TrueHoop: Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Love is way better than you think

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
12:42
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Judging Kevin Love by Minnesota's win-loss record is a giant mistake, says David Thorpe.

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Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
9:08
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Ethan Strauss and Amin Elhassan discuss the possibility of the Cavs trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love.

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The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:05
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Show some Love

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
4:41
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe says it's a mistake to discount the accomplishments of Kevin Love, and that Klay Thompson is not a max player.

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To make splash, Dubs must break up duo

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
10:14
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Don’t be fooled by the "Splash Brothers" nickname. The fraternal moniker makes it seem as though Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are perfectly complementary, as though theirs is a bond the Golden State Warriors will suffer for losing, that they will live to regret even dangling Thompson in a trade for Kevin Love.

The on-court relationship between the guards is complicated, if not fraught. While it’s true Thompson helps Curry by defending the league’s better point guards, the dynamic on offense trends toward frustration.

First, let's praise what’s good about Thompson. He’s an excellent 3-point shooter with one of the quickest releases in basketball. He’s also a good post-up player who can punish smaller defenders. On defense, he’s physical on the ball, and he made Chris Paul look human over a seven-game playoff series.

Thompson is not, however, an untouchable asset for Golden State. He is coveted by teams because he seems like a prototypical "shooting guard." He’s of the right size and, well, he shoots. For whatever reason, we’re still dividing players into five semi-arbitrary categories, which works in Thompson’s favor. "Shooting guard" is a weak position, and Thompson does the thing that’s in the position’s description. Perhaps if the second-smallest player on the floor was called a "rebounding guard," Thompson wouldn’t be such a hot commodity. Fortunately for Thompson's bank account, history went a different direction.

While Thompson is an excellent 3-point shooter, there are holes in his offensive game. If the second-smallest player was called a "passing guard," "athletic guard," “dribbling guard" or "foul-drawing guard," these holes would be more apparent.

Per the passing, Thompson has a bad habit of looking Curry off when his backcourt mate is wide open. The Splash Brother relationship flows only in one direction: Curry feeding Thompson. It’s not a reciprocal relationship in the way a pick-and-roll between Love and Curry would be.

It’s not just an open Curry who gets ignored -- Thompson was 56th among shooting guards in assist percentage last season. This helps explain how a player who is scoring 18.6 points per game registers as only 23rd among shooting guards in PER.

It’d be wrong to call Thompson a selfish player because who knows what he sees in the adrenaline-driven chaos of an NBA game? It’s easier for the observer to wring hands over his tendency to look off open shooters on the strong side than it is to actually make those passes in a game.

At the same time, he’s deficient in areas in which other guards are strong. Another one of those areas is his handle, which is too weak for the amount of forays he takes into the teeth of opposing defenses. A player can improve at dribbling, as we’ve seen with Paul George and Kevin Durant. Minnesota Timberwolves fans can at least take solace in that if Thompson is traded to their team.

As for Thompson’s defense, we have a debate between the stats and the eye test. Warriors coaches from last season were emphatic in their support of his defense, some even feeling that Andre Iguodala drew first-team all-defense status from a lot of Thompson’s work.

On film, Thompson did a fantastic job of forcing guards away from the middle of the court and executing Golden State’s scheme. He sticks to the game plan, doesn’t freelance and doggedly pursues his mark. We just don’t see any of that reflected in the numbers, in which Thompson is a negative in Defensive Real Plus-Minus.

What to make of this stats-versus-film discrepancy? My thinking is that defense is hard to quantify, lineup data is noisy and Thompson might have some flaws that aren’t so glaring on film. He lacks the explosive athleticism to haunt passing lanes in the way Iguodala does. It’s easy to see Thompson sticking to his man, harder to see a lack of scaring teams from throwing certain passes.

Thompson also racks up fouls, 4.1 per 100 possessions this season and last season. It’s easy to see Thompson defending his guy physically but harder to see the wages of how all those fouls hurt the team's defense.

It’s also possible that Golden State’s strategy of hiding Curry wasn’t the best approach. It spared its superstar the fouls and fatigue that come with handling opposing point guards, but Curry often wound up guarding far larger players. Though Curry was defending limited talents, in some cases, the height advantage made up for that.

