TrueHoop: Minnesota Timberwolves

Oh, Dieng

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Gorgui Dieng hasn't played much, but now that Nikola Pekovic is hurt, David Thorpe says Dieng is a total game-changer for the Timberwolves.


To all Kevin Love haters

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Abbott By Henry Abbott
David Thorpe understands the critique. Kevin Love's team isn't amazing and sometimes he coasts on defense. But that doesn't mean the Timberwolves big man isn't the best power forward in the game.


For Timberwolves, 'Bird' is the word

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
McPherson By Steve McPherson
Special to
Minnesota TimberwolvesESPN Illustration
The zone. That semimythical place that all athletes strive night in and night out to reach. When LeBron James went off for a career-high 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats recently, he said, “It felt like I had a golf ball, throwing it into the ocean.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Chase Budinger knows a thing or two about that feeling, and the pressure that comes along with it.

“When I was playing,” he says, “I was getting close to my other high and once I finally beat it by 10 or something, then I was able to relax a little bit and just keep going. Once you’re past it, the pressure goes away. The pressure is in getting close.”

Just how far did Budinger sail past his previous career high? He nearly doubled it, finishing with an unfathomable 327 points.

In Flappy Bird.

The mobile game sensation might have been taken down from the iTunes App Store and Google Play, but that hasn’t stopped it from consuming nearly the entire Timberwolves’ locker room. Budinger is at the top of the team leaderboard right now, and by a mile.

"Ricky [Rubio] is second," explains Ronny Turiaf, who brought the game to the team and seems to be the makeshift commissioner of the Wolves’ Flappy Bird league. "He has 187, and I’m third. I got 113."

Though Turiaf’s quest for second recently turned tragic. "Two days ago I was at 112 and one of my friends texted me and he made me lose,” he says. “So I told him that right now I’m not very happy with my friendship with him."

Budinger will be difficult to top; he has a deep yet nuanced understanding of the game and what it takes to win. "All you do is tap the screen," he says. "The bird flaps and you gotta go through tunnels. The way to do best at that game is you need to be somewhere alone and quiet. I think on the plane is a good time to play. Or on the bus, even though you’re moving a little bit."

"Right now," says Turiaf, "Chase is claiming that when you play without the sound, it helps you get better."

Apparently, there’s one player who needs to put it on vibrate. Asked who on the team is the worst, Turiaf replies, "By far, and I mean by far: Corey Brewer."

"I think his high is six," Budinger says.

Brewer, trotting through the locker room behind Budinger, growls, "Get off me, man. I got seven. Seven's my high."

"I kinda gave up when the scores starting getting to over a hundred," Robbie Hummel says. "Because I’m never going to get that. I was, like, 48. And at the start, that was in the mix. I stopped playing because I got so far out of the competition."

But even those who are out of contention keep tabs on the contest, which everyone says has been a source of excitement during a largely disappointing season for Minnesota. "It's fun when everybody's on the same page and playing and competing against each other," Rubio says.

As in any competition, though, accusations of impropriety are bound to surface from time to time. Photoshopped high scores were rampant on the Internet at Flappy Bird’s height, but Budinger insists everything's on the level within the Wolves organization.

“I tried to cheat and take a picture from the Internet, but they wouldn't believe it,” Rubio confirms. “I just have to practice,” he says.

Turiaf is more concerned that Budinger has been juicing, so to speak. “He plays on a different phone. He plays on a Samsung, I play on an iPhone,” he says. That gives him an advantage? “Ricky and I feel like it does, because his phone is bigger. Bigger resolution, so we feel like he has an advantage.”

Although creator Dong Nguyen recently told Rolling Stone that he’d consider bringing the game back, right now there’s no way for Turiaf and Rubio to upgrade to a Flappy Bird-equipped Samsung.

