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Growing pains for Kevin Love, the Wolves and their fan base

Kevin Love
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Kevin Love is simply not stupid enough to sit down with a prominent national NBA columnist and indiscriminately rip the most talented roster of teammates in his tenure with the Wolves.

It is a mixed blessing, but a blessing all the same: The Minnesota Timberwolves have become talented enough to generate controversy over player perceptions and pecking orders.

After muffing their four-game winning streak with an uninspired loss to the less talented but more cohesive Orlando Magic on Monday, the Wolves step up in class against three elite opponents the rest of the week. Right now might be an instructive time to consider the growing pains endured by that trio of foes.

On Tuesday, Minnesota will play a Miami Heat team that was often in danger of drowning in its own hubris after the additions of Lebron James and Chris Bosh to its holdover superstar and past NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade.

Remember how Lebron was bashed for supposedly taking the easy way out and going to a franchise where another player had already established the championship pedigree? Remember all the talk (and here I added my share) about Lebron’s curious but chronic proclivity to disappear for key stretches of big games, to the point where it was always going to be “Wade’s team” when it mattered most? Remember how Bosh was derided for his marked inferiority relative to Lebron and D-Wade, and how long it took for Miami to realize that Bosh was most valuable when the team played a small lineup with him as the center?

Even now, after silencing the critics with a championship in their second year together after Lebron left no doubt he was Miami’s alpha dog, the Heat are coping with harsh remarks by commentator Charles Barkley that Wade has been diminished by age and the wear and tear of his physical style of play.

Without belaboring the point too much further, you can move on to Thursday’s game with Oklahoma City and recall how point guard Russell Westbrook has been blasted for his ball-hogging ways and lack of deference to his teammate and reigning three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. Or go to Sunday’s opponent the New York Knicks, whose inability to mesh the talents of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire already cost coach Mike D’Antoni his job. D’Antoni is now coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, who already fired coach Mike Brown because he didn’t immediately wring rewards from the acquisition of Dwight Howard and (the injured) Steve Nash alongside Kobe Bryant and (the injured) Pau Gasol.

Beginning of long, treacherous process

At first blush, it is ridiculous to liken the Wolves, who haven’t even won 40 percent of their games for six straight seasons, to the marquee success stories in Miami and Oklahoma City, or even New York.  I do it to dramatize how premature it is for fans to be gnashing their teeth over the negative remarks made recently by Kevin Love about the Wolves management — and to dramatize how immature it was of Love to make them.

But before unpacking that, I want to reiterate the good news, or mixed blessing, which is that the Wolves are worthy of a semblance of controversy in the first place. There is actually something at stake here, made no less real by being in the glimmering early stage of a credible rebuilding process.

Wolves fans remember the contract jealousy that tore Stephon Marbury away from Kevin Garnett and the Wolves. They vividly recall how Latrell Sprewell foolishly dismantled the chemistry of a 58-win team, with the baffling loudmouthed assistance of Sam Cassell, because of unhappiness over his deal. By contrast, the various dysfunctions and disgruntlements of Chuck Person, Christian Laettner, and later J.R. Rider — with coaches, the front office and each other — are sordid footnotes of team history only the die-hards recall.

That’s because KG and Marbury had a shot of making a big splash in this league — as KG, Spree and Cassell did for a season — while a team where Person, Laettner or Rider were jousting for pecking-order supremacy was doomed to, at best, mediocrity. For a more recent example, consider all the verbiage spent on whether Kevin Love and Al Jefferson could productively co-exist. When the point guard feeding those two big men is Randy Foye or Sebastian Telfair, it’s a moot issue that quickly faded away from insignificance.

Which brings us back to the unfortunate remarks Love made to Yahoo! sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this month. If you know anything about Love’s outspoken but thoroughly contextual mien in conversation and Woj’s longstanding enmity toward David Kahn and the rest of the Wolves’ front office, it was easy to surmise that Love got played; that he gave an on-balance negative but still nuanced assessment of his history and current status with the Wolves, and that Woj printed only the negative stuff and ladled in his own vitriol for good measure.

