When Kevin Love entered the league, the player he idolized and patterned his game after was the Washington Bullets ’78 Finals MVP Wes Unseld.
Unseld’s low center of gravity was inverse to his pension for auditing errant shots from off the rim. However, his trademark play was the outlet pass.
It’s a play that Love has artfully mimicked on the hardwood since he began studying tapes of Unseld from the crib. With one flick of the wrist, Love’s passes have been flying off of his fingertips and sailing through the Minnesota air for six seasons. However, he’s never thrown a playoff point or logged a single postseason minute.
It appears Love is ready to simulate the fight of the ball and take the next outlet flight out of Minnesota forever.
The Kevin Love doomsday clock has tick, tick, ticked for the past year and as the losses piled up, the toxic environment within Minnesota’s Target Center has worsened.
Love threw up flares last summer about growing weary in Minnesota; but until recently, his warnings fell flat. He had at least two seasons under contract before being granted his Timberwolves release. Instead of escaping the solitary confinement of an NBA dungeon dwelling, Minnesota has barely gotten playoff yard time.
The modern structure of the NBA dictates that free agency for great players on floundering teams often begins a year earlier than their official release date.
However, teams have to ask themselves if he’s worth the gamble. In six seasons, Love has displayed efficient scoring habits and imprinted more of his fingertips all over the boards, but has never stepped off the playoff pier and dipped his sneakers into the sands of the playoff coasts. The perennial losing in Minnesota has added more bite to the chilling winters and Love is a frostbitten superstar actively seeking an amputation to dull the pain.
Recently, there have been a plethora of reports from sources close to Kevin Love claiming that the Wolves star forward has no interest in returning to Minnesota and that the organization is interested in shipping him off rather than lose him for nothing.
As a result, a litany of franchises are prepping their trade packages, including first round picks and a valued veteran to replace a modicum of Love’s production.
He’s currently in the class of impact stars alongside Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and James Harden as team leaders seeking a renewal of their superstar credentials. None of the first three above qualified for the playoffs this past season despite splashing around in the Eastern Conference squalor.
The Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns are the early favorites out of the gates, but if Love is serious about wanting to sacrifice the love of money for a peace of mind, and 20 to 25 fewer losses per season, then the Lakers and Knicks should have several seats.
That leaves the Western Conference first round outs Houston and Golden State, with the ninth seeded Phoenix Suns lighting up the rear.
Golden State could offer a combination of Harrison Barnes and David Lee, but Klay Thompson is probably persona non grata. Love is great, but on his own, he hasn’t shown himself to be a status changer in the league worth sacrificing the Splash Brothers synergy. His numbers are empty calories like candied bacon.
Among the players on the market this summer, Love’s expiring contract is third on the scale of importance behind Lance Stephenson’s restricted free agency and Carmelo Anthony’s unrestricted Knicks liberation.
Any team that gives up the farm for Love is setting themselves up for a precipitious fall.
Love has the 18th highest PER of any player in his first six seasons in NBA history, but in the NBA’s "Game of Thrones" hierarchy, Kevin Love is Tyrion Lannister. While his numbers are noble, in crunch time he comes up short.
In Love’s defense, there haven’t been many moments for him to capitalize on besides a few regular season buzzer beaters here and there while Ricky Rubio has been the NBA's worst shooter for the past three seasons.
Love’s 27.5 PER through the first three quarters ranked third in the league this season behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James. In the fourth quarter, he was a shrinking violet with the 27th ranked PER during the final period.
His true shooting percentage in the final five minutes with the score within five points this season signifies how teams were able to mitigate his impact during the literal definition of clutch time. His true shooting percentage during this period was third worst of any player who took at least 85 shots.
Love is a No. 1 option on a fringe playoff team, a second option on a middle-tier playoff team in the East and Chris Bosh on a title contender.
The Chicago Bulls are one of Love’s two preferences and would meet those specifications, but Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah have coagulated into a rigid defensive frontcourt. In a potential swap, the Timberwolves would seek too much value in exchange for a player of Love’s caliber.
Unseld had Bobby Dandridge and Elvin Hayes to accompany him on the Bullets championship quest. Houston already has two fringe franchise players and a third could put them over the top. There would still be defensive deficiencies to hash out, but a Love-Harden-Howard trio would give the Rockets a fighting chance on the Western Conference stage.
Arranging this marriage is a little more complicated than it sounds. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik’s complicated contracts could match Love’s salary, but they provide no value for the Timberwolves besides being a surrogate to ship out their star player. Draft picks are the currency of choice in a potential deal of this nature. Unlike the Phoenix Suns who could offer three first round picks and a roster on the brink of Western Conference relevancy, the Rockets only possess one late 2014 first round pick.
There’s a lot to like about Kevin Love as a marketable star in this league, but it’s hard to love him as a franchise player.