“Unless Samsung wants to call me right now,” Turiaf says. “This is me just trying to let them know that I'm looking for a Samsung, so if they want [me] to do any kind of appearance, all they have to do is just call me up and I'd be more than happy to do something with them. Hello, Samsung! Hello! Hi! I'm available, and I’m not expensive.”

Just don’t call him while he’s playing Flappy Bird.

Where's the love?

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Don't let the Timberwolves' record fool you. David Thorpe says Kevin Love is a top-shelf big man.

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
By Staff


Lessons from the Winter Forecast

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
Abbott By Henry Abbott
The Heat will have to turn it on to get back to title form, and looking at the battle for West playoff spots, David Thorpe reminds us not to sleep on the

The March classic we never saw coming

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
By Benjamin Polk
Special to
Kevin DurantGarrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesWith buzzer-beaters and frantic action, one mid-March regular-season game became a classic.
Most regular-season NBA games share a certain weekday rhythm. First quarter proceeds to fourth, runs are exchanged, the game winds down. You wake up in the morning and go to work. You tell a few jokes, come home and go to sleep.

But sometimes this rhythm is disrupted. Sometimes a game ruptures our expectations, startles us out of our patterns of habit. Sometimes the everyday turns transcendent.

On March 23, 2012, the Minnesota Timberwolves slouched into Oklahoma City to play the Thunder. Both teams were wobbly with fatigue, the result of the grueling, lockout-compressed schedule. The Thunder were cruising to the top seed in the Western Conference while the Wolves were shredded by injuries -- Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Michael Beasley were all on the shelf -- and mired in another wrecked season.

We thought we knew what was coming. Kevin Love would grab some rebounds. Kevin Durant would score a bunch of points. The Thunder would roll the Wolves in routine fashion and we would all say goodnight, see you again tomorrow. The season would grind on.

Instead, what we got was a minor classic, a wildly exciting two-overtime 149-140 Thunder victory. Love scored 51 points. Durant went for 40 and 17 rebounds. Russell Westbrook dropped a career-high 45. J.J. Barea notched his first triple-double. The game had manic offense, frayed D, impossible plays, incredible performances, desperate comebacks. Westbrook and Barea relentlessly shredded defenders. KD and Love traded buzzer-beating 3-pointers like new-school editions of 'Nique and Larry.

“It was a crazy game, it was crazy,” Durant says. “We almost gave up 200 points that game!”
[+] EnlargeKevin Love
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsKevin Love matched an important late 3-pointer from Kevin Durant with one of his seven own treys.

“It was mayhem,” Love says. “It was just nuts.”

By the end, despite the humble circumstances, the game somehow felt consequential. “I replay it in my mind a lot,” Durant says. “It was one of those games that you’re going to think down the line and be proud that you were a part of.”

The game wasn’t played at near-perfection levels like last season’s NBA Finals; it was much weirder and woollier, filled with absurd bounces and fatigue-addled mistakes. But it shared with those Finals a sense of crazy, righteous desperation. And those very imperfections made it feel more beautifully unhinged and thrilling, as if the fundamental facts of everyday life -- the blemishes and mistakes, the banalities and small absurdities -- had become transfigured. The game had no impact on the standings and didn’t so much as blemish the playoff picture. By our normal calculus it meant almost nothing. And yet it felt as if something truly meaningful were at stake.

“The crowd gets into it and gets energized,” says Love when asked to describe the game’s energy. “In something like that it’s fight-or-flight. You really have to pick up your intensity to a whole new level. You know the other team’s really going at you and giving us their toughest blows and you’re trying to put that sledgehammer on them too.”

So what was the moment that transported this game to that new level? Was it Barea -- displaying all of the desperation, skill and absurd bravado that make him the maddening, fascinating player that he is -- converting an offensive rebound and diving layup to tie the game at 113-113 with 27.3 seconds remaining and cap the Wolves’ late comeback?