On balance, Thompson is probably a good defender and, were Love not an option, the Warriors would be happy to move forward with him. On the balance sheet, though, this is trickier. Thompson is still on his rookie contract and is eligible for a qualifying offer in 2015. With Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Curry and Iguodala all making eight figures per season moving forward, there just isn’t much room for Thompson. This is why trading Thompson (and Lee) for Love makes sense for Golden State: The Warriors get a superstar in exchange for two guys who will be commanding an unsustainably large amount of money. Thompson is due a big payday, and Lee has one of those pre-2011 collective bargaining agreement deals that will have him making more than $15 million in 2016.

The Warriors also have another concern beyond the money: They need to keep Curry in the Bay Area. The ugliness surrounding Mark Jackson’s ouster put pressure on the franchise.

They were a "fun" team on the rise, free to fling 3s that easily lofted over low expectations. The Jackson firing changed things, upsetting a superstar who’s already playing at a discounted rate and sending a message that 51 wins isn’t good enough.

Golden State was comically dependent on its point guard last season. With Curry in the game, the Warriors posted a 109.7 offensive rating. When he sat, they posted a 93.8 rating. The former would qualify a team for the league's best offense, and the latter would qualify a team for the league’s worst.

In the playoffs, Curry suffers the game-plan scrutiny that Derrick Rose once did. Teams are free to fixate on him since there’s no other dynamic offensive option.

This wouldn’t be the case with Love in Golden State. Not only can Love get his own shot, but he’d afford the Warriors the "four-out" spacing with which Curry thrives.

Since teams must respect Curry’s off-the-dribble 3-point shot, they have to guard his pick-and-rolls a bit differently. When there are four 3-point shooters on the floor, Curry gets teams in situations in which not a single defender is in the paint. A Love-Curry pick-and-roll would shatter a lot of defensive schemes. And with uncommonly sharp shooting for a power forward, Love complements Curry in a way Thompson can't.

These are some large stakes. Either Golden State gets that perfect superstar to align with Curry and allay his concerns, or they're stuck worrying about what he'll do when his contract is up in 2017. Suddenly, the feel-good Warriors are like a lot of big-market teams: pressured to make a splash so as to placate their franchise player.

To make that splash, they must be willing to sacrifice one of the Splash Brothers.

Kevin Love's unlikely suitor

May, 25, 2014
May 25
11:45
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Love probably will wind up with the Lakers. Or is it the Cavs? Or could it be the Warriors, Celtics, Suns, Rockets or Bulls? What if the Heat get involved and deal Chris Bosh?

Nearly any team serves as fodder for the rumor mill, save for the best one of the past 15 years. Somehow the current title favorites are chopped liver in a league replete with rotted gristle.

In theory, the San Antonio Spurs would be a great landing spot for a star desperately in need of a winning experience. Like the Lakers, they have space for a 2015 Love signing. The Spurs also have trade pieces, depending on what they’re willing to part with and whether the Wolves value Tiago Splitter’s rim protection.

While some Spurs fans might scoff at the suggestion that Love would help the cause, there is the issue of how San Antonio replenishes what the Big Three leave behind. As Herbert Stein’s Law dictates, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Just because Tim Duncan has been successful long enough to feel timeless doesn't mean he's immune to time's ravages.

So, the Spurs could use a guy like Love, and a guy like Love could use a team like the Spurs. But with some rare exceptions, you don’t see the Spurs thrown into this mix.

Perhaps it’s a sign of respect that the Spurs aren’t invited to free-agent hypefests. They’ve succeeded for so long without playing this game. As other teams flock to the reality TV spectacle of wooing the latest available star, the Spurs quietly build on the "corporate knowledge" amassed by incumbent stars. When they head hunt, they’re looking for bargains, not big names. In 2012, Boris Diaw was cut by arguably the worst team of all time. Soon after, the Spurs looked past the belly folds and found gold in his perceptive play.

Maybe it’s that there’s something almost dirty about the recruitment process that doesn’t jibe with how San Antonio is thought of. It’s difficult to envision Team Pop engaging in the debasing hucksterism of desperate middle-aged executives throwing themselves at the feet of a distracted 20-something. Then again, maybe the aversion to going after free agents is just rooted in a failed bid for Jason Kidd back in 2003.

