TrueHoop: Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Love's killer plays

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
3:30
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
What the Cavs should be running for Kevin Love, according to David Thorpe.

Young Wiggins vs. Young LeBron

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
11:36
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe has been scouring video to compare Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James. Some of his findings may surprise you.

video

The Andrew Wiggins Conundrum

December, 10, 2014
12/10/14
3:06
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
ESPN Insider compiled a list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the NBA. Amin Elhassan and David Thorpe make the case for Andrew Wiggins.

video

#HateHard: How do you lose to the 76ers?

December, 9, 2014
12/09/14
3:10
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
They had ONE job to do! But somehow the Wolves and Pistons managed to do the unthinkable: lose to the Sixers.

video

Andrew Wiggins' special start

November, 25, 2014
11/25/14
1:23
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe can't remember an NBA rookie who combined Wiggins'off-the-charts athleticism with such capable 3-point shooting.


Now this is going to be fun

October, 27, 2014
10/27/14
2:43
PM ET
McPherson By Steve McPherson
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Andrew WigginsDavid Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Wolves may be bad, but with athletes like Andrew Wiggins on board, they'll be entertaining.
In the 25 years of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ existence, 19 have been anchored by a big man: 12 years with Kevin Garnett, two wherein Al Jefferson and Kevin Love played together and the past four with Love. Meanwhile, their wings have been woefully -- and at times almost comically -- unathletic. Their best and/or longest-tenured 2-guards and small forwards have been shooters (Anthony Peeler, Wally Szczerbiak, Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Martin), defenders (Trenton Hassell) and even in some cases point guards in disguise (Luke Ridnour). Aside from Isaiah Rider’s three seasons with the team and Latrell Sprewell’s two, Minnesota has never had a beat-your-man-off-the-dribble-and-soar-for-a-dunk athlete who can make fans swoon.

That’s about to change.

With the addition of electric rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and the departure of Love, the Wolves have not only shifted away from an emphasis on the frontcourt but also made a quantum leap in athleticism on the perimeter. Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 draft and the dowry in the August trade of Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, may be among the most made-for-TV players in the league, the type of athlete who could one day turn snowy Minnesota and the bottom-feeding Timberwolves into a destination on your League Pass (or even national) dial.

Their arrival also signals a more wide-open approach to roster building. When the Wolves got the chance to get Love in a draft-day trade for O.J. Mayo, they did, even though they already had Jefferson on the team. But a succession of moves valuing fit over talent followed: They dealt Jefferson only to pair Love with a similar player in Nikola Pekovic; they drafted Jonny Flynn instead of Stephen Curry in 2009; they took Wes Johnson instead of DeMarcus Cousins 2010. By drafting LaVine and dealing for unpolished, high-potential youngsters in Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the Wolves seem to be at least be acknowledging the long view. “I think you have to take what’s available,” said Flip Saunders.

But success is tough to define right now. Taking out the idea of what players like Wiggins or LaVine or Bennett might one day become, the offseason was one of the biggest steps back in terms of pure basketball skill the team has ever taken. Ever since Ricky Rubio came over from Europe in 2011, most of the Wolves’ moves have been of the win-now variety: hiring Rick Adelman, J.J. Barea, signing Andrei Kirilenko, taking a risk on Brandon Roy, trading for Kevin Martin, moving Derrick Williams. No matter that none of those things resulted in enough actual winning to make the playoffs; the intention was to put the right pieces around Love and Rubio and Pekovic to contend.

Saunders is, of course, going to keep talking about winning, about contending. As both coach and GM, that’s his job, and when he talks about it to the media, he’s also talking about it to the players. But what are the fans going to get out of this? In spite of winning more games in each of the past three seasons, the Timberwolves’ attendance has fallen from 15th to 21st to 27th in the league. While some of this has to do with ticket price increases, it also has to do with the fact that it wasn’t a ton of fun for the average fan during the Love era.

Sure, there were outlet passes and outliers, like Love’s game-winner against the Clippers and Corey Brewer’s 51-point game. But the 10th-best play of Love’s Timberwolves career is a fairly ordinary dunk -- and that’s not going to put butts in seats. The Wolves only had 17 alley-oop dunks last season; the Clippers had 169. The Wolves often played beautiful, effective basketball the past three seasons, but it was rarely exciting basketball.