Was it Durant’s answer on the ensuing possession, the gorgeous crossover and step-back 3 that had Anthony Tolliver skittering on his heels? Or Love’s cold-blooded, heavily defended, buzzer-beating, game-tying reply seconds later, his seventh 3 of the game? (“He said ‘In your face,’” said Westbrook, who was guarding Love on that shot. “He kept pointing like ‘In your face, in your face.’”)

Was it KD’s corner 3 at the end of the first overtime that tied the game at 129-129 and capped a five-point, 46-second comeback? Or his in-out dribble and deep-leaning baseline fadeaway that put the game away in the second overtime?

Or maybe it was one of those strange plays that give a game like this its rough texture and life? Like, in the second overtime with the Wolves trailing by three, when Tolliver gathered an offensive board, found himself wide open at the doorstep of the basket, poised to cut the lead to one … and blew the layup. Almost instantaneously, Westbrook was streaking in the other direction for an electric coast-to-coast finish that put OKC up by five. It was a devastating -- and devastatingly quick -- swing that stunned the Wolves and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

So which was it?
[+] EnlargeRussell Westbrook
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsRussell Westbrook surged late, scoring a career-high 45 points.

Says Durant: “Really, when Kevin Love hit that shot to take it into overtime. After that it was like, man, whatever comes through this game, I’m not surprised.”

Says Love: “We were down by like 10, and people watching might have thought it was over. But then we made a run back at them at the end and started inching our way back. And when I hit that shot on Russell to head it into the first overtime, I thought, ‘this is a wild game.’”

But by the time Love hit that shot, the game’s intensity had already escalated; the Wolves had already capped their improbable comeback with Barea’s offensive rebound and drive to the rim. Love himself acknowledges that his shot was not just remarkable in and of itself, but as the culmination of an unfolding process.

Even more telling is Barea’s answer. When asked which moment defined the game’s new intensity, he did not hesitate: “Oh, when we hit a shot to win the game and they tied it to go to overtime.”

Which sounds perfectly reasonable, except that what he describes never actually occurred.

Without a doubt, the individual moments are memorable in and of themselves. But they carry special significance in our minds because of the context of intensity and thrill from which they emerged. Ray Allen’s Game 6 buzzer-beater is already legendary not simply because it was a great shot at a hugely important time, but also because it signaled the incredible competitive fervor of the entire series. Love’s 3 is memorable not just because he nailed a deep, heavily contested shot as time expired, but because it embodied and distilled everything that came before and after: the incredible shots and feverish rebounding battles; the appalling turnovers, the blown layups.

Some spectacular plays -- a Blake Griffin dunk, a Kyrie Irving crossover -- come out of nowhere. But most truly great moments feel impoverished as disembodied highlights. They are culminations; when we watch them we realize that something incredible has already begun to happen. They are instances of a phenomenon already in progress, of a game already overflowing.

'Bruise Brothers' the answer for Wolves?

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to

As this reconstruction of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise has been executed over the past few years, the idea of putting Kevin Love next to a frontcourt bruiser never seemed to be high on the list of priorities.

Find a scoring forward like Michael Beasley to form a dynamic, productive duo? They tried that.

Make sure Ricky Rubio comes over from Spain and starts cashing in on the hype and potential to make him the apotheosis of successful pure point guard play? That’s still a work in progress that could be under construction longer than the city planned.

Making Nikola Pekovic the bulldozer to Love’s wrecking ball may not have been the initial plan, but it has developed over the past three years as Pekovic became a viable option in the paint. When he re-signed with the Wolves for five years and $60 million, new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders seemed to have a vision of how this team would play.


“We envision Pek and Kevin Love being the ‘Bruise Brothers’ and forming one of the best front courts in the NBA for a long time to come,” Saunders said during a news conference this summer to announce the Pekovic re-up.

