NBA PM: Time To Trade Kevin Love?
Earlier this week we heard comments from Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love to the effect that he is tired of rebuilding and ready to compete for a championship.
“You walk into the locker room every year, and it’s completely turned over,” Love told Yahoo! Sports. “There’s new guys everywhere. And then it happens again and again. You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a … plan?”
“I haven’t been in the playoffs yet,” Love continued. “I’m looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven’t been to the playoffs – or it’s been one playoff berth – well, it’s going to be tough to say, ‘Oh well, I’m going to stay here and continue to rebuild.’”
Love went on to talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies as examples of small market teams that have done better than the Timberwolves in terms of building strong teams long-term with little turnover.
Of course, for every team he mentioned there are three of four others who have tried to do the same thing and failed. The Spurs and Thunder, in particular, happen to be the best in the business. They also had the good fortune to draft two players in Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, respectively, who turned out to be all-world, once-in-a-generation players.
Timberwolves GM David Kahn has taken his lumps, to be sure, but he learned and grew along the way and has now put quite a team around Love. Despite missing out on two of their primary offseason targets in O.J. Mayo (who took less because he had his heart set on Dallas) and Nicolas Batum (who was restricted), the Timberwolves did a great job of adding depth and veteran leadership to a team that was on course to make the playoffs last season before injuries set in. Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy have both paid dividends on and off the court, Greg Steimsma gives them good size off the bench, Chase Budinger was helping the perimeter game before he went down, Alexey Shved has shown real potential and even recent addition Josh Howard has played well.
Even Thunder GM Sam Presti would be hard pressed to do more to improve the Timberwolves over an offseason than Kahn did last summer.
As for Love, he could do a little more to help his own cause. Setting aside that he has missed half of the early season due to injury, which is beyond his control, Love is leading the team in scoring at 19.9 points per game, but he’s shooting just 36 percent from the field, 20 percent from three and 67 percent from the foul line. One way the Timberwolves could improve right away would be for Love to get his game on track.
Despite the debilitating number of injuries the Timberwolves have suffered and Love’s own struggles, they are currently a game over .500 and very much in the Western Conference’s playoff picture as they anticipate the returns of both Brandon Roy and Ricky Rubio before the end of the month. If they can get healthy and hit their stride, there is no reason to believe that the Timberwolves can’t finish strong and at least make the playoffs. They might even push beyond the first round given the veterans on the team who can help keep the young core focused on the task at hand.
As HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler reported yesterday, Love has since tried to soften the tone of his comments.
“A lot of athletes these days say the right thing and aren’t outspoken,” Love said to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. “I’m not going to say I have anything to apologize for. I said what I felt. I didn’t mean to alienate my team, my coaches, the organization or more importantly the fans. … I do believe this is the closest-knit team that we’ve had. The coaching staff has been great and we have a chance to make something very special this year and for years to come. The acquisitions we made this offseason I’m very happy with. As far as the state of the team, I think we’re fine. I just need to move forward and hopefully this thing won’t keep coming up. I’m done talking about it really from here on out after today. I’m hoping we can just move on and winning will take care of everything.”
That’s good, because if Love were to continue to offer his critical insights, while he himself is struggling like he has, it might just be that the next major change made in Minnesota might be to deal Love. After all, the Los Angeles Lakers would love to bring him home to California, and Pau Gasol has long been a target of Timberwolves management.
The best thing for Love and the Timberwolves is to focus on this season, getting everyone healthy and pushing for a deep playoff run. Anything that distracts from that would be doing a disservice to a team that has long struggled to make it to this point.
The Cleveland Cavaliers continue to have conversations with teams about possibly trading Anderson Varejao, and today the Timberwolves surfaced as a possible trade partner. Much like the Lakers, who are loathe to make a major move until they see how a healthy Steve Nash impacts the current team, the Timberwolves are waiting to see how Ricky Rubio’s return, possibly as early as this weekend, could impact the situation. The Timberwolves would welcome a move that sent out Derrick Williams in a package, and he might be a solid fit in Cleveland, where the youth movement is coming along nicely.
