Kevin Love’s Makeover

Face-off with Kevin Love

Face-off with Kevin Love

GQ recently did a profile on the Timberwolves’ own Kevin Love. Included was a suave haircut, a beard trimming and a dapper new suit. Gotta admit it, the man cleans up swell.

But as part of his profile, Love sat down for an interview with GQ. Here’s a piece of what Love had to say to the magazine:

“People think it’s so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota,” Love told GQ. “And I’m not s——- on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I’m having fun.”

There’s no need to dig too deep into his comments because a lot can change between now and the summer of 2015, when Love’s contract could be up. And he’s not far off by any means. The Lakers are pretty dismal, there’s no lying about that. And the Wolves, despite their record being shy of what they wished coming into the season, are indeed a “fun” team to be a part of. Love’s obviously going through the emotions during the up-and-down season. He’s vaulted his way into race for third place for MVP (First and second is all but locked up, obviously). He’s clearly having the best season of his career, and he’s made huge strides in terms of leadership and intangibles. All in all, Love is becoming a bonafide superstar before our eyes, and it’s about time we give him that respect he deserves.

So don’t think too much about what Love said other than that the kind words are awfully humbling. But Love is doing and saying all of the right things at the exact right time.

HTW’s All Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team

In honor All-Star Weekend, HTW wanted to compile a team that truly represents the Wolves’ 25-year history in the NBA. Now, unfortunately, the Wolves haven’t had much of a decorated past. In fact, since we don’t consider the Minneapolis Lakers as part of the Wolves family, the teams of years past and all their players have, well, — how do I put this lightly? — have been pretty damn awful.

From botched lottery picks to “prized” free agents/trade targets and a plethora of attempted “Comeback Kid” projects, the Wolves have failed to put together a lengthy string of good, albeit competent basketball players. Outside of bringing in the cornerstone of the franchise in Kevin Garnett back in 1995 and finding the right formula for just a handful of years, the team’s past has been littered with misery and false hope.

In order to properly celebrate this truly depressing feat, HTW is unveiling it’s Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team. Filled with your favorites from teams both old and new, we want to show you what it takes to be filled with misfortune and regret. Tom, Derek and myself each compiled a list ourselves of players containing five starters, seven bench players and three worthy of honorable mention to create a 15-man squad. I then weighted the lists to find out who are finalists were and also plugged them in as a starter, bench or honorable mention based on those weighted projections. As a side note, I just want to be extremely clear that this was not even close to easy and for all the wrong reasons. Not only have a lot of poor basketball players played for the Wolves before but many have played for them way too long. Honestly, we should feel lucky enough to have only seen a large percentage of these players play in Minnesota for less than a couple years at best.

So without further adieu, here is HTW’s Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team:  Continue reading

Good vs. Bad; Wolves lose 107-89

Love vs. D12 AND Jones is always a tough matchup

Love vs. D12 AND Jones is always a tough matchup

Every competition ends with a winner and a loser heading back to their respective locker rooms. As a fan, joy of competitive sports is not knowing before the game even starts who could win. There are always factors that could lead one to believe that one side has an advantage — albeit slight or commanding. Often times, and general Minnesota sports fans are all too familiar with this feeling, the Wolves head into games on the opposite end of having that advantage. It shouldn’t be like that given we have a top scorer in Kevin Love, a big time assist-man and stifling defender in Ricky Rubio, as well as a slew of supporting characters, all paid handsomely for their past contributions to prior teams (I’m looking at you, Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea and Corey Brewer).

But the story is becoming all too familiar from the treacherous past that has haunted the organization year in and year out. Luck is no longer on our side, rather the injury bug continues to perch on the walls of the Target Center. The future looks bleak with the looming demise of superstars hitchhiking out of town and a less-than-friendly cap situation. Bottom-line: It can’t get much worse rooting for a team trying to claw out from a seemingly bottomless pit of pure darkness and jaw-clenching damp air.

Oops, sorry. Accidentally published my season-end censure for when the Wolves miss out on the playoffs by losing the final game of the season. My bad.

Actually, tonight’s loss wasn’t that big of a deal at all. If you go back to that first depressing paragraph and think about how team’s go into games with specific factors that tip the scale in their favor, well, that was easily the Rockets tonight. Look, they’re way freaking better than the Wolves. Pure and simple.

But there are other factors that go into this matchup and its result that negatively affected the Wolves’ stock, including injuries to both Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin. The Wolves have been flat-out bad without Pek and Martin has always provided that second-scoring punch behind Love for the entire season. Without those two guys, a lot of pressure leans heavily onto the shoulders of inexperienced players (inexperienced within that role, that is) such as Budinger, Brewer, Barea and even Rubio, who’s not used to scoring as much as he can on any given night.