Wednesday night against a more modern, less conventional New Orleans Pelicans’ attack, the Wolves put that style into effect. They allowed Anthony Davis to chase Love around the perimeter. They took advantage of Ryan Anderson giving up roughly 50 pounds of brute strength to Pekovic in the post. And the Wolves lived at the free-throw line like they were designed to do.

The Wolves shot 35 free throws on the night, 31 of them coming through the first three quarters when the game was pretty much decided. It was the 10th time they attempted at least 30 free throws in a game this season and the eighth time they won such a game. When they get their mail forwarded to the line, they’re hard to beat, and that seems to be the plan.

“Well, it’s kind of the way we want to play,” Rubio said after the 124-112 victory, “Because that means we've been aggressive and we go to attack the rim. We don’t take too many shots from outside when things are going well.

"It’s been our problem when we don’t feel good, we start taking shots that don’t make sense. We don’t get to the free throw line and that allows them to get fast break [opportunities] too. We control the game from the beginning.”

If the Wolves are going to snap roughly a decade of watching the playoffs from their vacation spots, they have to remember their identity: Move the ball and get to the free-throw line. Abuse the competition inside. Let Love take the attention from the defense and then allow Pekovic to control the paint.

Everybody can play off of that and be aggressive.

“It was good for us, plays to our advantage,” Corey Brewer said. “Somebody has to guard Love out on the perimeter and someone has to guard Pek inside, so you have to pick your poison.”

There are still plenty of issues for this Wolves team. The bench needs consistency, the defense needs to protect the rim while keeping with the strategy of not fouling, and the outside shots need to fall when they’re created. But everything starts with bruising the interior and living at the free-throw line. They can still play the modern style of up-tempo and creating open looks, but it starts in the paint.

“Nights like today, when maybe they want to stop Kevin Love, we have another guy like Pek,” Rubio explained, “And he’s strong and if you don’t put a big body on him, [Pekovic is] going to destroy him.”

Success elusive for promising Wolves

December, 23, 2013
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Nikola PekovicNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Love (45 points) and Nikola Pekovic (34) appeared to have the Clippers beaten.
LOS ANGELES -- Locker rooms by their nature are noisy places where shouting is the preferred mode of communication. But following the Minnesota Timberwolves’ gut-wrenching 120-116 overtime loss to the Clippers on Sunday night, the only sounds were ambient noise -- showers running, the zipping of duffel bags, aerosol deodorant being sprayed.

In the far corner, Kevin Love stewed, feet soaking in an ice bath, eyes staring into middle distance. Love scored 45 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and dished out six assists but witnessed the Timberwolves implode repeatedly in one of the NBA season’s most bizarre half-hours of basketball.

“We blew it,” he said. “Blew the game. I don’t know how else to say it. We blew the game.”

Love was devastated, and he had plenty of fodder. The Wolves led by five with 29.4 seconds remaining in regulation, then by two with possession of the ball and only 13.2 seconds on the clock. But Kevin Martin coughed up the ball in the backcourt, which yielded a game-tying layup by Jamal Crawford.

Normally one of the most measured coaches in the league, Rick Adelman was apoplectic after the game. In lieu of fielding questions, he offered up an 8-second statement in the corridor, then promptly marched back into the locker room.

“It was a tough game for a lot of reasons,” Adelman said. “That’s all I have to say. I’m not going to get fined.”

Presumably, Adelman felt Martin was fouled in the backcourt by Chris Paul. Martin certainly felt so, although he too protected his paycheck and swallowed his tongue.

“It’s part of the game,” Martin said. “It’s something I’ve been in a thousand times, but I’m going to stop there. I bought some expensive gifts for my family, so I’ll stop there.”

Whatever the case, it was a long procession of lapses as the game unraveled for the Timberwolves. Martin made a bad pass in overtime that led to another uncontested game-tying bucket. In the final two minutes of overtime, Nikola Pekovic, who beasted for most of the night (34 points, 14 rebounds), missed three bunnies at close range, each of which could have tied the game or given the Wolves the lead.