Two parts of the published story solidify this argument as to what transpired. The first concerns Love’s stated regret that he wasn’t allowed to further develop his playing relationship with Al Jefferson on the front line, as Kahn’s predecessor, Kevin McHale, had envisioned. The second castigates Kahn for not signing Love to the five-year maximum deal that teams can offer one player in the organization under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement. The article not only automatically assumes that the five-year deal is being reserved for Love’s teammate Ricky Rubio but also quotes Love unfavorably comparing Rubio to himself over the supposed gambit, saying that it amounts to “a projection over a sure thing.”

Both parts of the article thus cast aspersions on Love’s current teammates — pining for Jefferson besmirches the ample and more complementary contributions made by current center Nikola Pekovic, and the Rubio-related remark speaks for itself. What’s ironic is that less than three years ago, it was an article by the same Adrian Wojnarowski that fueled the spurious rumor that Love and Jefferson were jealous of each other and couldn’t get along, causing considerable chatter and distraction enough that both Love and Jefferson first heatedly and then humorously denied it.

Kevin Love is simply not stupid enough to sit down with a prominent national NBA columnist and indiscriminately rip the most talented roster of teammates in his tenure with the Wolves. He was stupid enough to sit down with Woj in the first place and be baited into comments that were immediately ill-advised but look even worse when stripped of the positive, balancing context he says he uttered, then have them further distorted by Woj’s own bias and hostility.

It’s telling that after the story prompted headlines on the front page of the local sports sections and the damage had been done, Woj tweeted: “Abundantly clear talking w/kevinlove: Feels deeply connected to the Wolves fan base, loves Minny as a sports town. He wants badly to win THERE.” That’s almost 180 degrees away from what was “abundantly clear” when one read the initial story.

Love did not deny any of the quotes attributed to him, a candor that lends credibility to his statement that he also said many positive things during the interview, especially about his current teammates and situation. Even so, it was a self-inflicted wound to his image and standing, and in this past week after the remarks were published, he has received his karmic comeuppance. His team was able to overcome his horrible 7-for-35 shooting performance to post a pair of victories over Denver and New Orleans.

Then Rubio returned after a nine-month absence from a knee injury and played 18 fabulous, much-ballyhooed minutes while Love sat out with a sore thumb and a flu-like illness. On Monday in Orlando, Rubio faltered in his second game back and Love rediscovered his scoring touch, but was frequently beaten on defense during the disappointing loss.

Knowing what matters, behaving accordingly

Now, as the schedule toughens, the Wolves, Love and the team’s fan base are at something of a crossroads on how to proceed with the rest of the season. So let’s be blunt about the current situation.

The Wolves have the complementary pieces and overall talent to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. That significant but still modest level of success is hardly a given, however. It will require more continuity and rhythm than what the team has been able to generate thus far. And that will require fewer injuries, fewer distractions, and a commitment to synergistic teamwork.

Here is where Love needs to stop pantomiming team leadership and start delivering the goods. Negative words and attitudes about the Wolves organization need to be shelved for the rest of the season. Complaints over fouls need to be handled with more tact and intelligence and not detract from the team’s capability on the court. His commitment to defense needs to improve, and his effort at that end of the floor needs to be constant, undeterred by whatever difficulties he is having with his shot or the officials.

For its part, the Wolves’ brain trust needd to recognize that Love is the horse they ride into the postseason. Coach Rick Adelman’s ball-movement offense choreographed by Rubio is fabulous to behold, the fidelity to playing smart, non-fouling defense has been a life-saver thus far, and the team’s depth gives it a resourceful edge absent for nearly the entire history of the franchise. But getting Love enough touches, plays and looks to re-establish his rhythm and confidence is crucial to this team’s success. Featuring Love in full flower from the low block and the three-point line and having him battle for boards at both ends of the court appropriately relies on Minnesota’s signature talent, and provides its calling card for respectability in the grueling Western Conference playoff chase.