The Rockets’ starters kicked the pants off the Wolves entire team tonight. After all, they combined for 85 points and the highest scorer (Chandler Parsons) only posted 20 himself. Otherwise, it was a collective ass-kicking up and down the whole lineup. A barrage of three-pointers and a healthy dose of Dwight Howard and even Terrence Jones inside will give any defense the heebee-jeebies. That is why they’re built like the monster they are now to make a serious run at a title, and they undoubtedly have a shot if they’re playing their best ball towards the end of the season.

As for the Wolves, they’re just not good right now. Love is doing all he can to muster up enough production and leadership to get the cart back on track but it’s just not a one-man job. Time will help the Wolves greatly; to get Pek and Martin back healthy will boost the offense and the starting lineup will once again be whole. But until then, the grind must continue. Guys like Alexey Shved, who showed up at least in the first half with 11 points, and/or Luc Richard Mbah A Moute have to prove their minutes and fill voids. Depth has never been this team’s strong suit, and we certainly saw that tonight, but it’ll be of the utmost importance that that second unit steps up to the plate with more confidence that they can get the job done right. Because 29 points on just 37 percent shooting ain’t gonna cut it, folks.

Again, this win isn’t conducive to what I first wrote above but it very well could be if things aren’t straightened out in the next month or two. If the team of currently healthy lads can muster up some confidence, win a few games before the break and then regather once they’re second and third mates come back, I don’t see why this team, behind Love’s magic, can’t resurge back into the playoff picture. It really can happen. And, well, we sorta need it to.

Otherwise I’m copying in pasting those first couple paragraphs into a piece titled, “The Dump That Was 2013-2014.”

Next up: Wolves stay at home for a bout against the Nuggets on Wednesday. Mr. Derek James will have your coverage as well as a carefully thought-out recap following the game! Until then…

Update: Kevin Martin’s Finger

Per Darren Wolfson:

Good news for the Wolves there. Would’ve been a serious blow to lose Martin with a boo boo to his thumb to go along with Love’s ailments (Which will sideline him for tonight) and Pekovic’s current injury, which sidelines him until after the All-Star break as well. At this point, any luck is good luck for the Wolves.

Z-Bo’s good; Wolves fall to Grizzlies 94-90

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Clash of the Titans, Love vs. Randolph

I’ll just get this out of the way. The only reason I tune in to watching the Grizzlies, even when they don’t play the Wolves, is solely because of Zach Randolph. I’m not going to say he’s my favorite player but he very well could be my favorite player. Don’t ask for reasoning, he just is.

So when I get to watch as Z-Bo and Kevin Love, another favorite of mine, battle head-to-head, I’m always more than intrigued. And I almost love nothing more when the two are pulling their teams on their backs to the finish line. What I don’t like, though, is seeing Randolph and the Grizzlies prevail. In Minnesota, albeit.

Randolph and the Grizzlies played three great quarters, including the deciding fourth, to take one from the Wolves at home. Randolph finished the game with 26 points and 12 rebounds.

It wasn’t all signed, sealed and delivered for Memphis, though. A huge third quarter from the Wolves kept them in the game. Actually, let me rephrase: A huge third quarter from Love kept the Wolves in the game. In fact, Love scored 18 points to the Grizzlies’ 16. I thought it’d be enough to pull it off against a hot Memphis team but the steam ran dry in the fourth.

Now for real talk. Love had a big night but it was almost the reg for his production. A double-double with points in the 20′s, big whoop. But the problem tonight was the lack of physicality but also finesse in the paint at both ends. Ronny Turiaf and Dante Cunningham, don’t get me wrong, are solid players and make a difference whenever they’re game is on. Tonight was surely one of those nights, as they combined for 19 points and 17 rebounds. But the Wolves are a different team without Nikola Pekovic. That’s no lie.

Pekovic is a rare breed. A 6-foot-11 behemoth, who scares the pants off of any regular guy. He’s as strong as they get in the NBA and can bully his way to the rim with very little effort. The key to Pek’s game, though, is his ability to finesse around the physicality at times to give the defense different looks. We’ve seen him push his range and shoot jump shots. We’ve seen his baby hook off the right arm become a staple. It’s not all about backing down and rolling to the rim with him.