Meanwhile, Love didn’t touch the ball during the final possession of regulation in a tie game, nor down two points with 12 seconds remaining in overtime. That isn’t necessarily a signal that a team has lost its way, but on a night when Love was bulletproof, it was a head-scratcher to see Love not get a look as the Wolves pushed the ball upcourt with the game on the line.

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint the Wolves as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter but also could bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad, either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked ninth in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing and a very large man in Pekovic whom nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland on Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

You can still catch glimpses of the Wolves working their strength. A double screen up top for Rubio with Love popping to the 3-point line while Pekovic posts a helpless defender is still one of the least inviting half-court sets to defend. Love is the most complete offensive big man in the game today. Were it not for a fluky backcourt miscue or an unforgiving iron, the story coming out of Los Angeles might be the Wolves’ riding their surefire All-Star to wins over two of the top four offenses in basketball in less than a week.

But counterfactuals rarely provide comfort, so the Timberwolves will have to trudge on and drown out the noise.

It takes two: Minnesota's outlet mall

December, 20, 2013
McPherson By Steve McPherson
Special to
Kevin LoveAP Photo/ Jim MoneKevin Love's crisp outlet passes have turned the Timberwolves' fast breaks into sights to behold.
In the fourth quarter of an early-season blowout of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Love snatched the rebound of an errant shot from Jeff Green. Even before his feet had firmly landed, Love whirled and fired a pass with the two-handed, trebuchet-like launch that has earned him and his most frequent target, Corey Brewer, highlight appearances on "SportsCenter."

But Brewer wasn’t on the other end of this pass. J.J. Barea was trucking up the court and the pass sailed over his left shoulder. It bounced and kicked out of bounds before Barea could get a hand on it. With self-serious grimness, Love turned to the Minnesota bench.

“You can’t let that s--- bounce! It’ll skip [away from you],” he said, flashing a smile.

More than any other play in basketball -- more than the pick-and-roll, maybe even more than the alley-oop -- the outlet pass requires two players in a matched set to sculpt it into art. Yes: Love has thrown outlets to Kevin Martin, to Alexey Shved. But the jelly to Love’s peanut butter is Corey Brewer.

The veteran swingman is a master of the leak out. At the moment defense turns to offense, Brewer transforms from stopper to opportunist. In Denver, fast breaks consisted of multiple passes. In Minnesota, they’re single-strike, court-length bombs thanks to his unique alchemy with Love.
[+] EnlargeCorey Brewer
AP Photo/Jim MoneCorey Brewer has become Kevin Love's go-to receiver on the break.

The outlet has been likened to a quarterback hitting a wide receiver, and Brewer finds that comparison apt.

“I played receiver -- it’s basically the same,” he said. “If I’m running a route, when I come out of my break or my cut, the ball is there. Kevin’s throwing it to a spot, so you’re actually running to the spot. So when I look at him and I know he’s going to throw it, I just try to run. If I can get in front of the last defender, I just know it’s going to drop right there. If it’s just a regular point guard, go for it. It’s like a smaller defensive back on Calvin Johnson.”

That was part of the problem with that pass to Barea. “I’m like 6-9 and J.J.’s like 5-3 so it’s tough for him to see where he’s going to catch it,” Brewer said. (Barea is listed as 6-foot on the NBA’s official website.)

If Brewer’s part in the play stems from a mix of height, speed and instincts first honed on the football field, Love’s part is based no less than on a set of unique skills and attributes first developed in his youth.

“I played with my brother three grades up when I first started organized basketball and I couldn’t quite get the ball 10 feet, so I actually had to shoot like that,” Love told the Timberwolves’ website, referring to his two-handed fling. “And I shot at a very high rate -- made a lot of shots -- that’s kind of how the accuracy developed.”

