Some disquieting news out of the Team USA training camp. It appears that our own Kevin Love has discovered the green grass and deep blue skies of competent teammates and meaningful competition. John Schuhmann of NBA.com reports on Love’s epiphanic summer:
Love was asked Tuesday if he felt more appreciated with the U.S. Team than with the Timberwolves. “Yes,” he responded. “Just a solid yes.” But he was quick to clarify. “I don’t want to come off sounding like a prima donna or sound like I’m complaining or anything,” Love said. “I just feel like, since I’ve been here, it’s really been a great team atmosphere. We feel like we have a chance to win this whole thing. I think everybody is just coming in with a great attitude and appreciating everybody as a whole, and really becoming a family.”
“Just a solid yes.” That’s tough. First of all, I’m intrigued by the way that Kevin seems to have ditched the typical pro athlete non-speak. Want to know whether Rashad McCants is actually a terrible teammate? K-Love will let you know (he is). How about whether its more fun to get love for your national team than pull reserve minutes for your 15-win employer? Kevin will set you straight.
In his piece, Shuhmann helpfully point out that last season Love “averaged fewer minutes than Ryan Gomes and started fewer games than Ryan Hollins. This was a below average rebounding team, and they couldn’t find more than 29 minutes for the best per-minute rebounder in the league.” True on all counts. Without a doubt, it was painful to watch Love sit out entire quarters while Darko and Hollins wandered in the wilderness.
But lets also remember a few things. First, on last year’s Wolves, the playing time was relatively evenly distributed; only Al Jefferson (32.4) and Corey Brewer (30.3) averaged more than 30 minutes per game. So Love’s court time (28.6 mpg), while certainly a little low for a rebounder of his stature, was roughly comparable to that of the team’s other starters.
Second thing: Kahn and Rambis have been widely ridiculed for the belief that Love and Jefferson could not coexist. But the fact is that the Wolves got murdered on defense when the two not-so-big boys played together. You could argue that a) Rambis was wrong to favor Jefferson over Love in crunch time, or that b) Love’s and Al’s rebounding and offensive production were more important than any defensive gains brought by Darko and Hollins (I’m probably more in this camp), but there’s no arguing that, last season, Rambis faced a lot of terrible options in his frontcourt.
Third thing: this may have been lost among all of the other bummers and depressives of the 09-10 season, but let’s remember that for much of the second half of the year, Love was not his normal ferocious, energetic self. He seemed lost, distracted and lethargic. His numbers started to slip. Even reliable Wolves cheerleader Jim Peterson commented on the air that Love “looks to me like he’s checked out.” For sure, much of this was frustration at his uncertainty within the offense, with his “promotion” to the second unit and with the team’s awful fortunes. But consider that players like Damian Wilkins, Corey Brewer and even Jonny Flynn and Big Al mostly managed to carry on with their customary intensity even as things got bleak. As Rambis himself offered, “if he’s not playing hard, then things aren’t gonna work out for him.”
The Wolves’ frontcourt situation is no less muddled this year than last. Love, Darko, Michael Beasley, Nikola Pecovic and Anthony Tolliver will all be competing for the two big man spots. But, as this national team experience has plainly shown, now that Al Jefferson has moved on (and maybe even before that) Kevin Love is clearly the Wolves’ best player. Lineup experiments and lessons in professionalism aside, its time for the kid to see some sunshine.