Based on summer league and preseason play, that shouldn’t be a problem this year. Whatever LaVine’s shortcomings as an all-around basketball player at this point, however long the road to his being a serviceable point guard at the NBA level might be (which seems to be one of the Wolves’ goals for him), he’s a Phantom Cam highlight waiting to happen.

And Wiggins has shown flashes of what has been predicted for so long: strong defensive instincts, a video game-esque leaping ability, sound shooting form. He’s also looked as if he hasn’t even been trying. If you listen to the buzz, this augurs one of two things: 1.) he lacks the motor or competitive spirit to succeed at the NBA level and will perpetually underwhelm or 2.) one day he will try and the Earth will explode.

We can approach what this team could or should be from a variety of angles, but the more you chop up the idea of a team identity, the less it seems to mean. Faced with the impending loss of their franchise cornerstone, the Timberwolves rolled the dice on getting as much raw athletic potential onto the team as possible. Years from now, the trade that brought Wiggins to Minnesota might look like just the stroke of good fortune the team needed, a gift. But for now, it’s just the present.

Then & Now & Later: Ricky Rubio

October, 8, 2014
10/08/14
10:15
AM ET
Foster By DJ Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Ricky RubioAP Photo, Getty ImagesOnce viewed as a maestro with the ball, Ricky Rubio will get a real shot at proving his PG bona fides.
"Then & Now & Later" is a scouting profile series that analyzes the perception, development and future potential of young players in the NBA. We first tackled New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis. Next up: Ricky Rubio.

THEN


Like most teen sensations, Ricky Rubio combined the old with the new.

Although Rubio was not even 18 when he burst onto the scene at the 2008 Olympic Games, there was something familiar about the guard from Spain. The Beatles haircut, the wizardry with the ball, the sad eyes. It was as if "Pistol" Pete Maravich was reincarnated to play in a league actually ready for him.

Time was definitely on Rubio’s side. Developing familiarity with international prospects was at one point nearly impossible -- maybe you’d see a guy in the Olympics or in one-off exhibitions, but fans were mostly living and dying with what scout Fran Fraschilla had to say.

Rubio broke that mold, in part because he had been playing professionally in Spain since the tender age of 14. Add the emergence of YouTube and it's easy to see why the basketball world fell in love with him. Rubio's creative passes and showman’s flair went "viral" before the term had really entered the lexicon. Well before the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him with the fifth pick in the 2009 NBA draft, it was clear that his star was on the rise.

But the hype quickly deflated. Rubio opted to stay two additional years in Spain before coming over for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, and during an otherwise promising rookie campaign, he tore his ACL. But even before the injury, it was still relatively clear that Rubio came largely as advertised: a risk taker with plenty of flash and natural instincts, albeit with an incomplete skill set.

With three NBA seasons under his belt now, it’s still tough to fully comprehend the contradictions that seem to define Rubio’s career.


NOW


On offense:
Let’s not sugarcoat this: Rubio is one of the least efficient scorers we've seen in a long, long time.

In fact, in the past 35 years, no player with at least 5,500 total NBA minutes played has ever put up a worse career effective field goal percentage than Rubio's 40.1. Just think about all the challenged offensive players you’ve ever seen play in the NBA and realize Rubio has shot worse than almost every single one.

And although it may be tempting to blame Rubio’s slow-release, quasi set-shot jumper for those numbers, his primary issues stem from his inability to score at the rim. Rubio's career 32.3 percent 3-point percentage won't bowl anyone over, but it’s serviceable and somewhat indicative of what he can do with his feet set and time to fire.

It’s Rubio’s complete lack of elevation that betrays him on drives to the rim more than anything else, though you’ll see him get the yips and miss wide-open attempts quite a bit as well. A floater or runner in the paint would help tremendously to avoid challenging shot-blockers directly, but Rubio prefers to string out drives as long as possible for potential passes. It's a game of chicken with big men that Rubio navigates well, but the end results often look a lot like a car wreck.

But his offensive game has a yin and yang to it. Rubio isn’t a scorer and shows very little creativity around the rim, but it works in his favor as a distributor. Because defenders know they can give him plenty of space, Rubio’s passing windows are massive and usually pretty clean. He’s an artist with the ball working largely uninterrupted.

That's not to imply that Rubio isn’t capable of threading the needle or working in tight confines. No one can attest to Rubio's ability to fire in passes more than Kevin Love, who spent the past three seasons receiving the full attention of defenses and still finding wide-open layups because of Rubio’s vision.

