Timberwolves Have Record-Setting Week After Trading Kevin Love

The Minnesota Timberwolves traded away their franchise player in Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that hasn’t kept fans from getting excited about the upcoming season.

In fact, fans are apparently as excited as ever. After receiving Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young, the Timberwolves have sold over 300 full-season ticket packages in the last week, breaking the previous record when Ricky Rubio joined the team in 2011.

Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke is quite excited about the current state of the team, according to The Associated Press (via USA Today), saying:

The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized. Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.

But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.

With a young group of players in Bennett, Wiggins, Young and first-round pick Zach LaVine, the Timberwolves and their fans seem excited about the future of the franchise, even if it’s without Love.

[USA Today]

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Kentucky Basketball: How Far Behind Is Trey Lyles After Missing Bahamas Trip?

In the wake of the Kentucky Wildcats’ 5-1 eight-day run through international opposition in the Bahamas, college basketball analysts stateside are marveling. Journalists who’ve seen hype fail to materialize time and time again are now writing and speaking words that, to all other schools’ fanbases, have to read like warnings that a large mutant lizard is shuffling over from Japan.

The absence of junior center Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman power forward Trey Lyles has been a frequent topic of discussion, but always in a “how good will UK be when these guys are back” context. While Cauley-Stein’s experience can buy him minutes when the season begins, Lyles has no such buffer.

College basketball’s newcomers have to enjoy overseas trips not only for the cultural experiences, but the chance to gain early familiarity with their new teammates. Lyles missed out on that opportunity in the Bahamas, which makes him a very real candidate to be left behind, trailing the other eight former McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster.

How far behind will Lyles be when practice starts in October? Only the coaching staff knows for sure. By the end of the season, though, Lyles should be a key part of the rotation even if he never starts a game.

 

Invasion of the Glass-Eaters

Lyles isn’t the explosive above-the-rim defender that Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee are. He’s not the burly earth-mover type like Dakari Johnson. He’s not a threat to spot up and hit a three from the Rupp Arena concourse’s Dunkin’ Donuts stand the way Karl Towns is. Finally, he’s not a respected perimeter defender a la Alex Poythress.

So what is he?

Primarily, Lyles is the only truly skilled low-post scorer whom coach John Calipari has in this all-stud stable. His footwork is strong and his array of moves and counter-moves dwarfs that of his more athletic teammates.

In a half-court offense, Lyles is UK’s only real threat to score on a lefty hook or a turnaround jumper. Towns possesses the ability to do so, but he’ll need to prove that he’s willing to fight through the constant contact. Inasmuch as that’s a major facet of UK’s offense, Lyles will be a valuable piece.

Last season, though, most of Kentucky’s baskets near the rim came on drives and offensive rebounds. Based on Hoop-Math.com‘s figures, only 32 percent of Kentucky’s two-point baskets were assisted last season. A further 17.2 percent came on putbacks.

Lyles is a capable offensive rebounder, but so are Cauley-Stein, Lee, Poythress and Johnson. The latter three combined for 36 offensive boards in the Bahamas, with Towns chipping in another 15. If Calipari feels that he can count on this sort of dominance against American college teams, Lyles could be in for a long season.

After all, a missed perimeter jumper can still be a great offensive play with athletes of this caliber patrolling the glass.

Calipari can tailor an offense to fit the strengths of his talent, so will he do so when Lyles is in the game? The Canadian’s playing time will increase if Calipari detects a need for more skill in the paint and greater overall efficiency within the offense.

Some of the better opponents on UK’s impressive schedule, after all, won’t surrender 58 points in the paint and 14 dunks like the Puerto Rico national reserves did.

Desperate People

The biggest concern surrounding the Kentucky offense is spacing. With so many players of limited shooting range, what’s to stop UK’s opponents from simply packing the lane and daring the Wildcats’ few snipers to hoist up threes all night?

Eventually, the arms are bound to tire on Towns, Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker, right?

While Lyles has shown an ability to stick the open three, it’s not the strength of his game. Where he can excel, however, is in the mid-range game out to about 17 feet.

