Just to be clear, Kevin Love is really, really good at basketball

Tim Faklis —  August 18, 2014 — 11 Comments

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This Saturday, barring an unforeseen turn of events, Andrew Wiggins will be dealt as part of a pack to the Timberwolves, and Kevin Love will be shipped out to Cleveland to team up with LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and new head coach David “my life is awesome right now” Blatt.

Since the conclusion of draft night this past June, I’ve avoided covering the Kevin Love saga in detail (with the exception of Twitter). Part of it was because I wasn’t sure there was anything to say that hadn’t already been said. Also part of it: my disinterest in over-speculation. Another was my fear of jumping the gun on a deal that doesn’t necessarily end up happening.

But the thing that stopped me more than anything was the fear of saying something I’d regret later. We’re all bound to do it. Between being traded for OJ Mayo on draft night, the (overdone) “Love vs. Al bigman death match” narrative, the Woj interview, and the team’s decade of struggles, it’s easy to visualize a fan to looking back at Love’s past in Minnesota, only to utter “Sure, he was good, but good riddance.”

There’s nothing wrong with feeling like this. There is always going to be a group of fans, especially season ticket holders, who feel that their hard-earned money deserves more from the team’s highest paid player.

Even from a basketball standpoint, there are criticisms. For years, Love made a habit out of arguing with officials instead of getting back on defense. Even this year, when that habit started to subside, his defense wasn’t particularly great.

While it isn’t saying a ton, Flip Saunders did give Love the best playoff-ready roster he had seen. He had a pair of guys capable of consistently putting up over 17 points per game, a very good point guard fully willing to give Love the ball whenever he called for it, and a coach who finished with over 1,000 career wins. Even in a crowded Western Conference, this team had a chance of sneaking into the playoffs.

But they didn’t. They won 40 games and finished with the 10th best record in the West. He had gotten criticisms before, but they were amplified at the end of the 2013-14 season.

——–

“A superstar elevates his team and gets them to the playoffs. He makes his team better.”

“His team knew he wanted to leave. They didn’t want to play for him.”

——–

I’ve heard all the points as they apply to Love’s career, the bad and the good. I just can’t buy into it.

My biggest gripe with last year’s team (the only team with a real playoff shot Love has ever had), as I’ve said before, was the lack of bench production. Ronny Turiaf was out most of the year. Gorgui Dieng only played regular rotation minutes for the final 18 games.  JJ Barea and Chase Budinger each had the worst year of their careers, and were supposed to be “the guys” off the bench.

You can even look at the starters. Kevin Martin started off hot, but couldn’t keep the consistency up all year. Nikola Pekovic only played 54 games. Ricky Rubio’s shooting…well, you know.

Meanwhile, Kevin Love was working to become the first player in NBA history to record 2,000 points, 900 rebounds, and 100 three-pointers in a season. He finished fourth in points per game (26.1) and third in rebounds (12.5), and finished third in PER (behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James).

Still, he wasn’t stat-stuffing. To put the supporting cast (and Love’s impact) in perspective, when Love was on the floor during the year, the Wolves were +356. When he was on the bench, they were -137. In other words, the Wolves were usually beating the other team when Love was in, and usually losing to the other team when he was out.

Even in a world where, despite all this, Love was still to blame for the Wolves missing the playoffs, should it even matter? If Kevin Love was (hypothetically) traded to the Hawks, for example, and went to the playoffs as their team’s best player, would this still be a discussion? The “if the Wolves were in the East” talk has been beaten into the ground, but it needs to be brought up if Love’s lack of a playoff presence is going to be part of the discussion.

Still, maybe hypotheticals are unfair. The Timberwolves are in the Western Conference, and it was his job to lead his team into the playoffs in that conference. He didn’t do that. Whether his absence from the postseason (mainly) comes from his lack of leadership, or (mainly) because of what I said in the paragraphs above, is up for debate.

Either way, Love is almost definitely going to be a Cavalier this season. He’s going to team up with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and almost definitely notch a high seed in the playoffs. He won’t be the outright leader in Cleveland, but in the long-term, that isn’t going to matter. He’s going to fit in perfectly with LeBron James, in part because of his willingness to let LeBron run the show. Nobody is going to look back on Kevin Love’s career in 15 years and knock him for his “lack of leadership”.

Next year should be fun for Timberwolves fans. The Wiggins-featured haul they’re getting for Love is a great get for a superstar, and Flip Saunders deserves credit. But such a return of talent was also made possible because of how good Love is, and how important a piece he can and will be for a team’s run at a championship. It’s because he’s really, really good at basketball.

Tim Faklis

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11 responses to Just to be clear, Kevin Love is really, really good at basketball

  1. I agree, I wish it would have been different but I know that the timing was right this year to move Love for the players we’re likely to receive.

    I do not know what Flip could have done to salvage that bench last year. But as soon as Budinger’s knee blew out again something should have been done. Part of me wonders why it was not addressed when it was such an obvious weakness.

    Also I hate the Kevin Love +/- state. it assumes that only Kevin Love was on the bench while all 4 starters remained in the game. We all know that’s not how it went down.