That long-distance passing accuracy, combined with Love’s clinical understanding of rebounding, has won him comparisons to Wes Unseld at least as far back as this brief profile from Sports Illustrated, when Love was a senior at Lake Oswego High. And in this short documentary on Unseld, Rick Barry says in regard to Unseld: “He wasn’t exceptionally quick, he wasn’t a great leaper, he didn’t have great size, and got as much out of what he had talent-wise as any player who’s ever played the game” -- all things that could be and have been said about Love.

Not yet convinced? Love's middle name is "Wesley," named for his father Stan’s former Washington Bullets teammate.

As teams have grown wise to the strategy, the Wolves have pulled back on it, but it can still be an effective way to throw the other team out of rhythm.

“You go away from it,” Brewer said, tying it back to football. “Just like you go away from the deep ball and then all of a sudden you hit them with [it].”

Love concurs: “You kind of have to know the time and place in the game: If the other team has gone on a run or maybe you’re down, or maybe you’re making a run of your own. It can affect the game in a lot of negative and a lot of positive ways. You just have to be a smart player and I pride myself on having a high basketball IQ, but at the same time you have to have some sort of imagination to throw that pass.”

It’s a gamble that doesn’t always pay off, but the outlet -- like a dunk or an alley-oop -- has the power to galvanize a team, and to sow doubt in an opponent.

“When we get an outlet pass, everybody gets excited,” Brewer said. “It’s an easy bucket, so your team gets fired up. And the other team, they get down. They’re like, ‘How did you let that happen?’ Coach starts getting on them, now they have to worry about it. We’re all amped.”

As a pet play, it’s a perfect option for a Timberwolves team that doesn’t rely on athleticism, but on cutting, ball movement, execution and pushing the ball on the break to get open looks. Their own defense is going to produce steals with Ricky Rubio and Brewer, but lacks rim protection. So instead, a successful defensive sequence means they stymie and frustrate the other team with good rotations and communication, in the process forcing a bad shot and opening up rebound opportunities for Love and Nikola Pekovic.

At least, that’s what it looks like when it’s clicking. It’s a state the Timberwolves have at times struggled to maintain, and after a dispiriting loss to Denver on Nov. 27 that dropped them under .500 for the first time all season, Brewer said, “We’ve got to get some kind of swag or energy.”

Hovering around .500 now and coming off an emphatic win over the 22-5 Portland Trail Blazers, it’s clear the team knows what it's capable of. The question is how to sustain it, how to build a self-propelling swag generator out of the pieces they have.

This is maybe why the connection between Love and Brewer is getting attention now, rather than back when Brewer was with the Wolves during Love’s first three years in the league. (Love’s second-ever assist in the NBA is described on’s stats page as an “overhand pass ahead to Corey Brewer for the two-handed slam.”)

The outlet pass is an expression of what the Timberwolves were envisioning when they drafted Rubio in 2009, brought in coach Rick Adelman in 2011 and signed Martin and Brewer this past offseason. It’s a concentrated burst of the type of flash-and-grind team the Timberwolves are working to become, built on opportunism, movement and smoothly interlocking parts.

Although Love is one of the best players in the game, he’s not the kind of dynamic, all-in-one talent that Kevin Durant or LeBron James is. Whatever this Timberwolves team is going to accomplish rests on him, but he can’t do it alone. He needs the support and intuitive understanding of teammates like Brewer, and their often risky, sometimes transformational outlet passes are where it comes together.

"During the game,” Brewer said, “we kinda look at each other and he’s like, 'We're about to get one right now.' And I'm like, 'I got you.' "

Is Derrick Williams' time now?

November, 20, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott

Predictions revisited

November, 18, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Re-visiting, with hindsight, things David Thorpe has said about Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Ricky Rubio and Chris Paul.