With that said, it still feels like Rubio and Love were a missed connection. Rubio's seasons spent in Spain and the injuries to both players sapped up valuable time together, and when the two really began to click (Minnesota was ninth in offensive efficiency last season), it was still too late.

There’s reason to be optimistic about Rubio’s development offensively, though, even with the loss of a player with the vacuum effect of Love.

The Timberwolves had a 112.5 offensive rating when Rubio was on the court last season, which would have been the league’s best had he been able to play every minute.

Even though he can’t finish and he’s shooting blind on his jumper (31.6, 31.9, 30.1 percent in his first three seasons), Rubio has shown he can run a highly effective offense with his other senses, so long as there’s talent around him.

On defense:
For all the space his opponents grant him offensively, Rubio isn’t very gracious in return. He crowds ball handlers, making point guards turn multiple times just to get the ball upcourt. He pokes and prods, moves his feet laterally incredibly well and generally has the annoying disposition you want from your guards defensively. It is decidedly not fun to play against Rubio, which is a major asset in a league swimming in scoring point guards.

Even though his value comes almost solely as a perimeter defender, Rubio can pinch down a bit on the defensive glass and help out, which should come in handy with Love gone.

But Love's departure is not all bad news. Thaddeus Young is a big upgrade on defense, and his mobility and rim protection should let Rubio gamble a little more on the perimeter for steals in an attempt to get a younger, more athletic Wolves team out in transition. That’s a scary proposition, as Rubio already led the league in total steals last season.

Although steals is a dangerous stat to put too much stock into when evaluating defenders, it does provide insight on how capably he is playing passing lanes. Rubio is a great on-the-ball defender in the mold of Chris Paul -- his hands are lightning-quick, and he’s not afraid to take a bump. It speaks to Rubio’s effort and instincts that he’s been this effective despite his youth and a major knee injury.

Some may be sheepish to call Rubio elite on this end since he’s not an overwhelming athlete, but he’s truly been one of the best backcourt defenders in the league. According to ESPN.com, Rubio finished second among all point guards and fifth among all guards in defensive real plus-minus last season. He’s a difference-maker, particularly because he can wear down opponents over the course of a game.


LATER


As is, Rubio is essentially a specialist -- a pass-and-harass point guard.

Those players certainly have value, but having a backcourt who that can’t shoot almost mandates multiple stretch big men in the starting lineup, which can put pressure on a team that isn’t title-ready to perhaps value need over talent when filling the rest of the roster.

That’s something Minnesota will need to consider when negotiating Rubio's next deal, but you’re still paying for potential here. Even though there hasn’t been much foreshadowing in this regard, Rubio could become a much more reliable shooter. Jason Kidd shot over 35 percent from deep in just two of his first 10 seasons, after all, and the 23-year-old Rubio certainly has plenty of room for improvement.

With Minnesota mainstays Love and Rick Adelman gone, Rubio’s evolution this season should be watched with a careful eye. Losing such a well-rounded scorer and brilliant offensive mind obviously hurts, but the added athleticism on the roster will allow Rubio to work on a vertical plane as a passer -- something he’s been able to flirt with only temporarily in the past.

At least for the time being, this is Rubio’s team. Failed contract negotiations or the development of Andrew Wiggins could challenge that eventually, but Rubio will have more opportunity and responsibility than ever before.

It’s hard to predict what Rubio will do with that. His skills are very black-and-white, and his career thus far has existed largely in the gray. He’s simultaneously met expectations and disappointed as well.

But it’s easy to forget that what drew so many to Rubio in the first place can’t be taught or acquired. His vision is a rare and undeniable gift, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll squander it forever by failing to supplement it with more refined skill and scoring, even if he doesn’t need to in order to survive.

D.J. Foster is a contributor to ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network. Follow him, @fosterdj. All stats via NBA.com, basketball-reference.com or ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

A new leader of the pack in Minnesota?

October, 8, 2014
10/08/14
9:30
AM ET
McPherson By Steve McPherson
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Ricky RubioDavid Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith Kevin Love gone and a young team behind him, is it time for Ricky Rubio to rise in Minnesota?
At the heart of Ricky Rubio’s game is, well, heart. Joy. Generosity. This is a guy who, when he finally arrived in Minnesota in 2011, two years after he was drafted fifth overall, explained his love for passing by quoting Magic Johnson in charmingly broken English: “A basket make one guy happy, an assist two guys happy."