For the Wolves’ fans, it is time to grow up and decide what you want. You don’t like what Kevin Love had to say to Adrian Wojnarowski? That’s entirely understandable. You want to penalize Love with caustic comments from the peanut gallery, label him selfish and demand that he be traded or marginalized on behalf of Rubio or Pekovic or Andrei Kirilenko? Well then, you’d rather bemoan your fate or wallow in the potential for schadenfreude than do the patient, steady work of rooting on a successful rebuilding project one step at a time.

That doesn’t mean Wolves’ fans can’t or shouldn’t be critical. But put your controversies into a proactive perspective. A team without issues that stir passion is a team mired in irrelevance. By the same token, a fan base consumed with past events is embittered and practically doomed to further disappointment. Short of a ring ceremony, there is never a team when the oceans part, the heavens open and ecstasy pervades a professional sports franchise.

No, on the contrary, the higher up the ladder a team climbs, the more intense are the frustrations as well as the thrills — ask the Heat before last year’s Finals, or the Thunder or the Knicks. Controversy follows every team — the successful ones put it in perspective and move forward.

Right now the Wolves are closer to the bottom rung than to the summit -- there is a long and treacherous journey ahead even to secure the second playoff series triumph in franchise history. But the journey has at least begun, and so for the first time in six or seven years, spats, breakdowns and pecking order complications have some meaning.

You want to rip David Kahn? Don’t dwell on failed draft picks like Jonny Flynn or Wes Johnson; push back against the whispers that Kahn isn’t that enamored with Pekovic, who, unlike Al Jefferson, can play the kind of stellar defense that complements Love on the front line.

Above all, enjoy yourself. This Wolves team is a far sight better than anything in recent memory and they’re about to test their mettle against the cream of the crop in the NBA. Let’s see what they’ve got to offer.

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Comments (22)

Whoa there

Did you just write "Pekovic" and "stellar defense" in the same sentence? Did you think no one was going to read to the end and notice? Even in the context of the low bar set by your Big Al reference, I don't think many here would consider Pek a complementary defensive piece to Love - he doesn't help weak-side, doesn't block shots, and doesn't rebound well on defense. Obviously, that paragraph is merely bait to get me to start to write something in this comments section, and it's working.

I think Love wants to make it absolutely clear that he does not agree with how David Kahn is handling business. Kahn is a numbers guy (not a basketball guy), but no matter how much Bill Simmons you read, Kahn has helped create a playoff-worthy roster. What worries me is that Love made some comments last year about getting rid of the bad eggs in the locker room, and now the comments are that the personnel moves are directionless. We go from not enough leadership to too much leadership? Can't have it both ways, and who was the GM who replaced guys like Beas?

And what happens if Taylor appeases his star and fires Kahn? You're going to kick out your cap-managing GM for...who exactly? Is Sam Presti or RC Buford or Daryl Morey suddenly on the market? Taylor is trying to sell this team, and Kahn clearly has a financial vision (or edict from Papa Glen). Is Love going to make the same comments (re: a directionless franchise) if he doesn't like the new guy?

But in the end, it's good basketball that keeps me watching, and watching the Wolves in the first half gives me optimism that this team is headed in the right direction. Even with Ricky shaking the rust off during that brief ugly stretch in the first half, I felt like we were maximizing our talents and playing to strengths (until Glen Davis showed up). Cheering for these guys is a blast (I can barely remember the "meh" feeling when Wes or Martell checked in last year) or, and as Jim Pete mentioned last night, we're unwrapping presents all year (Roy, Budinger, and the continued development of Shved and Rubio), and watching this group of unselfish ballplayers figure it out under the guidance of Rick Adelman will be great fun for the rest of the season.

