of entertainment value, Ricky Rubio is Batman and totally in his own class.
    I get that the sheer, objective quality of Love’s play is entertaining in itself. But even the best PF in the game, to me, takes a back seat to Ricky’s no-looks, drop-offs, and wrap-arounds any day in terms of what’s fun to watch.
    I think the Ricky Rubio factor is a crucial part of the whole issue, actually. Ricky’s not a great player. At this point, we all know that Zach Lowe says he’s on pace to become the worst shooter in the history of the NBA, that he’s undisciplined on defense, that he hasn’t gotten stronger in the upper body even though it would make him much more effective in the paint. At this point, we know all of this. But all we knew back in his rookie season, when Kahn saved the Wolves’ single 5-year contract (presumably for Rubio) and offered a 3rd-year-option deal to Love instead, was that the living legend that was Ricky Rubio — Ricky freaking Rubio, child prodigy who held his own at age 17 against the Redeem Team in Beijing, boy band-member lookalike who checked into the scorer’s table for his first NBA game with (John) 3:16 left on the clock in the first quarter — all we knew was that the legend of Ricky Rubio seemed to have been actually understated given the way he can pass the ball. And the passing is only part of it (b/c Love can do that too); Ricky is passionate and tenacious and fun in a way Love just isn’t, for me. Kevin by far did the most to get this team to 40 wins. But even in probably keeping the team from hitting 50, Ricky Rubio has done more for the experience of watching this team than Love ever could.
    3 years in, we know Ricky’s flaws, and that sucks. Kevin Love is leaving, and that sucks even more. But like you said, if we can’t win — and it seems like we really can’t win — “the next best thing is having a terrific individual to entertain a fan base,” so in that case, good luck to Kevin wherever he ends up, but I’ll take Ricky any day.

  6. It’s funny you mention the ace pitcher dynamic because that’s something that popped in my head whenever I heard people complaining that Love didn’t get to the playoffs. I always thought of Brad Radke and his pretty awesome but “not quite elite” pitching he used to toss. Then I would think of Jordan and how he needed Pippen, Shaq needed Kobe, Malone needed Stockton (even though they never made it to the promised land, etc… Love ticked me off with how fickle he seemed to be all the time but he was always fun to watch and definitely became elite imo.

  7. I should mention the “6 seasons without the playoffs” thing bugs me as well. He was a bench player for 2 of those and basically took himself out of the picture for another with self-inflicted hand wounds so realistically it was only 3 seasons where he gave full effort as a starter and wasn’t able to make the playoffs.

  8. I agree that Love is an exceptional player and he will be missed in a way that will soon be demonstrated to the much abused fan base of this franchise. Not many players can tick all the boxes and almost no single player can carry a franchise to the promised land. Any expectations in that vein are likely had by folks who are casual fans at best. This post is spot on, Love augmented his game substantially while with the Wolves and became a very special player indeed. The knuckle push up thing was exceedingly dumb, he really does owe us that season back. But outside of that he owes us nothing. It’s not like we could have ridden Kahn out of town on a rail, to prove how much we care.

    We should applaud him this season. He has every right to go somewhere else, and like KG I want to see him get his ring. If only to show the front office how they screwed up. It’s not his fault management showed an inability to discern his abilities.

  9. Any fans who say that he wasn’t that good are undoubtedly letting their anger cloud their evaluations. He has been a good player for a long time here, even when most people thought they should’ve kept OJ Mayo. He also did cool and funny things with his coat drive and that All-Rookie team video where he was spraying Windex on a plant.

    With that said, I don’t have a problem with fans booing him (though if they do it while he’s still on the team, that’s punishing his teammates as well). Of course other players have done the same thing; that doesn’t make his approach any less tone deaf, particularly since the new regime put him on his deserved pedestal last season. His personality is coming off much more like Christian Laettner than KG, and his handling of this situation is worse than when other athletes have asked for trades. However his career ends up after the Wolves doesn’t matter to me. I cheered him when he was here, felt bad for his circumstances in most seasons, but I don’t think he’s entitled to success, and I’ll probably root against whatever team he ends up on.

  10. I can’t wait to see him go. Good/Great player… yes. Good team player… NO! The comparison above to Brad Radke has got to be one of the worst comparisons EVER! Radke stuck around on terrible MN teams for a long time. You didn’t hear about how badly Radke wanted to leave to go and get a ring, he stuck it out. And in the end, I believe the last game Radke pitched was either in a playoff game or a key game to get there with a blown out shoulder. He killed himself for his team. Love is going to kill this team for himself. Love has been a crybaby for too long. KG got us to the playoffs pretty much by himself. Love will never be the player that KG was in my book, though my book doesn’t matter to anybody else. It’s all about him, not about the team. GOOD RIDDANCE!!!

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