There’s also, let’s face it, the perception that San Antonio isn't a desirable location. Even if the current Spurs players like it just fine, superstars are assumed to prefer bigger cities and the attention that comes with living there. Nobody's running to the Riverwalk.

That's the rub, I think. We're quick to focus on where superstars might want to live rather than where they might win. This is quite logical, too. If I was blessed with superstar talent, I’d probably trade championship chances to not live in, well, we’ll leave that part blank. The point is that a few NBA cities don’t stack up livability-wise to places like Los Angeles. Factor in how a few of these desired cities offer more fame by virtue of being media centers and it’s no wonder we start the free-agent gossip there.

This gives lie to the notion that NBA stars are myopically obsessed with winning, though. They don’t "only care about winning," in contrast to what many of their stated platitudes suggest. If these guys were solely focused on winning, their agents would be leaking tales of interest in the Spurs. Through intensive social media stakeouts of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and now Kevin Love, San Antonio doesn’t really come up.

No, the modern superstar isn’t all about winning. This isn’t an indictment, by the way. Nobody’s all about anything. Michael Jordan might have been considered a homicidal competitor, but it’s doubtful he’d sacrifice his first born for a trophy (I said "doubtful." We can’t be sure.). Even those who lack perspective on these matters have their limits.

We as a basketball media collective are the same way. A championship might be the organizing goal of this NBA endeavor, but we're only so interested in that when it comes to San Antonio. Show us a Spurs Finals victory, and we'll write some nice things to be sure. But I doubt we'll pore over the result with the gleeful intensity we'll devote to Kevin Love and his suitors. This isn't an arbitrary media decision either. We're serving the fans, whose aggregate interest in the on-court success of the Spurs often gets dwarfed by other concerns.

Just as the Spurs appear to live in an ethereal plane above free-agent wooing, they also float a level above the compelling drama of sport. Spurs stakes feel small, as there will be no finger-pointing or panic moves in the aftermath of defeat. Or, from a media perspective, no fun to be had. So we'd rather focus on the draft and how a bunch of transactions could conceivably one day add up to something that will never approach the success San Antonio has accomplished.

The Spurs have shown us a lot over the years, but the collective lack of interest -- from us, from superstars -- in joining their journey shows us something else. The basketball media and fans aren't as obsessed with winning as we lead on, and neither are the NBA's superstars. That doesn't make us bad people; it just means we have interests beyond the competition itself. With all that said, it'd be entertaining to see Kevin Love break the mold by choosing the dynasty nobody wants to join.

The weight of expectations

May, 22, 2014
May 22
11:25
AM ET
McPherson By Steve McPherson
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveDavid Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesMinnesota has been in search of a savior since KG, but shouldering the load isn't Kevin Love's thing.
There’s an old Kevin Garnett ad that you’ll likely remember if you were anywhere around basketball 10 years ago. Garnett and a friend walk out of a dry cleaner, and the friend begins to climb awkwardly and sort of surprisingly onto Garnett’s back. As Garnett walks the streets of a city that is clearly not Minneapolis, to the tune of “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands,” people keep piling on top of him, turning him into a top-heavy mass of humanity, all while maintaining a cheery enough disposition to throw a “what’s up” chuck of his head to a disbelieving woman.

It was a simple but effective metaphor for Garnett’s identity on the Minnesota Timberwolves before everything began to unravel. The first time I saw it, it made me feel good about Garnett and, by extension, the team. Garnett wanted the work, wanted the weight. “Jump on,” the spot seemed to say. “We’re going there together.”

In 2004, faith in the Timberwolves was at an all-time high. Worn down by first-round exit after first-round exit (and perhaps finally realizing that Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith were not sufficient complementary pieces), the team doubled down on bolstering Garnett’s supporting cast by going out and getting Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. The result was something that seems nearly unbelievable now: The Timberwolves were the top seed in the Western Conference. Their postseason run that year ended ignominiously at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals, but not before their semifinal series against the Sacramento Kings passed into legend as the best the Wolves would likely ever be involved in.