Learning to Love again in Minnesota

November, 15, 2013
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to
Kevin LoveAP Photo/Paul SancyaIt's hard to appreciate Kevin Love's torrid start to 2013-14 with his potential departure looming.
Kevin Love’s head stays down in the postgame media scrum these days. With his Minnesota Timberwolves off to an impressive start, you’d expect a more cheery mood from the 6-foot-10 power forward. He’s putting up video game numbers, but the genial guy we’re used to seeing has become a calculated responder. It’s hard to get.

Love doesn't open up like he used to. He refuses to be baited into questions about the past or the future. Ask about his ability to opt out of his current deal in summer 2015 and you’ll hear about how he’s focused on getting better each day. Candor has been replaced by clichés, although we’re treated to a quip every now and again.

Reticence was a tough lesson for Love to learn, but it was a lesson that was necessary. The outspoken big man, voted by league executives as the player who does the most with the least even though his skills far surpass those of your typical 4, was emerging in a hospitable, Midwestern market.

Love expressed dissatisfaction last season with a front office that few, if any, in the Twin Cities supported. Yet he was seen as ungrateful, rather than unwilling to waste precious time in his career like a previous Kevin in this organization. Show a bit of unruliness that can be spun on airwaves as an egotistical attitude in any city and you’ll be torched. Do it in Minnesota and it becomes one of two common sentiments: “Nobody wants to play here” or “We’re destined to lose the big games because that’s what happens in Minnesota sports.”

Most of us have experienced the unraveling of a relationship like Love’s tenuous bond with Minnesota. Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, there are always signals that show things are going south. Tempers flare up more often. The romance begins to dwindle. The fire gets downgraded to sparks and the sparks eventually become dormant. Soon you’re left wondering what you’re even doing in this situation.

When a relationship appears to be at its end, it’s better to get out early. You don’t want to wait so long that all each party has in the end are feelings of resentment and bitterness. Nobody wants to be left wondering why it didn’t work or how you’ll get your favorite shirt back. That’s where Minnesota is with Love as we creep closer and closer to 2015.

The dynamics between Timberwolves fans and their star player have been strange. Most assume he’s leaving a year and a half from now. Why wouldn't he? Minneapolis is a great city with a lot of recreational options and local scenes -- the Austin, Texas, of the north, if you will -- but it lacks the allure of a place such as Los Angeles, especially if you’re a big-time athlete. It’s freezing here during the NBA season. When the weather is beautiful, it’s the offseason, when players scatter elsewhere to train.

Where do they like to go? Los Angeles.

There is no denying that the Lakers would have interest in Love should they have the cap space necessary to sign him in a year and a half. And there is no denying that Love, who played a year at UCLA, is enchanted by the city. Such circumstances make it seem as though a breakup is inevitable -- or at least probable -- which strains the relationship in Minnesota.
[+] EnlargeRussell Westbrook, Kevin Love
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesFans worry that former Bruins Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love could end up back in L.A. together.

There seems to be a defeatist attitude in the area. Too many losses have piled up, whether it be on the court/field/ice or in the offseason. It’s hard to be hurt over and over again. Some feel inclined to break up with Love before he breaks up with them.

In turn, Love has become a bit reserved. Being yourself leaves you open and vulnerable, but being guarded allows you to set the tone of what gets let in and who controls your reality. Love has clearly chosen the latter, even as the Wolves gather steam.

That, of course, is the irony: While the Love situation has never seemed more dire, things have never looked better for the Wolves in the six seasons Love has been there. Instead of throwing outlet passes to Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley, they’re going to the infinitely more capable Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin. And after missing 64 games in 2012-13, Love has reminded fans and media just how good he is. His 30.77 player efficiency rating is best in the entire NBA, and the Wolves, at 6-3, are only a half-game behind Portland for the Northwest Division lead.

We’re seeing Love locked in on both ends of the floor, proving he’s a leader on the court. We’re seeing the hedging against this team’s potential success dissipate while acceptance of this team’s ability washes over the fan base. We’re seeing a desperate march toward the playoffs to convince Love this is a franchise worth saving.