A big opponent like Texaslast season’s No. 6 offensive rebounding team per Ken Pomeroy (subscription required) and a club that has only gotten stronger this offseasoncould work wonders in keeping Lee or Cauley-Stein off the offensive glass, blunting their scoring impact. Those games are where Lyles’ and Towns’ ability to pull big men away from the basket will be most essential.

Against teams possessing less length and bulk than the Longhorns (read: nearly all of them), the UK big men will face a steady diet of double-teams. Even if Lee, Cauley-Stein and Johnson can haul in an offensive carom, can they make the correct pass out of the post when they’re swarmed?

Again, Lyles and Towns are more skillful players than their veteran teammates, lacking only the experience and awareness of teammates’ tendencies. The Bahamas trip showed that Towns is already picking up the offense, judging by his 11 assists, which tied for third on the team. Dominique Hawkins, the erstwhile emergency point guard, dished that many in only six fewer minutes.

Lyles is still behind the curve thanks to his health problems, and the preseason practices in October will be pivotal for him.

 

Gimme Five?

Calipari’s platoon systemsubstituting five in and five out on regular intervals like a hockey coach calling for a line changegave all 10 healthy scholarship players significant minutes, and Calipari has indicated that it could make the occasional appearance during the season.

“I think so,” Calipari said when the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s Kyle Tucker asked him if the platoons could work in regular-season action. “And I think what happened here was, the greatest thing is everyone had a chance to show they should be playing more or less, they should be playing or not playing. You can’t say, ‘Well, I’ve never had an opportunity.’”

Even Hawkins and Derek Willis, the 11th and 12th men on the UK roster, saw significant minutes, but they’re widely expected to spend the year picking splinters once Lyles and Cauley-Stein are back in action.

But even if the Wildcats can go with a defined five starters and five reserves, how do those groups shake out?

Assuming that the Harrison twins are locked in as starters, does Cal play them off the ball with tiny Tyler Ulis in charge at the point? Do the bigs who run with that trio need to be the best athletes, best scorers or best defenders available?

For Lyles’ purposes, he has to hope that Ulis runs with the second string. Follow me here:

  • With Ulis and the twins on the first string, it locks Calipari into using Hawkins as one of the backups. That automatically costs one of the six bigsif we count Poythressa spot.
  • Poythress’ experience and impressive run in the Bahamas should earn him a starting role, and your fifth starter is very likely Cauley-Stein. A rim protector is needed in case a penetrator gets past the Harrisons, or the opposing point guard tosses a smooth entry pass over the top of Ulis.
  • The second-string backcourt would feature Hawkins and Booker, with Towns certainly locked into a role here if he’s not starting. That leaves two spots left for Johnson, Lyles and Lee.
  • While Johnson has slimmed down considerably from last season, he’s still not the dangerous defender that Lee is. If we lock Lee into a role, it pits Johnson vs. Lyles in a battle for the final spot.
  • Johnson has already proven he’s strong enough to match up with nearly any center in the SEC, if not impressive nonconference foes like Texas’ Cameron Ridley or North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks. Therefore, your second string reads: Hawkins-Booker-Towns-Lee-Johnson, with Lyles joining Willis in hoping for mop-up time.

Now, if Ulis is the second-string point guard:

  • Towns joins Poythress and Cauley-Stein on the starting front line, since the former two were certainly the two strongest Cats in the Bahamas.
  • A second-string backcourt of Ulis and Booker would need a third scoring threat to complement Lee and Johnson up front. Lyles fits the bill nicely if he can outplay Willisno small task, but one of which a healthy player with Lyles’ credentials should be more than capable.

A second string of Ulis, Booker, Lyles, Lee and Johnsonand let’s assume this split team gets custody of Williswould still be voted into the Associated Press’ preseason Top 20, if not Top 10.

The games need to start shaking outand by that we mean the real games, not Grand Canyon and UT-Arlingtonbefore we can draw any concrete conclusions about the Kentucky rotation.

In the meantime, Trey Lyles has some work to do to make sure he’s not left out of the fun. A lost freshman year for him would be a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less of a real possibility.