Then the wheels started to come off in odd ways. Bewildering and icky contract disputes with Sprewell and Cassell cratered the Wolves in 2004-05, and they missed the playoffs. The team began to rot from the inside out, leaving Garnett at the head of a team in 2006-07 filled out by the likes of Mike James, Marko Jaric, Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. When Garnett left via trade to Boston, he didn’t go with any of us on his back, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. That was never in dispute when it came to Garnett.

Kevin Love has never engendered the same kind of confidence. It’s not just because of the Wolves’ inability to get into the playoffs during Love’s first six years in the league, although that’s part of it for some. For all his immense and indisputable talent, for all his record-setting performances, for all his expressed desire to be the kind of leader the Wolves have needed during his time with the team, Love is simply not a guy to carry a team and its city on his back.

To be clear, being able to do that is not an unalloyed positive. Out of loyalty, Garnett gritted out a chunk of years in Minnesota that could have been spent profitably on a much better team. The fans prized that loyalty, but it seems possible that the lingering aftertaste of Garnett’s post-2004 time with the franchise took its toll on the fans’ willingness to embrace Love. They wanted another Garnett, but they also didn’t. They craved the security of a leave-it-all-on-the-floor, live-and-die-for-the-team centerpiece, but they also cringed to think how it turned out last time.

Instead, they got something different. Outwardly, Love appeared to fit a kind of Minnesota mold when he arrived: a big, not particularly athletic dude whose primary trait was lunch-pail rebounding. But as his 3-point shot developed, as he began to rack up double-doubles while the team floundered, a grim countercurrent to the positive vibes of his NUMB#RS campaign developed: This guy was showtime -- gaudy but empty. Not every fan felt that way; plenty embraced him. But it was enough to keep the whispers going: He only cares about stats. He doesn’t care about the hard work like defense. It was a stark contrast to Garnett.

[+] EnlargeLove/Garnett
Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Love was never able to carry Minnesota to the postseason the way Kevin Garnett did before him.
It’s almost inevitable that the end of something brings on a flood of what-ifs, and this situation is no different. What if Love’s abilities had been better recognized early on by Randy Wittman and Kurt Rambis? What if Love had been surrounded by players like Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan or even Paul George? What if injury hadn’t derailed his 2012-13 season?

But the big what-if that everyone is quick to bring up -- David Kahn and Timberwolves management offering Love a three-year contract with a fourth-year player option instead of the maximum five years -- might be less of a regret than everyone supposes. From Wittman to Rambis to Kahn to J.J. Barea and other teammates, much of the rockiness for Love has been a result of conflicts with specific people in specific situations. He has sought to prove those people wrong, and his game has flourished. When he’s tried to prove he’s a leader, though, he’s faltered.

Maybe it’s rationalizing to say Love was never completely at home in Minnesota, but it’s also no terrible thing to admit that not every truly outstanding player can fit in with a team the way Kobe Bryant does with the Lakers or Tim Duncan does with Spurs. Even Allen Iverson and the Sixers -- a far less fruitful partnership in terms of on-court success -- seemed like an aesthetic and cultural match.

Maybe it’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument. Do the players create the culture of a team, or does the team create a culture for the players? For now, the swirl of rumors and speculation, tinted with bad blood, is enough to signal that it’s time to move on. When Love eventually leaves, whether through free agency or via an increasingly likely trade, there will be more than enough time for blame to be passed back and forth from management to Love to departed executives and on down the line. Fans will pore over it and lament or accept it while they’re the ones left out in the cold, waiting on street corners in Minneapolis and hoping another player comes by and throws them on his back.

Steve McPherson contributes to the TrueHoop Network, Grantland and other publications. Follow him @steventurous.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

Oh, Dieng

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
5:29
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
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.

video

To all Kevin Love haters

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
2:29
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
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
10:04
AM ET
McPherson By Steve McPherson
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
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
11:24
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Don't let the Timberwolves' record fool you. David Thorpe says Kevin Love is a top-shelf big man.
video

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
6:23
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com
EASTERN CONFERENCE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Lessons from the Winter Forecast

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
12:42
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
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 Timberwolves.video

The March classic we never saw coming

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
10:40
AM ET
By Benjamin Polk
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
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.

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