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The Kevin Love news is obviously heartbreaking. Do you remember where YOU were when K-Love went down? Both Tom and Derek already elaborated on what happens next, how the Wolves can fill the void of losing a superstar. Based on Tweets just yesterday, it’s practically impossible to “replace” him. There’s no replacing Love’s production and leadership but there are ways to fight on and alleviate the pain.
Let’s start with the schedule. Even though it may be the weakest argument to dull the ache, the Wolves opening schedule from Opening Day to the end of December is favorable to say the least. Now, I take that statement with a grain of salt; no team in the NBA is an absolute walk-over win with maybe exceptions for Orlando and Charlotte. Maybe. But every other team has done a great job of building a competitive team or at least one with young enough talent to hope for a brighter future, like the Cavs, Warriors and Rockets. Those teams will be scraping the barrel for a playoff berth, which neither means they’re good or bad, just highly competitive and not likely to quit easily. What’s apparent on the Wolves’ schedule is the amount of mediocrity to above average teams on the docket for the first two months of the season. Of those projected for high seed playoff berths, the Wolves match up against Oklahoma City and Miami just once each. And I’m being generous in including those because they are late December, when both Love and Ricky Rubio are expected to be back already. There are some decent mid-level projected playoff teams (Indiana, Brooklyn, Philly and Boston) as well as some Western Conference squads poised to be rallying against the Wolves for a low seed playoff berth (Dallas, Denver and Sacramento).
Another reason this injury may not be all that bad is because Kahn and Adelman spent the majority of the summer rebuilding this team and ultimately adding depth that they’ve never had before. How many Wolves teams in the past have seen at least one legitimate backup at every position? Depth pads injuries and poor play, and it’s a concept we’ve never really seen before. This season there’s at least one player at each position, and some with the ability to play another position. Ridnour, Barea, Shved, Bud, Cunningham and even Lou are all solid bench guys that can come in with fresh legs and bring some intensity and hustle to the floor. This newfound depth can cushion the blow that is Love’s injury. It’s not a replacement plan; again, Love is practically irreplaceable, but depth provides Adelman with different lineups to exploit the lineups of opposing teams.
Finally, more off of what Adelman can do with lineups, seeing that depth isn’t a problem anymore, the injury obviously leaves the Wolves in dire need of a starting lineup change. Whether that means promoting D-Will to the starting five, which Derek touched on earlier, but we all know what that could equate to — Tom wrote about the potential issues that could arise from that just yesterday. Having said that, Adelman has a couple options with who to start other than D-Will. Adelman could easily insert Cunningham and create a nitty-gritty starting lineup that emphasizes defense and pure hustle. It leaves the scoring load to Pek and Roy, for the most part, which could be an issue. The other option is to go “small,” sorta. Place Kirilenko at the 4 and slide Budinger into the starting five, which adds more dynamic scoring options but a glaring weakness of strength and physicality at almost all positions.
I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter who starts the game, it’s more about who finishes the game, which leads me to my final point. Remember early last season, when Rubio dazzled and Adelman took the heat from the general public for not inserting him in the starting lineup earlier. What many didn’t know is that Rubio actually led the league in fourth quarter minutes, and proved that being on the court at the end of the game is more important than starting it. Think about it: Basketball is a game of runs, and it’s better to catch that run at the end of the game with your best players rested and ready to go. You win the game at the end, not the beginning. Where the Wolves will truly miss Love the most is at the end of the game with his determined demeanor and leadership. Regardless of what Adelman decides to do to tweak the starting lineup in Love’s absence, it truly matters what he looks to do at the end of games. Putting the weak schedule theory aside, this comes down to great coaching, and Minnesota has to be lucky to have one of the best making the decision this season.