Pek and Love on defense

The coach in charge of the Wolves defense, Bill Bayno told me personally that Pek is the team's best pick and roll defender. Now, he doesn't have nearly the mobility of a Dwight Howard or a Tyson Chandler, but he has learned how to defend without fouling and despite not being a shot blockers is a deterrent in the paint.
As for Pek and Love specifically, I'm afraid I don't have up to date defensive numbers (82games was last updated 12/9), but consider this chart of how Love and Pek fare playing together versus when one or the other is on the bench. http://www.nba.com/advancedstats/player-vs-player.html#Nikola-Pekovic-vs-Kevin-Love|201593,201567;year=201213;season=r

As you can see, Love averages 3.9 fewer points per 36 minutes with Pek, and Pek averages only .6 pts per 36 more with Love, for a net 3.3 fewer points between them when they play together. Yet Minnesota is plus 3.4 per 36 as a team with Pek and Love together and only plus 2.0 with just Pek and minus 1.3 with just Love. That all leads me to believe the defense is a lot better when the two are together--at the very least they are a complementary pair. And the larger sample size from last season likewise bears this out: http://www.nba.com/advancedstats/player-vs-player.html#Nikola-Pekovic-vs-Kevin-Love|201593,201567;year=201112;season=r

I'm not as sanguine about Kahn as you are. Saving the owner money is important if it can create cap flexibility and a new partner willing to open his wallet the way Taylor has on occasion. And as long as Adelman is making the basketball decisions and Kahn handles the pocketbook, I'm okay with the arrangement. But everyone connected with the Wolves needs to realize that the best way to profitability is a winning product, and only one man in the front office really has a handle on how to win.

Defensive quantification

Pick and roll defense in particular is so difficult to quantify for anyone without access to a solid video analysis tool, such as Synergy Sports - in fact, I even tried to purchase access to their service to attempt to figure out an efficient way to quantify it (registration is apparently "closed" - which I think is code for "amateur statisticians and fans, go home"). I will fully admit that after years of watching this team I've come to value defensive centers who can play weakside help defense almost more than anything - when our perimeter D breaks down, it's nice to watch our opponent attempt a difficult, slightly-lower-percentage shot rather than just glide past Pek. And I've said before that I consider defensive rebounding a big part of defense - if you're a 7-footer who can't change the ball's trajectory on its way up, you'd better have more than a 15 percent chance of grabbing that ball as its coming off the rim. I had pretty high hopes for Stiemsma - was hoping his shot-blocking could keep our defensive energy high, but his limits on offense hamper our decision making on that end of the court.

As for those stats, I understand the argument, but I'm not totally convinced by your defensive explanation (that link is good as a comparison tool but not great for how I analyze, and has almost zero in terms of defensive player assessment). In your support, Pek is rebounding the ball well when Love is on the court with him. But there are too many unidentified variables in that data to draw solid, meaningful conclusions. It does show that the two play well together as a whole (indicated by +/-), but I think they are much more complementary on offense than on defense - I'll try to find some other stats to back this up.

And re: Kahn, I'm not totally optimistic, but I prefer the devil I know over the one that I don't. I'm also figuring in Taylor's attempt to sell (read: temporarily increase franchise value) more than I am his attempt to create a winning product.

stats

Anton--

I respect the way you go about your analysis--it is just different from mine. I agree that the Wolves' D specifically shields Pek from chasing the corner 3, and that optimally you would have a big man who could both get out to the corner and/or block and alter a lot of shots. Pek doesn't do either but otherwise strikes me as "a stellar defender." I understand why that sticks in your craw and I'm not claiming all the numbers would support it. But I like what I see and trust Bayno's opinion even with the inflation factor of it being his own guy tossed in.

For whatever this is worth,

Ever since Jim Petersen began using the "wall up" expression, I've noticed Pek being in the right place more often than not, stretching his bulky arms to the sky and, importantly as you wrote about, not fouling. The defensive rotations have been tight more often than loose, and Pek seems to be a pretty big part of that. With the solid rebounders that this team has at most positions, creating regular old missed shots seems like a good strategy.

