In Minnesota basketball, nostalgia runs deep.
Jerseys bearing Kevin Garnett's name still dot the Target Center seats, seven years after No. 21's departure from the Timberwolves. To fix their front-office woes last spring, the team hired Flip Saunders, who played at the University of Minnesota and coached the Timberwolves in their heyday. Hell, a 93-year-old sports writer still dodders around the arena some nights holding a recorder the size of a toddler -- and there's a bronze statue of the man erected outside the building.
There's no statue of Kevin Love, though, not yet and perhaps not ever. The No. 42 jerseys seen on game nights are still crisp. Those wearing them hold out hope for a winning season year after year. They imagine a future that's a little less depressing, but as rumors swirled around Thursday's trade deadline, it seemed Love was closer than ever to joining the nostalgia parade.
Turn on a television, open a computer, and talking heads bantered about the Love situation. Potential trade scenarios abounded. Reasons to justify them were a dime a dozen. Minnesota's star power forward is averaging 26.2 points and 13.3 rebounds this season, he is one of the 10 best players in the NBA -- yet the sixth-year veteran has never played for a winning team, and the end of his contract is looming.
Despite the talk, Minnesota stamped its foot and said, No, no, no, it would not even entertain the idea of trading him. The trade deadline came and went, and I began to wonder: Why?
At this point, Love seems almost like some stubborn representation that success is still to come in Minnesota. We cannot trade him because he is our star, and we can't believe he would walk away from us, and we will keep thinking that until the door smacks us in the face and we're left with nothing in return. Reports out of Minneapolis on Wednesday were that Saunders wasn't even taking the terms of proposed trades to owner Glen Taylor. Who knows whether that's true, but it makes a statement, and not exactly the right one.
From a business perspective, at least, contemplating a trade makes sense. The Timberwolves cannot undo the fact that former president David Kahn bungled Love's contract negotiations two years ago, when he refused to make the power forward the team's "designated player" and offer him a five-year extension rather than a four-year deal. Instead of realizing what he had in front of him, Kahn elected to hold the five-year extension for Ricky Rubio, a rookie point guard he regarded with the puppy love of a prom date rather than the sharp eye of an NBA executive.
They cannot undo that the resulting contract was for three years with a player option for a fourth, a deal Love can opt out of after next season, even if Saunders spent Wednesday night tweeting that Love tells him he won't.
They cannot undo that by withholding that maximum deal, the only way to keep Love was to win -- and they haven't, and the clock is ticking.
In order to make the playoffs in the deep Western Conference, the Timberwolves (26-28) likely will have to win more than 20 of their final 28 games. Chances are slim, and for what? An opportunity to lose to Oklahoma City in the first round? The 2013-14 season has become another valiant effort, and nothing more, and Minnesota is right back to where it was in 2007, with that other Kevin, with the very real possibility that the best way to move on is to blow up the whole thing.
Maybe that's the answer. Maybe it's not. Regardless, the Timberwolves shouldn't act like trading Love is the insanity they're currently making it out to be.
Maybe Saunders should call Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Love certainly has a better head on his shoulders than the flighty Dwight Howard. Still, billboards aren't going to keep him in Minneapolis, on a team that seems to have no clear path to a championship, and to watch Love walk away in 16 months and get nothing in return would be the worst kind of nightmare in Minnesota.
Get some prospects. Stockpile some draft picks. Clear some cap space. Move on. The benefits of a trade this summer should sound at least somewhat tantalizing to the team with the longest active playoff drought in the NBA, along with a star ripe for poaching and a coach not far from retirement. Change is looming, and it can either be forced or elective.
Change is not easy, not for a team that hasn't had a winning record since 2004-05, not when a million other moves have yielded poor results and bad luck has abounded. But change shouldn't be so scary. It shouldn't be so stubborn. Maybe holding on to Love is the right move. Maybe he'll stay. Problem is, the Timberwolves need to be prepared for maybe not, and picking up the pieces will be far easier if there are actual pieces to pick up.