Suddenly, we’re not the flyover country of the basketball world anymore. The Minnesota Timberwolves, particularly Kevin Love, are hot stuff right now.
Tonight’s game in Denver with the Timberwolves is a nationally televised broadcast; everybody wants to see Kevin Love, who is clearly the early favorite for the league’s MVP Award.
He’s even pitching ESPN now.
That’s two ESPN ads in two months, if you’re keeping score.
Great ads, but, for the record, we’re still ranking it behind the Timberwolves-produced spot to get Love named to the All Star team in 2011.
It’s a bittersweet time for Timberwolves fans. Because of our “we can’t have nice things” mentality, it’s assumed Love will head for a bigger spotlight when his contract is up in 2015.
Because he’s from California, it’s always been a given that he’d head for the Lakers. But the Lakers are yesterday’s news in the NBA now and the focus is on New York, the basketball capital of America.
YahooSports reported yesterday they’ve already developed a strategy to lure him to New York, although writer Tom Schreirer notes there are plenty of reasons why he’ll stay:
Unlike in years past, the team’s success this season will come down to whether or not Love executes night in and night out. He is Minnesota’s best player, the best power forward in the league, and has been put into a situation where he can thrive. He is coached by a future Hall of Famer, no longer has to answer to Kahn, and will eventually play in a renovated arena located in the middle of a sports-crazy metropolitan area.
Why would he leave a suddenly well-managed team for a perpetually dysfunctional one like the Knicks? Why would he join a team that seems to be courting him only because LeBron James becomes a free agent too early (2014) and Kevin Durant too late (2016)? Why would he take less money to play with a player that doesn’t ever pass the ball (Anthony), instead of one that has made assisting his teammates an art form (Rubio)?
Love has what he needs to win in Minnesota. To leave for New York is only to admit that he is not sure he can get the job done — and that will only be magnified under those bright lights.
This week, Sports Illustrated also spelled out reasons why New York might be a step down from Minnesota.
All Love wants to do is win, and Saunders offers stability Love has never experienced before. The lure of New York or L.A. in 2015 may be considerable, but is playing with an aging Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant more appealing than Rubio, Pekovic and Martin? Can two teams with coaches on unsteady ground represent a better option than the proven, experienced hand of Adelman?
That’s in contrast to some local writers who have conceded Love will flee when he gets his next chance. But, on the other hand, what do they know about predicting the future?
Let’s hit the Wayback Machine. Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse, October 2008. After Love played his final preseason NBA game.
And when it came to ineptitude, no one compared to Love. The rookie played 24 minutes and went 1-for-10 from the field. He was credited with five rebounds and two turnovers.
There was one glaring impression from the time Love spent on the offensive end: How is this rookie going to get the ball in the basket against NBA big men?
He’s undersized and he has no lift. When he tried to go up in traffic, he was able to get the ball somewhere around the chins of Aaron Gray or Joakim Noah or Drew Gooden.
This week, Reusse’s Star Tribune partner, Jim Souhan, also kicked off the Kevin Love Goodbye Watch. “Minnesota sports fans live in paranoia of losing their best players to bigger markets,” he wrote. “Every great player is rumored to be a future Laker. That’s the way the NBA works, and that’s the way NBA reporters think.”
The ones in Minnesota, perhaps.
What Love hasn’t been able to accomplish, however, is bringing the fans back to Target Center. The team increased its ticket prices from its discount days when tickets sold for as little as $5 for seats now going for $29, on the the theory that everyone wants to see a winner.
Early in the season, that hasn’t proven to be the case yet. Through five home games, the team is officially averaging just over 15,000 fans a night, 1,000 below last season’s average, and 2,000 a game below the previous season. But Target Center attendance figures are notoriously fictional. The team gave away thousands of tickets for its opening night game against Oklahoma City and there were still plenty of empty seats.
Winning might eventually change that unless Minnesota fans are convinced there’s no point in loving someone who might leave someday. The Timberwolves are hot stuff, everywhere but Minnesota.
Update: Go ahead, call 1-855-NEED-LOVE. (h/t: Michael Rand)