Great point by Andy G, and I would add ...

The strides that Pek has made since his rookie season (read: poor positioning, stupid fouls) not only support what we already know about this coaching staff compared to the previous, but also shows Pek is coachable. Yes, he has limitations. But he's willing to listen/learn/improve and the coaching staff is playing to his strengths. I think the next step (on the other end of the court), as Jim Pete has said many times, is improving his passing out of double teams.

Great read

Although, it would be the third playoff series victory in franchise history rather than the second.

Transition defense was awful last night. At least a few Wolves fast breaks, although ending in a nice basket and fancy passing, ended up producing quick Orlando dunks on the other end. Who should be staying back in those situations?

Good catch

yeah, when I gave it my first read-through online, I noticed that error too--Wolves won the first and only two series in 2003-04, so the next one would be the third. It should read the second team to get out of the first round or third series victory.

Bayno has been bemoaning floor spacing off and on all season. Usually the person responsible is the perimeter defender on the weak side, which seemed to be Shved more than anyone last night. But rather than single out one particular player, I'd just say that Orlando wanted it more and Minnesota forgot they are not good enough--even after a four-game winning streak and playing a non-playoff team from the East that they had already beaten--to mail in a victory.

Pek versus Gasol

Am I in the minority that I would welcome the move if LA agreed to send Gasol for Pek, Williams, and Barea? Here are the reasons:

Starters: Gasol, Love, AK47, Shved, Rubio - I get two years of that team then Gasol/AK47 come off the books just in time to pay Rubio and extend Love.

Pek: He is a good deal now, but what about next year? Do you sign him for 4 years at $10M+ per year (just look at Hibbert / Lopez max and Asik at 3/25)?

D. Will - how many guys like him end up actually "getting it"? Is there a case study for a guy as inconsistent as D. Will really coming becoming a primary weapon without a primary skill? What does he do best?

Gasol - is it really debatable that Gasol's game fits better than Pek's in Adelman's system? Don't you have three of the best passers at their position on the Wolves with that trade (Gasol, Love, Rubio)?

It might all be moot, but I can honestly say that if LA actually calls and says okay, MN fans might not be cheering... but I for one would be ecstatic if that packages gathers Gasol.

Unfortunately

Gasol's contract is insane (2 years, $38m). We'd be paying luxury tax this year and next, and I don't think that's what Taylor has in mind. I like his game, and agree that he probably is more of an Adelman-type player than Pek, but I don't think ownership is willing to spend that much money. I think Pek will command near-max money next year, so I think keeping him for now is the more prudent move (from a long-term standpoint - if we were contending for a championship, I'd be doing anything to get Pau here)

Pek a better value

Jeremy--

You make a good argument for your side, but your faith in the value of Pau Gasol the next two years at nearly $20 million per exceeds mine. Even if another team offers the max, Pek is a better value at $14 million than Gasol at $19 million. I don't mind losing Barea--although he's been occasionally sharp this season and has made me understand better what Adelman sees in him--but there is no need to throw Williams in too except to make the money match, and D-Will's recent play with Rubio offers hope for him down the line.

As you say yourself, Pek for Gasol is by itself a short-term stopgap--two years on Gasol's already well-worn frame. I'll roll the dice with Pek and see what happens.

Value-wise, there's no way they take that deal

They were reluctant to even move Williams for him last spring, and Gasol's value has gone down, not up. I understand that the $ has to work, but that's why any deal has to include other teams and other assets coming back to the Wolves. That's not even mentioning that there's no way Pek ends up in LA in a trade like this.