He was just what the Timberwolves needed. Two years removed from trading Kevin Garnett -- the only franchise cornerstone the team had ever known -- the Wolves’ starters in 2008-09 were Sebastian Telfair, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith and a rookie named Kevin Love who stepped up when Al Jefferson went down with a torn ACL.

Rubio, though, was a star. At least, that’s what we’d heard for so long. In 2008, the NEXT issue of ESPN the Magazine touted him as “the best point guard you've never heard of.” An Eastern Conference exec didn’t stop there, calling him “the European LeBron James” and “a top-three pick.”

"If I can do some magic,” a 17-year-old Rubio told Chad Nelsen back then, “I do it."

But by the time Rubio arrived, Love had become the face of the franchise, more or less by default. I mean, look at that lineup -- what other option was there? It’s hard not to be sucked in by 31-point, 31-rebound games amid 132 losses (an NBA high) in the two seasons spent waiting for Rubio. By 2010-11, Rubio’s rookie season, Love had turned into a double-double machine headed for his first All-Star appearance. He was a superstar. He was Minnesota’s superstar, and everyone knew it.

Everyone except David Kahn. Instead of offering Love the team’s only five-year maximum contract extension, the Wolves GM infamously handed the power forward a three-year deal with a player option for a fourth. The fallout from that move is well known, with Love forcing his way to Cleveland this past summer for an admittedly attractive package including Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.

But its impact on Rubio is harder to gauge. At the time, the common perception was that Kahn wanted to reserve the five-year max for Rubio, his own draft pick, rather than Love, who was selected by former GM Kevin McHale. Injuries and the lockout limited Rubio to just 89 games in his first two seasons, and last season, with the Wolves saddled with the pressure exerted by Love’s contract situation, Rick Adelman nearing the end of his coaching career and a combustible roster with a suspect bench, the 23-year-old point guard again struggled to live up to the immense hype once foretold for the floppy-haired teen.

Now two years later and with Love in Cleveland, it’s Rubio who wants the five-year max contract from a GM who didn’t draft him. To earn that contract in a point guard-heavy league, he’s going to have to make a better case for himself not as the best player on the team, necessarily, but as its leader.

Viewed charitably, Love led by letting his play do the talking, shouldering scoring and rebounding loads no other Timberwolves player could take on and setting a tone that was stoic yet steadfast. He worked hard -- harder than he’s given credit for -- and did a lot for the organization off the court with his coat drive and other community-oriented activities. Viewed less charitably, Love cared more about his own numbers than the team as a whole and when he led, he did so unevenly, with weeks spent moping followed by a sudden decision to air locker room grievances in public. No matter his words, he set a tone on the court of unearned entitlement, complaining about calls and lagging on defense, particularly in transition. For his part, Rubio often seemed to defer to Love’s seniority and position as Best Player on the Team. But as the team’s relationship with Love frayed over the summer, that changed.

In a much-circulated interview with French station Canal+ in May, Rubio was up front about some of Love’s shortcomings as a leader, while also pointing out problems from the coaching staff on down. “He leads in scoring, in other things,” said Rubio, according to a translation. “But in voice he is not the type of player that wants to be or that can be [a leader], no? Still, it did not have to have been him -- even I can take a step further and start to be the definitive leader."

[+] EnlargeKevin Love and Ricky Rubio
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesAfter ceding control to Kevin Love in his first three seasons, the stage is set for Ricky Rubio to lead.
One of the newest (but also most veteran) Timberwolves players, Mo Williams, thinks Rubio has started to take those steps. “From the time I’ve been here, he’s taken that level,” Williams said on the first day of Wolves training camp. “Yesterday he was reading a book on the way up here and it was in a language I can’t read so I said, ‘What kind of book is that?’ And he said, ‘It’s a book on how to be more aggressive and lead and things like that.’ That lets you know it’s in his mental. He wants to lead and he’s in a great position now. It’s not, ‘Whose team is it?’ It’s his team.”

