By Ben Golliver
The year the Minnesota Timberwolves were finally set to turn the corner has already skidded into the roadside rails.
The Timberwolves announced Wednesday that All-Star forward Kevin Love has suffered a "hand injury" that will sideline him for 6-to-8 weeks. FoxSportsNorth reports that Love "broke his third and fourth fingers in his right hand while working out [Wednesday] morning." The Star-Tribune reports the injury occurred while Love was working out at his Minneapolis condominium before Minnesota's Wednesday practice.
Love, 24, is a two-time All-Star who was named to the All-NBA Second Team last season and finished sixth in the 2012 MVP voting. He averaged a career-high 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game last season.
If Love misses exactly six weeks, this injury would cost him the rest of the preseason plus the Timberwolves' first 14 regular-season games. If he is sidelined the full two months, he would miss 22 regular season games, more than a quarter of Minnesota's schedule.
It goes without saying that Love, one of the league's top-2 rebounders and a deadly overall offensive threat, is indispensable.
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman has combo forwards Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham behind Love on the depth chart. Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, boasts some versatility and athleticism, but hasn't yet established himself as a go-to scorer and spent most of last season coming off the bench. Cunningham, a 2009 second-round pick who was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in a summer trade, lacks the bulk to hang with true power forwards. He's a hard-worker lunch pail guy, but it's no accident that Minnesota is his fourth team in four years. Both players are far better suited to situational use, so Adelman could also decide to lean more heavily on jack-of-all-trades forward Andrei Kirilenko, hoping that his defensive prowess and instincts can make him for his own lack of brute strength. Kirilenko could play alongside Williams in an interchangeable pairing or with Chase Budinger, who is a pure three.
None of these solutions is particularly palatable. There's just no replacing a 20/10 every night, no matter how you shuffle the deck chairs with this roster. There is one other potentially frightening implication: Adelman had hoped to ease guard Brandon Roy back in after a year spent away from the game due to knee injuries. Now, the Timberwolves need scoring from Roy more than ever. That demand could make limiting or managing his minutes even trickier.
Minnesota, which hopes to push for a playoff spot for the first time since 2003-04, is also without point guard Ricky Rubio, who is still rehabilitating from March surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee. A date for Rubio's return to the court has not yet been set. Love also missed time during the 2009-10 season due to a broken bone in his left hand. He then missed time in 2010-11 with a groin injury and in 2011-12 with a concussion. All told, he's missed 41 games combined over the last three seasons. The Timberwolves signed Love to a 4-year contract extension worth $60 million in December 2011 which carries him through the 2015-16 season. Love can exercise a player option during the summer of 2015.