I have a theory about Kevins and Minnesota basketball: They’re cursed.
Kevin Garnett could never win a title with the Timberwolves. Kevin Love couldn’t even make the playoffs. Kevin McHale, a former Minnesota Mr. Basketball, never played there professionally, but he did lead the team through some of its more disappointing years.
Garnett left and won a championship the next year. McHale left and got Dwight Howard and James Harden within five years. And now Love will reportedly wave goodbye on Aug. 23, as soon as the deal that will send him to Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick can be completed.
Maybe he’ll pull a Garnett and win a title with LeBron James
and company next June. Maybe something else will go awry. Regardless, the pressure is now on Love to prove he can finally win while the Timberwolves stockpile their young talent and laugh like thieves.
This was not an easy breakup. Love has had one eye on I-35 southbound since January 2012, when then-Minnesota general manager David Kahn decided he couldn’t bear to offer the second-best player in his franchise’s history a five-year deal. Love’s departure has loomed since then, largely due to the fact that the Wolves have failed to reach the postseason since re-signing the All-Star to a shorter deal. Then Love informed his team last spring that he wouldn’t opt in the following year, and if became when, where and who.
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“Who,” for a time, was David Lee and Klay Thompson. Then Thompson went off the table. Then who became Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, and then LeBron happened. Then the best basketball player in the world returned to Cleveland… and this is the point in the story when Timberwolves fans should start cheering.
Before James’ decision on July 11, acquiring Wiggins was a pipe dream for Minnesota. Really, any top-5 pick from the 2014 draft was a fantasy, but that’s exactly what the Timberwolves needed: young, cheap talent to perform a complete rebuild around. Unfortunately for Minnesota, no team that Love would be willing to sign an extension with had one of those picks -- or so everyone thought. That changed with the news that James was heading north, that he wanted to play with Love and that Wiggins was on the table, too.
This is the best Minnesota was going to get for a player who would have left regardless next spring. Period.
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I covered the Timberwolves for two seasons, 2011-13. I got to know Love over that time, and I always enjoyed him as a player to cover. We’re about the same age, and he always seemed like a down-to-earth guy with a good sense of humor – and he wasn’t bad to watch on the court, either. I was there for the knuckle pushup incident and the debacle of a season that followed, and that’s when things went awry. It’s when rumors began to fly about the real cause of his injury (no comment), when fans decided he’d rather be in Los Angeles than Minneapolis – which really, wouldn’t everyone? By the spring of 2013, something had shifted. Another subpar season brought Minnesota even closer to losing Love, which brought out the worst in the Timberwolves’ fan base, which soured on Love in turn.
We haven’t won, and he’s been here five years. (Not entirely his fault.) He’s not the best player on a championship team. (Maybe, few are). He doesn’t play defense. (Okay, fair.) He doesn’t want to be here, so we don’t want him. (-10 degrees can do that.) Criticism began to fly, and yet Minnesota’s front office stomped its collective foot and refused to admit it might be better off without Love until the very last minute.
Love in Minnesota was a failed experiment. The longer it dragged out, the longer the Timberwolves would be mediocre, failing to land a high enough draft pick year after year while also missing the playoffs. By landing Wiggins, Minnesota has a chance at a legitimate rebuild, while Love will get a chance to see his first-ever playoffs at age 26 in Cleveland. Both sides win, Cleveland now and for several years, and the Timberwolves in a year or two, if they can manage to capitalize on what they’ve received in return.
That’s a big if, and in that, Minnesota should let Love be a lesson. No young modern-day NBA superstar is going to bide his time in a small market waiting for a winner, even if he is from Canada, which is practically Minnesota’s backyard. Wiggins is the Timberwolves’ mulligan, and the Cavaliers are Love’s. The pressure is on, for the team Love left behind to win, and for him to prove he can do the same.
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On Thursday's SI Now, Sports Illustrated senior writers Phil Taylor and Chris Mannix discuss how being traded to the Timberwolves will impact Andrew Wiggins' development.