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Timberwolves have record week after trading Love (Yahoo Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years and just traded the face of their franchise so he can go chase a championship with LeBron James in Cleveland. Kevin Love is gone now, and yet somehow the Timberwolves have parlayed that into a record-setting week at the box office. After completing the long-rumored trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week. ”The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said.

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Timberwolves have record week after trading Love

Timberwolves enjoy record ticket-selling week in aftermath of Kevin Love trade

      
 

 

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Steve Masiello ‘reprogrammed’ after résumé mess

Steve Masiello admits the adversity he’s faced since March has been humbling.

      
 

 

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Manhattan’s Steve Masiello ‘reprogrammed’ after résumé mess

Steve Masiello admits the adversity he’s faced since March has been humbling.

      
 

 

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Predicting the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Next Move After Kevin Love Trade

The Kevin Love era is over for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the new regime can’t be done making moves quite yet. 

Flipping the disgruntled power forward for a haul that centered around Andrew Wiggins was only the first step in revamping what’s become a rather youthful roster. It can’t be the last move, as the Wolves are now committing to a rebuilding process with plenty of promise. 

As Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley noted when discussing the topic, Minnesota’s head coach and acting president Flip Saunders dealt with his own conflicting interests perfectly. The presidential personality avoided succumbing to the coaching side’s win-now idealisms by sacrificing top-notch talent for potential, and now the future looks awfully bright in Minnesota.

Much brighter than what, only a few weeks ago, was a mediocre present. 

That said, the future can get brighter. The current mixture of new arrivals and incumbent players isn’t going to compete for a playoff berth in the tough Western Conference during the 2014-15 season, and the veterans are only getting older. 

The Love trade should set off a chain reaction in Minnesota. It’s the first domino in a line of many that should fall. 

What’s next to tip over?

 

Who are the Keepers?

All of a sudden, the Timberwolves are brimming with young talent. Rather than boasting a healthy mix of veterans and up-and-coming players who fall short of the playoffs each and every year, Minnesota has moved into more of a rebuilding mode, even if there’s enough quality talent to remain at least moderately competitive. 

Wiggins is obviously the premier keeper on the roster, as he was the centerpiece in the haul Saunders received for Love’s services.

The Kansas product was the No. 1 pick in a potentially star-studded 2014 draft class, and his ceiling is immeasurable. Right off the bat, he should put in work as a wing-stopping defender, a young man who can settle into his defensive stance and make things happen on the less-glamorous end of the court. However, his vaunted athleticism and undeniable upside on offense give him large quantities of untapped potential. 

However, Wiggins obviously isn’t the only keeper on the roster. 

Ricky Rubio hasn’t panned out as many expected, but he’s still a player worth holding onto and building around. The Minnesota floor general needs to develop a consistent jumper so that defenses can’t sag off him and dare him to score, but he’s a ball-hawking defender and one of the best distributors in the Association. 

To clarify on that first point, Rubio isn’t yet a standout defender, but rather a player who gambles excessively and does tend to record plenty of steals. As Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale writes, “There’s value in Rubio‘s defensive performance as well. He can take too many chances and is rarely able to catch up with those who beat him off the dribble, but he has quick hands that force steals in volume.”

If Minnesota can surround him with quality stoppers, especially some capable of protecting the rim, then his failed gambles won’t be as detrimental.

Joining Rubio and Wiggins in the realm of keepers are Shabazz Muhammad (who wasn’t given too many chances to thrive under the tutelage of Rick Adelman), Zach LaVine (who may have nearly as much upside as Wiggins, even if he’s quite raw), Gorgui Dieng (who broke out late last season), Thaddeus Young (a recent trade acquisition who will serve as a fantastic complementary piece), Glenn Robinson III (another rookie with upside) and Anthony Bennett (last year’s No. 1 overall pick). 

Everyone else is expendable.

 

The Possible Deals

On the current roster, there are eight names who weren’t mentioned in the previous section—J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf and Mo Williams.

Of those, we can immediately scratch off a few players.