I worry that the Wolves, without Pekovic, become too one-dimesional on offense. Sure, you have Love, and we all know what to expect on a nightly basis, as I wrote before. But Kevin Martin will surely have his unpredictable off-nights and Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer are as reliable of scorers as wiping up a spill with toilet paper. The Grizzlies revealed that harsh truth tonight.

Wolves got Hawks in ATL tomorrow night. Another chance to get back over .500!

Humbled by Love

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Sports in America, more specifically basketball, place less and less emphasis on the team anymore. Instead they honor individual merits with awards and praise, which seems to grab the attention of the media more often than any team performance ever would unless it were the championship. For example, winding down the day with a little SportsCenter on the tube that evening, all your bound to see are highlights of individuals making plays and then the final score of the game only at the very end. “Kevin Durant drops a bomb from deep … K.D. flies down the lane for the slam … Durantulla scored 46 points and the game-winner. Oh, and the Thunder won by 2.”

It’s not all their fault. It’s been that way nearly forever. Until you strip names off the back of uniforms and force fandom into broadening their scope to take away our “praise be to thee” system, the single player will get praise first, then team second.

With that emphasis individual achievement, it’s easy to let it get to your head. You know, think you’re better than the rest, perhaps forget that a lot of the credit is due to teammates and coaches and trainers. Early in his career, Kevin Love could’ve easily fallen into that trap, having gotten into tussles with teammates and badmouthing a front office (Even if they did deserve it). Some of his actions throughout his career suggest he might think he’s bigger than the Wolves or even the city of Minneapolis entirely. But the way we as fans push athletes to a national-level pedestal, we could just as easily be the ones to blame.

It’s not all about big heads and oversized egos, though. American sports can also be one of the most humbling employment opportunities in the entire world. I watch and play a lot of golf, and I think it’s the best sport to prove my point. Golfers train their whole lives to get their game where it needs to be to win tournaments, money and livelihood. Once they finally make it, there is no team. It really is just them, so their accounted for to make all the right swings and putts with just a tiny margin of error. But it sure isn’t easy with all that pressure on your shoulders and no teammates to divide it up to. Sinking a 4-foot putt is like trying roll the ball over a moving ant; that easy-going 7-iron you hit in practice on the 17th tee feels like you’re swinging wet noodle while trying to hit a skittle off a tee. It can be brutally honest feedback whispering in your ear, “You’re just not that good.”

When times get tough, the tough get going. The saying has never been truer. But not everyone is that tough all the time and so, inevitably, mistakes will be made. That’s why you have to respect the game for what it is, learn your lesson and move on with a new, meek attitude.

***

Humility. It’s a word that I always thought best describes what the majority of good basketball players DON’T have, and that includes our very own Kevin Love. He went from a pudgy white kid with great skill to one of the NBA’s most respected players in just a few years. It’s not easy to make a jump like that without just a little bit getting to your head. The work you put in, the hours of sweat, aches and pain, might help you stay grounded, but when all is going well, it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself and get swept up by the moment. “Yeah, I am this good!”

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***

I love basketball but it’s absolutely the worst sport when it comes to honoring humble beginnings. You’re born and possibly even bred to be much taller than the average human being. And then you use the most simple, basic athletic abilities (Run, jump, shuffle) to gain competitive advantage over the rest of your peers. It’s as silver-platter as a sport can get.

I do believe that Love, who comes from a privileged background which includes an uncle (Mike Love) from the Beach Boys, came into this league a little selfish and perhaps a tad cocky. It wasn’t easy starting out, either. But Love realized that his glory days on the West coast were over and it was time to start anew. He had to work his tail off to show the organization that he could be better than their staple at the time in Big Al Jefferson. He had to win over an entirely unreliable and almost foreign fanbase. And he had to do it all while losing over 50 games a season to start his career. That’s awfully unsettling.

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But having been elected now to his third All-Star game and the first starting bid, I think it’s easy to say that Love has come full circle from his immature beginnings. After all, he did work hard enough to not only beat out Jefferson, but to become one of the elite players in the NBA. He has won over a fanbase in Minnesota by even making non-basketball fans come to watch a game or two. And now the team is finally starting to turnaround their misfortune of the late 2000′s and win some freaking games. If you ask me, it’s all coming together quite nicely for both he and the franchise.

