How can the best Power Forward in the league, a prototypical superstar and a consummate professional, pose a problem for his team?
The 6’10 rebounding machine is pulling down a league best 13.8 rebounds per game, putting up 25 points per game, dishing out a career high 4 assists a night, and is currently ranked 8th on NBA.com’s “MVP Ladder” – yet he poses a major issue for the T-Wolves front office.
A quarter of the way through the season, they’re 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the West, and even if things do go right for them for the rest of the season, their best case scenario is a 7/8th seed and a probable first round exit in the playoffs. On top of that, things don’t figure to be getting much easier for the Timberwolves. In the West, Love can’t carry a team to the title by himself, but at the same time, having him on the roster prevents the Wolves from bottoming out and rebuilding because he is just too good.
Their division consists of OKC, Portland, Denver and Utah – one of the toughest divisions (and on an upswing). Utah is on track to have a high lottery draft pick to partner with their young pieces of Favors, Hayward, Kanter and rookie Trey Burke. Denver may also have a high lottery pick next year by way of the Knicks to go with Gallo, Ty and The Manimal. OKC has the best scorer on the planet as a part of their 25-year old 1-2 punch and are a perennial contender. Lastly, Portland has established themselves as a threat in the West with their strong core, improved depth and impressive defence. To just stand out in their division Minnesota will have to get better.
The T-wolves issue now is what, if anything, they can do to keep their MVP calibre player from leaving as soon as his free agency rolls around, and if he does go elsewhere, how does the team move forward? Minnesota isn’t a sought after free agent destination, with its small market, cold climate and unproven winning culture, so it has widely been assumed that as soon as K-Love has the opportunity he will bolt to his home town Los Angeles or push to get to a bigger market. The only way that is likely to change is if the Wolves become better and start competing for a title soon. After this season, there are 2 seasons remaining on Love’s contract, which means the Wolves have <2 years to become contenders or risk losing their best asset since KG was in The Twin Cities.
Minny need to improve their depth and roster flexibility, they might need an upgrade at SF (if Shabazz, Chase Budinger or Brewer don’t prove themselves soon), Rubio needs to add a jump shot and become some sort or scoring threat and their defence needs to find an identity. That’s a lot of things to get done in 2 years.
The T-Wolves front office has a few options when it comes to Love and their future; and all come with risks. They can:
– Make no major moves, and hope that the current team is good enough in the next 2 years to compete for a title. In the current Western Conference landscape, this approach likely won’t cut it, and Minnesota will continue to struggle in mediocrity until Love gets frustrated and leaves.
– Look to trade him soon while his stock is highest, in return for younger players or future assets to partner with Ricky Rubio. This would only be feasible if it becomes apparent that Love won’t sign an extension and the Wolves were trying to get some assets in exchange for him, rather than having their star player leave in free agency leaving them high and dry.
– Look to add established pieces around Love to make the team more competitive right now, and hope that he stays. This is the best way to entice Love to sign an extension, by showing faith in their star and an interest in winning, but would have the most negative impact if he decides to leave anyway. (At least it will make the team look good if he does jump ship because it will show that they were trying to do everything they could to make their team competitive and help Kevin win a championship)
– Or they can look to add/develop young talent (or draft picks) in the hope that they develop in time for the team to become truly competitive in the West before he leaves. This also acts as an insurance policy in case he does leave because even if they get nothing for him when he leaves, at least they have some solid young pieces ready to develop. It’s only really a half-hearted attempt to win now, and would require commitment, hope and patience from Love towards a front office that really hasn’t earned it up until now. Whether K-Love wants to show loyalty and wait for a team to develop around him in the prime of his career is the question.
The next 2 years might be the most important years in Timberwolves history, and the way they handle the Kevin Love situation will affect whether the organization will be able to lure and retain superstars for years to come.