It's all part of the MN sports fan popular sentiment

Self-loathing (when Grantland's Bill Barnwell said the Vikings could win 6 games this season, he mostly got letters from fans saying he was overestimating the team, the exact opposite of the blind fanaticism with most teams), fatalistic (the whole idea of curses on the Vikings and Wolves), and complaining about stars (Adrian Peterson's fumble problems 4 years ago, Joe Mauer). Someone commenting about this at A Wolf Among Wolves made a great point about how fans are showing more immaturity in this case than Love has. My guess is that not a lot fans are behind him in the first place (it's pretty obvious looking at the jerseys worn to Target Center who the favorite is). I mean, this state had the most loyal superstar in modern pro sports in KG; he still wasn't embraced by the state as fully as he should've been, and Taylor threw him under the bus so badly that he didn't even consider coming back to the Wolves last summer (which would've been a much more financially-feasible and structural fit than their plans to add Gasol to those 2 last summer).

None of us should be shocked that a broken hand would affect Love's offense. With that said, I don't think he needs to be the full hub of this offense until that's more consistent. Adelman's instincts offensively are correct in many cases, and while Love shouldn't be expected to be Vlade or C-Webb, they can't run a lot of isos for him and make everyone else play off of him. He'll be more effective if he has to move like everyone else, pass like everyone else, and make the best basketball play like everyone else.

The 04-05 season interests me because I like to understand why things go wrong. The focus is often on the chemistry and the contract squabbles, but I think it's more complicated. Most importantly, hand-checking was outlawed, neutering their perimeter defense (they gave up 6.9 more points per 100 possessions and dropped 9 spots in defensive rating). Expected regression occurred with Trenton Hassell, Ervin Johnson, and Mark Madsen. An underrated aspect was that they broke with the norm of not overpaying role players and just finding cheaper replacements who were just as good, something they did every year (Reggie Slater, Chauncey Billups, Troy Hudson, Gary Trent, Rod Strickland, Kendall Gill, LaPhonso Ellis, Malik Sealy). I still wonder how things might've been different had they been able to flip Sprewell's expiring and other assets to the Hornets for Baron Davis; I don't know if it was offered, but the Hornets eventually accepted Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis' expiring for him.

great stuff

PSR--

I love to disagree with smart people. Yes, I do think there is a passive-aggressive streak to Minnesota culture in general, let alone from sports fans, something even more noticeable for someone like me, who grew up on the east coast. But I had my moments when I was down on Mauer, and I'm not in favor of giving Love a pass for his recent bout of hubris--wtf was the timing on that thing meant to do, anyway? The difference, I guess, is deciding when to cling and when to let it go, or at least channel it in a positive fashion.
Personally, I think you have to blend having Love engage in all the cuts and movement of Adelman's system but also call more specific half-court plays for him. I also think smart teammates will realize it is in everybody's interest to get him going--like the nice feeds he got in rhythm for three last night. Bottom line, the guy draws fouls and can go get the ball on either glass, both of which are absolutely vital skills for a team to possess in crunchtime--and more important than sharp ball movement, unless you just want to let whoever is open decide the game for you on the last shot.

As for 04-05, I was one the inside of it covering the team from the locker room and the stands, and believe me, Cassell was the biggest distraction--even more than Spree!--taking out his bile on Taylor over Spree's contract because he couldn't yet complain about his own. It put KG in a really tough spot--Garnett was loyal to Flip and to his two co-stars and was very uncomfortable with the whole situation. What you say about Hassell and Erv is absolutely correct, and Baron Davis would have been fun. But that team shot itself in the foot and Saunders has always been too much of a "player's coach"--meaning let the players sort it out--to change the toxic chemistry that was occurring right from training camp.

The compliment is appreciated and returned

Comments are probably worthy of criticism (my opinion probably has more to do with my lack of surprise about them). I mostly think the players deserve more leeway than they receive for a team's success and failure. Supporting cast, system, and strategy are underrated aspects of any team's success, and it's not Love's fault that he played with who he did his first 4 seasons, just like it wasn't Mauer's fault that his pitching staff was injured, ineffective, and neglected for several years. I just remember how awful Daunte Culpepper (the MVP runner-up the previous season) looked after Randy Moss was traded when I think about properly gauging the value of great players.