Love is currently averaging 24.9 PPG, 12.9 RPG and 4.1 APG. In fact, he’s chasing Kareem Abdul Jabbar to become the only one since to average 25/13/4 before the All-Star break. He’s also ranked fourth in total scoring, second in total rebounds and tenth in offensive rebounds. He’s been so good that the Wolves’s offensive efficiency with him on the court is 114.6. It’s just 96.6 when he’s on the bench, a difference of 18 points. Having one of the best pump fakes in the biz, he’s posting a career-high 13.3 percent drawn foul rate. His work ethic has helped improve his defense, which was a major weakness when he first came into the league. He’s already recorded 38 steals this season, his career-high being 47. The numbers don’t lie, folks; this guy is really good, and he may just only be scratching the surface.

***

What sparked this article was a transcribe from a conference call Love took, explaining how he found out about his All-Star bid and more. Flip Saunders was jerking him around a bit until he actually dropped the news.

“So [Flip] comes to my room, I open the door, it’s him and Milt and you know, as I’m kind of pushing the door back he said ‘Congrats’. And I said ‘What are you talking about?’ And Flip looks at me and says, ‘You’re going to be an All-Star starter, buddy.’ That was a pretty surreal moment for me,” Love said.

Surreal? But this will be your third All-Star game in as many years…?

“You know for the fans to reach out and vote me in and to play amongst my peers that are very well liked and popular around the world, it really means a lot,” Love said.

Oh, okay gotcha. So it’s more special because the fans voted you in?

“I think it’s a little sweeter this way, because I really didn’t expect it. I was very, I was already humbled by the response the fans gave me to even being that close to the top,” Love said.

Ahhh, now that’s the candid response I’ve been waiting for. Good for you, Kevin. Good for you.

***

We all know that Love’s NBA fairy tale could very well close its chapter in Minnesota in the Summer of 2015 or even earlier. Free agency is looming and his contract’s running low on days. We don’t know if/when he’ll be wearing another jersey but at least we get to say we had a part in molding Love’s exceptional production but, most importantly, his newfound humility.

The handy, dandy 2nd unit; Wolves lose 115-104

Love vs. Aldridge is always an entertaining matchup

Love vs. Aldridge is always an entertaining matchup

I have to believe that there are just about two ways to make a team great in the NBA; 1) Just sign superstars and ride their tag-teaming ways all the way to the playoffs, or; 2) Sport one of the deepest benches, full of more-than-capable players that the coach can lean on even in the waning moments of a clutch win.

After watching last night’s game against the Blazers, it’s clear to see that the Wolves don’t really have either of those above. Kevin Love is a superstar but he’s a little lonely on that front. But then again, the rest of the starting lineup can play pretty great in spurts, making them look like a playoff caliber team. But then the first quarter ends or we’re midway through the third and Adelman motions his hand for (ugh) JJ Barea to come.

The clear difference in this game was the play of the two teams’ bench players. As preface, you should know that the Wolves’ bench is 27th in scoring, 29th in field goal percentage and dead last in overall efficiency on the court. It’s as if their scoop dirt dirt back into the hole that the starters began, looking for paydirt. Last night had an eerily similar trend.

After the first quarter lead, the second unit of Barea, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf went out there. All they really had to do was do their best to keep it close while the starters rested. That’s all we really ask. But instead the Blazers took the inferior competition and ran with it to win that quarter by 10. The same thing happened in the fourth, to a lesser degree because Adelman knew it was crunch time and he’d get ripped for keeping Barea and Co. out there any longer than he should’ve.

The bench is a serious Kryptonite to the starters’ armor. And on the otherside of the court, it was completely the opposite. Barea couldn’t contain Mo Williams to save his marriage (Wouldn’t that be sad?!). And Thomas Robinson made Dante Cunningham look like he was ready to quit. Those two combined for 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. I think Adelman would kill to get that out of his entire bench on any given night.

I don’t wanna take credit away from the Blazers by blaming this loss on the Wolves’ putrid bench but it had a big part in it for sure. The Blazers are for real, though. Their early season success isn’t a fluke. LaMarcus Aldridge should be an All-Star. Robin Lopez plays the perfect sidekick to Aldridge in the paint on both ends. And I wouldn’t trade Damian Lillard for Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook or even Derrick Rose. He’s that good, folks. They’re a team built to do really well in the playoffs I think too, and play in a terrific city that loves their basketball with all their heart.

As for the Wolves, it wasn’t a good loss but they certainly learned the standard of which a playoff-like team plays at game in and game out. In order to become one themselves, they have some things to figure out and hope that the bench can finally get their heads in order and play a little more consistently each and every night. Until then, you can’t just keep hoping the starters combine for 90 to keep them close.

Wolves should actually feel okay about getting a split in the Northwest trip, holding onto that big win in Golden State. Next up are the Bulls on Monday night. See you then.