A Bitter Pill To Swallow
The 2011-12 NBA season was a brilliant one for Sacramento Kings guard Marcus Thornton. There is no question about that. The (then) third-year pro from Louisiana was among the best scorers in the NBA, ranking in the 87th percentile overall on the offensive end as he poured in 18.7 points per game. Nevertheless, as the 2012-13 season rolled around, he found himself relegated to more of a sixth-man role as Tyreke Evans moved over to the two. It wasn’t easy for Thornton to accept the move at first.
“It’s very tough,” Thornton tells HOOPSWORLD. “You have to mentally prepare yourself. You have to keep heat packs on, and you never know when you’re going in, but I’m gradually trying to get it. Hopefully, I will.”
Coming off the bench is not all bad, however, and Thornton admits he has found that it changes his perspective some.
“Yeah, it does because when you start, you get a better feel for the game and how the game is going,” says Thornton. “So watching the game from the side before is… it can be good. It’s good sometimes, too, because you know how players want to play you and you see things you can help the team with, so there’s pros and cons to it.”
Kings head coach Keith Smart hated moving Thornton to the bench, but felt it was necessary in order to address some defensive issues.
“I knew our team had to be better defensively,” says Smart. “You’ve got to know what your strengths are, and nothing against him, because he has worked his tail off defensively, but I just knew size-wise I wanted to be bigger at the two-guard. I knew I wanted to try and get bigger at the small-forward. We had to guard those two positions every night, because those are two monster positions every night you’re going to guard. So, I knew I wanted to have that. I also thought our bench would drop off big time because we didn’t have a proven scorer, or a legitimate guy that you have to game plan for.”
As potent as Thornton was on the offensive end, he struggled mightily when it came to the defensive end last season. He ranked in just the 33rd percentile on that side of the ball, but understands where his work has to come and has accepted that challenge this season.
“Yeah, yeah I have,” says Thornton. “It’s a process. I’m doing a better job at it, you know, that’s why I am dedicated. The game, too, right now is defense. Offense is going to come in there, but the defensive end is always all effort, and I’m going to try and go all out.”
Smart has tried to put this new role in perspective for Thornton, pointing out that some of the best sixth men over the last few years have had tremendous impacts for their teams off the bench.
“You have to game plan for Jason Terry, you had to game plan for O.J. Mayo as a sixth man, James Harden, you had to game plan for them like they were starters,” explains Smart. “I tried to share that with him, that you have to come off the bench and stay in the mode that you’re in. You’re in the lineup now, and you got a big guy that is going to need the ball a little bit, and you may not get what you want, but in the second unit, you can come out and play, and just do what you need to do, and it’s always hard, a big adjustment for a guy, but I shared with our team that we’re trying to move in a different direction of trying to win, and become a team, and the team can succeed. You have to buy into that. It was always going to be hard. When a guy that’s been a scorer now has limited time and shots, but I got to look at what’s best for our basketball team.”
It can help to have more of a green light in the second unit, but it also didn’t take Thornton long to realize that teams could target him more with his starting big men on the bench.
“Yeah, yeah, it does, but having DeMarcus [Cousins] out there, he draws a lot of attention, so it gets me wide open shots,” says Thornton. “So when he’s not out there, everything is trap Marcus, get the ball out of his hands, so like I said, pros and cons to both sides.”
Smart actually sees it as a luxury having Thornton coming off the bench, but understands there is still some work to be done in preparing him to fill that role the way it needs to be filled.
“Oh, it’s a big luxury for us because when he’s right, and he’s making shots, and trying to get him to become that long range shooter and scorer right off the bench,” says Smart. “He’s a streaky shooter; his whole career he’s been a streaky guy. I’m trying to get him where his streak is all the time; to where he’s not waiting for the game to come to him or when you play a lot of minutes, you kind of have a tendency to where you’re not hot for right now so you’ll play until you get hot. Well, I’m trying to get him in the mode like all the sixth-men of the year in our league, where as soon as they come out into the game, it’s instant, right away.”