Offensively, it has more to with avoiding the plays that start with a wing entering the ball to Love on the left block. They should be able to run things out of their sets that get him the ball de-emphasize isolations. Some games, he'll have to do a lot of isos (the 51-point game at OKC and the win at Charlotte being prime examples), but they can be more creative with finding him scoring opportunities.

Some of the things that happened in 04-05 probably could've been anticipated (there was a reason Spree and Sam came so cheaply in the first place), but it was disorienting to watch. It seemed like they kept waiting for a spark that never came, instead of realizing that they overachieved the previous season (if they don't win 7 straight to close the season, their homecourt advantage ends in the 1st round) and that the exact same thing happened to Cassell's Bucks 3 years earlier (from the conference finals to out of the playoffs) when Cassell was angling for a contract. They played the "what-if" game based on the PG injuries torpedoing their title chances instead of soberly assessing the next logical step. I could honestly discuss this kind of stuff all day; it's too bad the Wolves have never been compelling enough nationally to merit a behind-the-scenes book like Breaks of the Game or The Jordan Rules.

All I'll add regarding

All I'll add regarding Minnesota's treatment of Kevin Love is that it's unique from other Minnesota sports stars for the simple reason that all of his teams thus far (except this one--crosses fingers) have had terrible records. You two, me, and probably most readers of this site are smart enough to not *blame* Kevin Love for all of the losing, but transcendent players are typically in positions to be *credited* for wins. With Kevin Love's Timberwolves--unlike, say, Kevin Garnett's Timberwolves--there have not been very many wins to make fans feel good, and ready to start dishing out praise to players. From an analytical standpoint, we can see how Love has carried a lot of weight trying to get wins, and how he's making a positive impact. But from an emotional standpoint--the fan's perspective--there simply hasn't been much positive energy to draw from in Kevin Love's time here.

So when the team whetted our appetites with Ricky (and Love!) last year, and then loaded up with necessary depth--depth that was winning more than losing without Rubio AND Love--it's completely reasonable to wonder just what the heck he was thinking meeting with Woj like that. Sitting down with Britt or a local reporter for a story, or somebody nationally like Jonathan Abrams would be completely different. Everybody in the NBA knows who Woj is, and everybody on the Timberwolves knows how Woj feels about this front office. It was a measured decision made by a player who carefully measures his PR decisions. Love is media savvy and there remains no clear reason why he chose to do that. All we can do is speculate, or move on and hope the team does the same.

I would say that straight-up defending Kevin Love for choosing to do that interview is much more "Kevin Love Apologist" territory than the detractors are some sort of passive-aggressive, unique to these parts.

Accurate criticism of Love

Andy--

I think the most accurate criticism of Love does relate to the fact that he has not moved the won-lost meter as much as his numbers indicate he should. I think the reason is defense. When the Wolves played the Celts and they showed side-by-side graphics favoring comparing Love to KG in their respective first four years here, I laughed out loud at the foolishness of the endeavor. What Garnett does on defense was of enormous benefit to those Wolves' teams, and the example he set day in and day out in the locker room and the practice court was likewise hugely positive. You won't get that from the numbers they threw up there.

Also, you have never seen Garnett scald his existing team the way Love just did with Woj. Obviously I know the context here--it was the subject of the piece above--and I think it is foolish to hold a grudge, but that interview is now part of Love's history and it is up to him and his teammates to lessen its toxicity in the minds of fans. That will happen with defense and wins.

FWIW, he has been passing much better the past few games--his zero assists at Orlando were because AK missed a couple of point-blank feeds at the rim--and gave an effort on defense last night in Miami. I think his lack of shooting and his inaccuracy indicate that his entire right side--shoulder, arm, hand, thumb--are not right.