Rubio’s glaring flaws -- inconsistent midrange shooting and finishing -- might never go away. That might not also matter a bit when it comes to stepping into a lead role with the Timberwolves. The things he does do well were enough to make Minnesota 11.3 points better per 100 possessions when he was on the court last season. As new coach Flip Saunders observed recently, if Rubio scores zero points and the team wins, no one is happier; if he scores 20 and they lose, no one feels worse.

He’s certainly making the effort. The book on leadership, the way he’s tried to shut down any questions about his next contract, the hundreds of shots he takes at practice, his commitment to Spain’s national team: All of it points to someone serious about improving himself. But just as important is finding his way back to the joy that animated his early days in Minnesota.

That pass through the legs of reigning NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki to a waiting Anthony Tolliver as the Wolves sealed a win over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks came in Rubio’s fourth game in the NBA. Nutmegs don’t win championships, but look at the giant grin on Tolliver’s face as he runs back down the sideline after hitting the 3-pointer. A mechanically sound shooting stroke is a fundamental, but the foundation of basketball -- of any game -- is play.

There are things Rubio needs to do better to be a more productive player, but there are already things he does that few players can. To call this upcoming season a fresh start for Rubio is to discount all he’s already gone through in his first three years in the league. But with running partners as athletic as Wiggins and Zach LaVine, it’s a chance to follow his own advice and change his face. To not only be handed a team, but to make it his. To do some magic.

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

Free, Love: The liberated T-Wolves

August, 23, 2014
8/23/14
5:50
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
The only thing we know with certainty is that Aug. 23, 2014, marks the date of the liberation of the Minnesota Timberwolves. We don’t know yet if it will go down as the day the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired their final championship component, or the day the Timberwolves landed the Next Big Thing. Too many variables involved to be sure. But go ahead and rejoice in the freedom of the Timberwolves. They’re freed from expectations, freed from conventional NBA style and most of all freed from that most hellish of NBA locales, the Cape of Mediocrity.

There was all of this pressure to get good or lose Kevin Love. Fret no more. Now they’ve lost him, even though it turned out they weren’t that good with him. Their best record in Love’s six seasons in Minnesota was this season’s 40-42 -- and there’s not much worse in the NBA than being 40-42. That’s not good enough to be a contender, not bad enough to have a good shot at getting a top draft pick in the lottery.

Now there’s no need for them to get good right away. Flip Saunders is in his first year back as coach. He also happens to be the GM. He’s not on the hot seat, he just did the ice bucket challenge.

With Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine flying through the air and Ricky Rubio throwing them lob passes, the Timberwolves have a chance to be the most entertaining team in the league. They never were going to be that with Love. Even though I could spend entire summer afternoons watching this Love outlet GIF -- it’s that mesmerizing -- Love doesn’t make you jump out of your seat and immediately start texting your buddies.

And if the best thing the Timberwolves have to offer is style, maybe they can play in a way that runs counter to the NBA trend of jacking up 3-pointers all the time. Last season they were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA (ranking 26th), but that didn’t stop them from attempting just as many 3s as the league leader in 3-point percentage, the San Antonio Spurs. Love was the biggest culprit, and his 505 3-point attempts were more than all but five players in the league.

Wiggins wasn’t a stellar 3-point shooter in college and Anthony Bennett made only 10 as a rookie last season. They should be attacking the hoop and leaving the 3s to Kevin Martin. Scrap the layups/3s/free throws model the rest of the league operates under and go for dunks/dunks/more dunks.

Minnesota’s good luck should be our good luck ... and it all starts with Cleveland’s good luck. Has anyone ever benefited more from someone else’s good fortune than the Timberwolves? Usually premium talent becomes available because something went wrong. Clashes with management, attitude issues, contractual stalemates. In this case Minnesota had a chance to cash in because so much went right for Cleveland. The Cavaliers landed No. 1 pick after No. 1 pick, and then the best player in the game returned because he got homesick. So the Cavaliers had the motivation to accelerate their winning window and the means to get Love with that ultra-rare offer of back-to-back No. 1 picks.

I’d much rather have rookie contracts than expiring contracts (which is primarily what Minnesota sent to Philadelphia, along with a first-round pick from Miami, to get Love fill-in Thaddeus Young). If the Timberwolves so desire, they can have Wiggins and Bennett for a combined $53 million over the next four years. Compare that to, say, Eric Gordon on a $58 million deal over four years.