  2. Good stuff, Tim. I kind of feel the same way about Carmelo Anthony, although with Melo it is to a much more extreme extent (Love has never experienced the kind of scrutiny Melo does). If the guy has never played on a team capable of winning, then how can you say he isn’t a winner?

  3. Is anyone actually going to be upset with Love leaving Minnesota? Tell me the best case scenario with not trading him? That we somehow re-sign him next year to a max contract, then have a massive amount of our payroll on Pek and Love, 2 guys that haven’t brought this team to a winning record? We aren’t “close” to being a contender, yet have a solid enough team to be relatively competitive. So where does that leave the team? Stuck in mediocrity. Unless we somehow get the Chicago luck and get the #1 pick and get a player like Rose, this team wasn’t going to do anything.

    Now, that being said, imagine if we had got the #1 pick this year from the lottery somehow without trading Love? Then all of a sudden we would have a future to possibly talk about.

    Rubio
    Martin
    Wiggins
    Love
    Pek

  4. I’m curious to know the primary reasons why fans don’t like him. The arguments against his impact/productivity are talk-radio garbage, but his personality since knuckle pushups hasn’t exactly been endearing. From afar, he seemed detached from the team, almost like he had a foot out the door for 2 seasons. If not for LeBron going back to Cleveland, I would’ve resented Love a lot more because they’d have had to take a garbage package for him. It would’ve been much harder for fans to turn the page if they had to look forward to Harrison Barnes and David Lee.

    I generally disagree with the criticism of his play, but not to the point of calling him a top-5 player. He’s top 10, but there’s enough of an element to a player’s impact that stats haven’t accurately measured, and that gray area is where he doesn’t measure up to guys like Paul George, Steph Curry, or Dwight Howard. Also, PF is the least-important position in the NBA; if a PF can’t protect the rim (this includes Griffin and Aldridge), most teams would likely prefer to have an impact player elsewhere (all things being equal). Still, it’s naive to assume anyone who’ll be on a post-Love roster next season will ever be as good as him, and he’s by far the 2nd-best player in franchise history.

  5. Excellent points from everyone. I’d just like to point out that Flip did a great job in trading Love, with some fortuitous luck. Kevin left the Wolves little leverage with his foot out the door for two years and historically trading superstars is a fruitless proposition for a franchise (see Kevin Garnett trade). If LeBron hadn’t returned to Cleveland and pushed for this Love trade I was rooting for the Wolves to keep him this year and pray for divine intervention (or a call from Mike Holmgren) to change his mind about opting out in a year’s time, instead of trading him for the likes of Harrison Barnes and David Lee. I think one year of Love and a chance of resigning, however slim, is better than Barnes and Lee taking up payroll. At least now their’s hope for Wiggins, Levine, Rubio, Dieng and company to blossom someday while under Wolves control for many years. And, we might just see some defense from guys in Wolves uniforms.

  6. Good article. Love’s legacy in mn would have been a lot stronger had he worked with management in private to “request” a trade. Rather than publicly demanding it.

    However in loves defense the wolves mgmt had been consistently poor for too long. I don’t blame him for leaving as sports careers are short but it could have been handled with more savvy.

  7. Love will be missed but his departure has caused something within me I never thought would happen since Jordan retired. I am now a Bulls fan again.. looking forward to the playoffs and the
    Joakim Noah/Kevin Love battles.

    They should play a couple of games in Wisconsin so they’ll have enough cheese to go along with all the whine(ing) that will be sure to ensue.

  8. I believe the somewhat discontent of KLove started with the knuckle pushup injury (as alluded to above). Love seemed to have all of Wolves Nation feeling for him bc he was being treated like dirt by Kahn but after the “selfish” (see: stupid) act of knuckle pushups, he essentially lost a lot of fans. People began to resent him (along with his responses in media form) and he responded in kind by losing his faith in the fans, to a degree. I really think the dissention was mutual for a while at least. He was always a prolific player and I, for one, never viewed him as a stat-stuffer. He just so happened to be an amazing player on a less-than-stellar team. He should have privately asked for a trade instead of making it a virtual circus but….that’s “Kevin Love”. He’s always been just shy of being mature about media relations and people like Woj ate it up and drama spewed out. I hope he does well in Cleveland but I’m more excited for the state of the Wolves with a projected all-star in Wiggins. HOWL!

  9. 2 years ago my wife wanted to adopt 2 puppies, I conceded only if I could name them Rubio and Love…….This was not my greatest negotiation.

    To make things worse she won’t let me change the dogs names, even though Dieng is a WAY better name.

  10. You Wolves fans honestly starting feeling differently about Love because he got hurt doing knuckle push-ups?

    lol…

  11. @DC….it wasn’t the act of the knuckle push-ups, it was how he acted and reacted after it happened. He continued to complain and moan about the state of the team and how they weren’t making the playoffs but now he couldn’t back up his “trash talk” with his play. It ended up ringing hollow because of that and contempt started at that point. Was it fair? Probably not but it also wasn’t very intelligent to continue his “selfish attitude” and complaining when he couldn’t play due to something as, for lack of a better word, stupid as knuckle push-ups that he did all on his own merit.

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