Thornton does draw encouragement by looking at what some of the great sixth men have done, but still has to find ways to adjust his own game to the role.
“Yeah, those guys did a great job, they handled it,” says Thornton. “I’ve heard stories how they didn’t like it at first, but they adjusted to it, and it happens, it happens sometimes, but you got to adjust to it.”
When Terry played the sixth man role for the Dallas Mavericks, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle always referred to Terry as his sixth starter, and that may be the way Thornton has to think of himself to find his way in the new role the Kings have laid out for him. It’s tough, especially after he had such success as a starter last season, but it’s a role that Thornton can certainly embrace and make his own.
Dwane Casey Stemming the Tide of Criticism
As we’ve already seen this season, when an NBA team falls well short of expectations, the head coach is usually the first one to take heat. The Los Angeles Lakers fired Mike Brown before the season was even a month old, and while the expectations in Toronto are considerably less than those facing the Lakers, the blame-game gang is bound to start pointing fingers at Dwane Casey before long.
It’s been tough for Casey, of course, as early injuries have derailed a team that looks very much like a playoff squad on paper. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has been in full spin-control mode this week with the media, but meanwhile Casey is preaching the importance of staying positive.
“He’s definitely been on us, but one thing he has been trying to [do is] keep us positive out of everything,” DeMar DeRozan told the National Post. “It’s easy to do whatever, to throw in the towel and not still be able to fight. Like [Wednesday night against Brooklyn], we had every excuse in the world. We could have went out and laid down, but [we did not]. Just keeping us positive and keeping us working hard.”
“We’ve got to be positive,” Casey added. “The NBA is not going to feel sorry for you. If you don’t feel like you can win in the NBA and believe you can win … That’s the most important thing. We’ve got to believe. We’ve got to have a belief system in place that we can win.”
Casey came to the Raptors with a reputation for being a defensive master, having been the driving force behind the Dallas Mavericks’ championship defense under head coach Rick Carlisle. Last season, his first with the team, the Raptors ranked 14th in the league defensively. While that was a step in the right direction, the team is currently 27th in opponent scoring, allowing 102.6 points per game, and 26th in opponent’s field goal percentage, allowing teams to shoot 46 percent from the field.
Through it all, Casey has been upbeat and positive with his team while also riding them and pushing them to perform at ever-higher levels. Still, he understands all too well how the game is played in the court of public opinion.
“That’s part of the NBA,” Casey said in a separate interview. “We’re all professionals … That’s part of the job: We live in a glass bowl. I live in a glass bowl, that’s part of the territory when we sign up. We’re all men. I’ve explained that to players, you’ve got to perform. Trade rumors, firing, whatever it is, we all have to perform, we have a job to do. We can’t go into a shell and say, ‘Please go away, please go away.’ No, we’ve got a job to do. I’ve been through tougher times.”
There may be tougher times ahead, too, as injuries continue to mount and young players continue to struggle to grow up quickly. Whatever comes, Casey is ready to work through it, no matter what criticism might come his way.
“There’s always a challenge, a different type of challenge and I look at it from a position of, ‘Hey I’m going to scrap, I’m going to give everything I have to … be successful [for] this organization 24/7,” Casey said. “That’s the only way I know how to do it, and I’m going to continue to do it until they tell me I’m not here anymore. If they feel like I’m the issue or the problem then that’s fine, too. I haven’t been told that, so I wake up every morning at six o’clock ready to come in, ready to get to work and have my big-boy pants on.”
That’s good, because there appears to be much work left to be done.
Try Your Hand At Cap Management!
Make sure to play this week’s free fantasy contest from DraftStreet. It is a salary-cap style drafting game where you assemble the best team out of the available players. You will have a $100,000 budget to build a team of 2 forwards, 2 guards, 2 centers, and 2 utility players. CLICK HERE to sign up for free and join the HOOPSWORLD $300 Freeroll on DraftStreet.com.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.