When the Timberwolves first came to grips with the likelihood they’d have to trade Love they couldn’t have imagined they would end up with the top pick in the most anticipated draft in years. They’ve got a player with the talent to become a star. Even if Wiggins’ potential goes unfulfilled, at least the Timberwolves are unburdened.

Another Love lost for Minnesota

August, 12, 2014
8/12/14
1:07
PM ET
By Ross Marrinson
ESPN The Magazine
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LoveBrace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsLike all good Minnesota sports stars before him, Kevin Love's departure was only a matter of time.
We knew this was coming. Minnesota sports fans always know it’s coming. Watch one of the local teams long enough, and you'll see it: the bitter departure of a franchise superstar to a better, more functional team.

Every market has its losers -- look at the Knicks -- but in Minnesota, we've come to expect it from every pro franchise. We're consistently asked to believe in management that rarely, if ever, warrants it, and we’re consistently asked to believe in meaningless words such as “potential” and “future.” It’s the booze they feed us. And it’s the booze we guzzle.

In the past decade-plus alone, the Minnesota Twins attempted to coach David Ortiz to be an opposite-field bloop hitter, only to watch him carve a Hall of Fame career in Boston. The Vikings traded Randy Moss to Oakland for Napoleon Harris and a first-round pick that became Troy Williamson, who was so inept the team thought he had vision problems. The Twins sought a bidding war between the Red Sox and Yankees for two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana -- whom they of course decided they couldn't afford even though the owner, Carl Pohlad, was worth a reported $2.6 billion -- only to have both teams decide the price was too high, leaving the Twins with a Mets package led by then-35th-ranked prospect Carlos Gomez, who was so terrible in Minnesota they traded him to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

The worst departure of them all, of course, was Kevin Garnett, whose career with the Timberwolves came to an end after 12 seasons of Kevin McHale’s criminal mismanagement, which included, in no particular order: horrible drafts, horrible signings and attempting to illegally sign Joe Smith -- Joe Smith! -- to an $86 million deal.

So the story of Kevin Love’s departure didn’t begin in May, when he reportedly told the Wolves’ brass he intended to opt out of his deal after the 2014-15 season. That happened some 3 1/2 years earlier, when Love signed a four-year, $62 million max deal to stay in Minnesota.



In Love’s first season, coach Randy Wittman demanded Love stop shooting 3s, even though the 6-foot-10 forward had shot 35 percent from outside in college. After the 24-58 campaign, the fourth consecutive season with fewer than 35 wins, Wolves owner Glen Taylor finally fired McHale and hired David Kahn, somehow replacing the worst general manager in the NBA with an even worse one.

In his second season, after Love topped all rookies in PER (18.3), led the league in offensive rebound rate and posted a per-36-minute line of 15.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, coach Kurt Rambis, whom Kahn hired before the season, refused to start Love. It was a 15-67 season that began with the draft in which, yes, the Wolves selected four point guards, one of whom wouldn’t arrive in the country for two years.

Then came the 2010 draft, when Kahn drafted 23-year-old Syracuse wing Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George and others. A starting lineup of Luke Ridnour, Johnson, Michael Beasley, Love and Darko Milicic (whom Kahn had signed to a four-year, $20 million deal) led to a dramatic two-win improvement. The 22-year-old Love? Merely 20.2 PPG, a league-leading 15.2 RPG, a PER of 24.3 and a 42 percent 3-point percentage.

In 2011-12, Love’s contract year, he was even better, averaging 26 and 13 with a PER of 25.4, trailing only LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant. At 23 years old, readying for his first max contract, Love was a superstar. A No. 1 piece on a championship team. A cornerstone.



What Love deserved, what he desired, was a five-year deal (not the four-year deal he signed), the same one Russell Westbook, whom Love had outproduced in almost every raw and advanced statistic through their first four seasons, had signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder just a week earlier. (What he got, reportedly, was an offer sheet thrown at him by Kahn in the trainer’s room after a loss.) Love wanted to stay in Minnesota longer. A young star wanted to sign a maximum deal to stay in this cold, small market, the snow-swept Midwestern city we’re told no one wants to visit, let alone reside in.

