This is the 17th in a 17-part series profiling each player on the Timberwolves’ roster leading up to training camp.
Somebody get Kevin Love a 29.5-inch Spalding, a new pair of Nikes, and a jam-packed Target Center.
The sooner those are in his possession simultaneously — should be Wednesday, Oct. 30 against Orlando — the sooner Minnesota’s most important player can move the heck on.
On from 31-51. On from disgruntlement with the Timberwolves’ former front-office leadership. On from the knuckle pushups, the knee surgery, the games spent sitting behind the bench wearing a suit, tie and hipster-style glasses.
For a guy who can seemingly do just about anything with a basketball in his hands, sitting and watching most of last year while his team wallowed well below mediocrity was agonizing. Starting the day before Halloween, Love will be able to exact some of that pent-up angst against Minnesota opponents.
Before hand injuries and an arthroscopic knee operation claimed the bulk of his fifth NBA season, the two-time All-Star was everything the Timberwolves asked him to be. Pouring in points, pulling down rebounds and knocking down 3s at a mighty impressive rate for a 6-foot-10, 240-pound power forward would represent a continuation along that trajectory.
Only this time, he’ll have more help than he ever has. And therein rest Minnesota’s hopes that this season can be everything last year wasn’t.
Last year: Love came into the Timberwolves’ 2012 camp as fresh and raring to go as he appears this year. Once point guard Ricky Rubio returned from his ACL injury, it was assumed, the two complementary pieces — the passer and the finisher — could assume ransacking defenses and consistently putting Minnesota into triple digits on the scoreboard.
Then came Love’s infamous training accident Oct. 17, the day after Minnesota’s fourth preseason game. He fractured the third and fourth metacarpals in his right hand while performing pushups on fist-clenched knuckles and missed the Timberwolves’ first nine games as a result.
He reinjured the third metacarpal (middle finger) Jan. 3 at Denver and underwent surgery Jan. 15. With Minnesota’s season sinking fast, he opted to also have some lingering scar tissue cleared out of his left knee April 10, effectively terminating any chances he had of returning.
When he was able to play, Love wasn’t his usual self. While his scoring numbers remained respectable and his rebound average soared like usual, he didn’t display the shooting touch he had the previous two campaigns. His field-goal percentage, though accumulated across a small sample size, was a career low. So was his 21.7-percent 3-point clip (excluding his rookie season, when he attempted only 19 3s).
Love was purported to have butted heads with president of basketball operations David Kahn, who didn’t give him a maximum-length contract following the expiration of his rookie deal. Kahn was eventually fired and replaced by Flip Saunders, who’s since done his best to patch things up with his franchise player.
There’s no telling what a fully healthy — and happy — Love would’ve been able to accomplish with Rubio directing coach Rick Adelman’s offense and center Nikola Pekovic drawing ample attention in the post last season.
Which is why this year’s prospects are so intriguing as of Tuesday, the first day of training camp in Mankato.
This year: Not only does Love have Rubio and Pekovic to work alongside this season, but 3-point specialist Kevin Martin and fast-break-friendly small forward Corey Brewer are now in the fold after signing as unrestricted free agents. Minnesota’s projected starting lineup consists of those five and gives Adelman all kinds of options at his disposal.
Love, however, remains the undisputed focal point.
Adelman’s pass-and-move offense will still be geared toward generating open looks for Love. He’ll still be relied upon to score in the lane and from the perimeter, especially early on while swingman Chase Budinger attempts to recover from yet another knee injury.
Demands on Love to crash the boards aren’t going anywhere, either. Since the 2009-10 season, he averages 13.4 rebounds per game, second in the league only to Dwight Howard (13.5) during that time frame.
But there’s an aspect of Love’s game both Saunders and Adelman hope to see manifested in his career’s sixth edition. Now surrounded by so many offensive threats, he’ll be expected to facilitate often, especially when a double team comes his way.
And, like the rest of the Timberwolves, he’s got to defend. This is not a group with many stellar individual stoppers — Brewer and reserve center Ronny Turiaf are two exceptions — but the message all offseason has been that team defense can overcome particular deficiencies.
Love’s long, athletic and strong enough to match up with a variety of scorers, as long as his desire matches his build.
All eyes will be on the organization’s progress and Love’s developing relationship with Saunders over the next two seasons. He has a player option on his contract for 2014-15, at which point he’ll almost certainly begin negotiating an extension.
Or, if things don’t go well in the Twin Cities, start looking elsewhere.
In the meantime, though, Love says he’s intent upon terminating the league’s longest playoff drought and giving pro hoops fans around here reason to remain excited throughout an entire season.
See you Oct. 30.
From the front office: “Two words: focused and enthusiastic. I think very focused on what he feels that the team needs and what he needs to do to help the team. What I’ve liked in all our conversations . . . everything’s been ‘we’ and not ‘I,’ very much team oriented, and I think he’s very enthusiastic about what we have, the team we have, the changes that we’ve made and the direction that we’re going.” – Saunders