Adding to Britt's point

I think that quite a bit of the 04-05 season can be attributed to KG "losing" the hearts and minds of those in the locker room. He became the face of the franchise, but was suddenly surrounded by talented players who were able to more easily tune him out - it's one of the reasons why I'm somewhat forgiving (in hindsight) of Taylor's capitulation to KG's personnel demands (Joe Smith, Troy, Trenton). KG knew which guys he could get to play at a high level, despite their shortcomings and opportunity costs, and actively tried to keep them. In Boston, he was surrounded by a culture which embraced (rather than merely accepted) the role he had created for himself, and was able to better capitalize on his talents.

One thing that always strikes me as strange about the contract situation with Sam and Spre was that Sprewell had been getting paid a ridiculous salary (7-year max) ever since he had one above-average year at Golden State. Sam, on the other hand, had consistently outperformed his own rather middling deal, playing 2000+ minutes and registering a 20+ PER for 5 straight seasons - I'd say he had somewhat of a reason to complain, but when it impacts on-court performance...

Good point on the hand-checking rule! I had completely forgotten what year that was implemented, but now I'll always associate it with the demise of the Wolves and the rise of those great Phoenix Suns teams. (For those playing along at home, whose expiring $11mil contract allowed the Suns to drop serious dollars on Nash that offseason? That's right - former Timberwolves All-Star Tom Gugliotta)

That KG lobbying aspect is overblown

Flip put that rumor to rest last spring on Barreiro's show, saying they always talked to players about guys they were looking into but that he never made any demands. Also, even if it was true, I've done a 180 on this; he was under contract until '09, so all they had to do was say no.

About the defense

I'd say calling Pek's defense 'stellar', in the context of the whole NBA, is a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no deying that Pek's much better this year. Wolves are better in defense than last year, but that could also be part of Kirilenko's impact, Stiemsma and Cunningham coming from the bench and the improved hustle from Williams, just to name a few.

I think Pek complements Love quite well on the rebounding side of things. Love gets all defensive boards, Pek can box out with that massive frame of his, and he crashes the offensive boards very well. I don't think the Wolves lose the rebounding battle often in games.

Also, there are synergy stats that indicate Pek is one of the better big men in the league in terms of defending jump shots. He holds players shooting over him to a lower percentage than most. I just say it from memory, I cannot really quote the actual points per shot he concedes or his rank. This all goes to say that, while Pek's defensive game might have some holes, it is not by any means a disaster and his prowess on the offensive end compensates for this. Pek is at least in the better half of Centers in the NBA, possibly in the top third if he improves a bit. That's really a great return for a second round pick, and enough not to consider the Center as the weakest position in the Wolves roster, IMO.

forced to concede

Ah you guys have managed to negotiate me closer to the middle. I will reluctantly concede that Nikola Pekovic is not a "stellar defender" so long as there are big men like Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, a healthy Dwight Howard and Kendrick Perkins in the league. I will join the consensus that says he is in the top half, and leave it at that.
I've been toying with the idea of writing a column that examines all the times I've been dead wrong about something and then trying to trace it back CSI-style, to my inherent biases. For example, I imagine I overrate Pek's D because I hear from credible sources that Kahn is not that great of a fan and would let him go if Portland or another team offered him max or close to max money.
More egregious examples includes me totally underrating Mark Jackson as a coach in Golden State because I disliked his announcing so much, and hating on Kevin Martin because I consider him a soft player and have such affection for the way James Harden plays.
I won't write that column because it would be too narcissistic. But I do think it is a good idea for writers with a forum to check themselves. Woj isn't the only one grinding axes.

To be fair to you about Jackson

The scout on SI who assessed them before the season wasn't that high on him, either, saying his strategy was severely lacking and that his players would eventually tune him out if they continued running such simple sets. Zach Lowe at Grantland did say his defensive strategy has been excellent this year. Either way, his team could be similar to McHale's Rockets team last year: successful with simplicity early in the season but experiencing diminishing returns after a few trips around the league.