This is the relationship between the basketball culture of Minneapolis and its star player until July 1, 2015. He may break up with them; he may not. Sometimes, instead of pushing the relationship away, you have to just exist in it and allow yourself to enjoy what it still offers. It will run its course.

The one between Love and Minnesota may go on for another 18 months. It may go on for another 10 years. Regardless of what happens, an incredible player is teaching its significant other that it’s fine to love each other right now and worry about the rest later.

Minnesota's fast-starting 5

November, 11, 2013
Adande By J.A. Adande

Some starts matter more than others.

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ 47-point first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night was good for a spot in the Timberwolves record books, and their 5-2 record is among the most significant in the NBA.

Minnesota’s five victories are more meaningful (if less surprising) than Phoenix’s five, because Minnesota’s record is more likely to hold up. (For one thing, the Suns are 4-0 at home. If the percentages don’t catch up to them, the schedule will).

The two teams ahead of Minnesota in the Western Conference, San Antonio (6-10 and Oklahoma City (5-1), are simply continuing last season’s success. The undefeated Indiana Pacers look like they’re vying to take the logical next step from Eastern Conference Finals appearance. For the Timberwolves, who haven’t had a winning record since 2004-05, these early weeks are a chance to establish themselves as legitimate playoff contenders. And they’ve done so.

It sounded overly simple when Ricky Rubio said, “We don’t want to be a losing team” but it’s critical for this group to institute that mentality now. He, Rubio, and Love have never had winning seasons in the NBA. Corey Brewer, who was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2007, learned what winning was like while playing in Denver the past two years, and he returned to Minnesota this year with a mandate.

“I told everybody we need to get seven out of the first 10,” Brewer said. “That should be our goal.”

They’re on track, with a game against the Clippers in L.A. Monday night followed by a home game against Cleveland and a road game in Denver.

Even though, the Timberwolves had lost 22 consecutive games to the Lakers and hadn’t beaten them in Los Angeles since 2005, the Timberwolves had to feel confident they were a better team than this version of the Lakers. They didn’t wait to prove it over the course of 48 minutes. This game felt decided by the time the Laker Girls came out for their first routine. The Timberwolves made 16 of their first 20 shots, and seven of their first eight 3-pointers and led by 24 points after one quarter.

“You can tell they were ready to play,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said.

And you can tell this team was ready for the season, to finally see what it would be like with Love and Rubio playing together instead of one (or both) sidelined by injuries the way they’ve been the past two years.

They have a top-five scoring offense and impact players. Love is second in the league in scoring and first in rebounding. Rubio leads the league in steals; he can disrupt the multitude of great point guards he’ll face in addition to running an offense himself. He hit the Lakers with a triple-double Sunday night (12 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds, plus five steals).

They’re 5-2, and look every bit the part.

When players talk like stat geeks

October, 2, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Kevin Martin spreads the gospel of team offensive efficiency at Timberwolves' media day:
It's a proven fact, if you hit a high free-throw percentage and you hit a lot of 3-pointers, then you're going to have one of the best offenses in the league. This game isn't really defined by the mid-range anymore, because that's such a tough, low percentage shot. You don't get beat by long two-point shots.

You know who disagrees? Lots of people, including NBA superstars like Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. You know who agrees? Everyone who has ever delved into statistical trends in hoops. A lot of theories fall apart when you dig into the data. Shooting 3s and free throws ... that works.

Martin's own career-long high-efficiency is built on getting to the line a lot, which has not happened as much in recent years. Which Martin says had a lot to do with having a limited role alongside superstars in Oklahoma City:
That's a perception because I don't really do the rip thing. That's more of a Kevin Durant thing. You know, your role changed, and that's what happened to me over the past couple years, and all I can say now is I got my role back and I'm excited to start this next chapter.

Related: Martin also says reuniting with Rick Adelman, whose offense helps Martin get to the line, was no small part of his choosing the Timberwolves in free agency.