[+] EnlargeLove & Rubio
Brad Rempel/USA TODAY SportsDavid Kahn's early commitment to Ricky Rubio was perhaps the final straw for Kevin Love in Minnesota.
But Kahn, perhaps viewing this as his last chance to save his job, supposedly preferred to save that five-year deal for Ricky Rubio, who, by the point Love signed his extension, had played a grand total of 18 NBA games and was known more for charming grandmas across the upper Midwest. We didn't even know if Rubio could shoot yet. (Spoiler alert: He can’t.) But it was his five-year deal. His “franchise player” designation.

Sometime during all of this, Wolves owner Glen Taylor -- who in 2007 accused Garnett of “tanking” -- said Love wasn’t a star because he hadn’t led the team to the playoffs, a sentiment so delusional it begs the question of if Taylor had ever looked at his own roster.

If you were Love, and you saw your franchise value unknown potential and floppy-haired adorableness over known superstardom, and show absolutely no aptitude for franchise-building in four noncompetitive seasons, wouldn't that leave you wanting something more? Wouldn't you have demanded that player option after Year 3?

To blame Love for this -- the departure of the team’s second franchise player in seven years -- is as unfair as it is disingenuous.

But that’s Minnesota sports. We like the future. Potential. Flying under the national radar. Kitten photos on Instagram. We're flyover country. We're Midwesterners. We're uncomfortable with stars and attention.



In May, Love informed Taylor and new coach and president of basketball personnel Flip Saunders that he planned to opt out after this season, forcing the team to once again entertain the notion of trading its best player, this time a 25-year-old entering the prime of his career. And there was Love, smirking his way across the country, visiting the likes of Boston and claiming intrigue at the thought of joining the moribund Knicks, as if either of those franchises were closer to winning than his own.

And now, some three months later, a deal seems to be in place to send Love to another small, snow-swept Midwestern market, Cleveland, for No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round pick.

It’s unquestionably the best haul the team could’ve received, and Saunders handled the situation perfectly, waiting patiently to increase the price of his most-prized asset. The process, shockingly, seemed measured -- controlled, even.

So are we excited about Wiggins? Sure. Will we embrace him? Of course we will. He plays defense, seems like a hard-working kid and has a nice smile. We love that stuff. And whatever Wiggins ends up to be -- a Tracy McGrady or a Corey Brewer or somewhere in between -- the Wolves win: If he’s close to the top of that range, they’ve got yet another chance to build around a franchise player, and on the cheap for the next five seasons. If not, if he’s an energetic sixth man, they'll once again find themselves at the top of the draft -- familiar territory for a team that’s made 20 lottery picks in its 25-year history.

It’s a win-win for the Wolves.

Except it’s not. In reality, they've already lost.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Ross Marrinson is an associate editor with ESPN The Magazine. Follow him @RMarrinsonESPN

Cavs fan gets tattoo of Love and LeBron

August, 4, 2014
8/04/14
10:34
AM ET
Rovell By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com
Archive
Cavaliers tattooCourtesy of Nick GrossmanKevin Love and LeBron James could be sharing the same frontcourt soon; for now, they share a back.
An impatient Cleveland Cavaliers fan couldn't wait for a Kevin Love trade to be consummated, so Sunday night he had the Minnesota Timberwolves forward join LeBron James -- on his back.

Nick Grossman, 16, said he was walking the Virginia Beach boardwalk when he saw a shop that made henna tattoos of NBA players. When Grossman saw both James, available in a Heat jersey, and Love, available in a Timberwolves jersey, the lightbulb went off.

"I asked if they could put LeBron and Love in Cavs jerseys instead and they said they could if I showed them what the jersey looked like," said Grossman, who is from Richmond, Virginia, but grew up a Cavs fan (his father's family is from the Cleveland area).

Thirty minutes and $60 later, Grossman brought LeBron and Love together on his shoulder blades.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it's likely that Love gets traded to the Cavaliers on either Aug. 23 or 24. Cavs rookie Andrew Wiggins, who is expected to be part of the deal, is first eligible to be traded on Aug. 23.

If somehow the deal doesn't work out, the best part is that the tattoo is temporary, but Grossman doesn't think of it that way.

"It lasts up to a month, so it still should be on by the time Love gets traded to Cleveland," Grossman said.

Even though Grossman said he knew the Cavaliers had retired No. 42 for Nate Thurmond, he noted that UCLA had retired that number for Walt Hazzard and Love still wore that number after receiving permission from Hazzard.

Kevin Love is way better than you think

July, 29, 2014
7/29/14
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.

Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
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.

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

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
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
6/23/14
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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