Williams just signed with the team, and he’s a valuable sixth man who will eventually be just another solid guard off the bench when the young players develop into quality contributors. Turiaf and Hummel don’t have much trade value, and Budinger‘s injury history makes him too risky for any team to pay a reasonable asking price. 

Now we’re down to just four players. 

Barea is coming off a season in which he averaged 8.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, but he also shot just 38.7 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from beyond the arc. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his player efficiency rating was 11.6, the worst mark since his rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks

Plus, his contract makes things tricky. ShamSports.com shows that he’s operating on a $4,519,500 expiring contract, which gives him more trade value but also less worth to Minnesota, as he isn’t exactly a part of the future plans. 

If there are no takers willing to offer a second-round pick or an intriguing prospect, he could very well be bought out, leaving the Wolves taking a cap hit but opening up more minutes for the incumbent young guns. 

Brewer should be slightly easier to deal, as he’s a player with two skills that could make a contending team quite happy, enough so that it should be willing to send a draft pick back in return. And considering Minnesota almost has to open up more playing time for the wings and forwards—Wiggins, Muhammad, Bennett, Young and Robinson—that’s a return that should see him depart. 

Though this won’t be so readily apparent without Love throwing him outlet passes that would make Wes Unseld swoon, Brewer is a devastating transition threat with a nose for the hoop. He’s also a solid defender, one who made Minnesota slightly better on that end when he was on the court, per Basketball-Reference.com

That said, Brewer and Barea are minor trade pieces. The big moves will revolve around Martin and Pekovic

While the former’s contract—he’s making roughly $7 million per season over the next two years and has a player option for $7.4 million in 2016-17—significantly decreases his value, he’s still a talented shooting guard playing in a league without too many standouts at the position. Martin’s perimeter scoring and ability to space out the court are quite valuable and he should easily be able to find a home elsewhere, so long as the Wolves are willing to take pennies on the dollar in order to shed his salary. 

As for Pekovic, he’s coming off an injury-plagued season in which he averaged 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 54.1 percent from the field. A tough, physical bruiser, he undoubtedly has value at the center position as a consistently efficient big man who can provide value in plenty of areas. 

Even during his introductory press conference, Young had to compliment Pekovic‘s strength: 

If he were a great rim-protector or a player capable of carrying the offensive load, he’d be all the more valuable, but Pekovic is what he is at this point. And that’s a player capable of bringing back a solid haul once he’s placed on the trade block. 

Now it’s possible that all of these players end up leaving Minnesota before the 2014-15 trade deadline is upon us. It’s not inconceivable that Martin’s contract could be sent elsewhere early in the proceedings, Barea could be bought out and Brewer and Pekovic could be packaged together for a return filled with youth and upside. 

But if only one move is to be made, which is most likely?

 

The One Move

It’s either trading Martin or dealing Pekovic

While moving Brewer and Barea is certainly possible, neither player would shift the needle as much as the two aforementioned standouts, as both can be crucial pieces on championship-contending teams. 

For two reasons, the answer has to revolve around the 6’11″ center from Montenegro. 

First, he’s the better, more valuable player. While Martin plays at a position with a dearth of elite talent, it’s not as though center is bubbling over with traditional bigs who can single-handedly change the outcome of a game. There are plenty of promising athletic phenoms and undersized stretchy players at the 5, but the bruisers who can produce like Pekovic are few and far between. 

According to Basketball-Reference.com, there were only seven players in the NBA who averaged at least 17 points and eight rebounds last season while shooting above 50 percent from the field: Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, David Lee and Pekovic

That’s a pretty stellar group of big men, one filled with All-Stars, fringe All-Stars, should-have-been All-Stars and would-have-been-if-they’d-stayed-healthy All-Stars. 

And Pekovic.

Does that mean he should be in one of those categories? Probably not, as his defensive shortcomings and injuries do hold him back rather significantly. But there’s still no doubt he’s a valuable player, one worth the $12 million he makes during the average year. 

As for the second reason, it’s important to look at the strength of the players behind Martin and Pekovic.

Both are blocking young prospects from gaining valuable time on the court, but Pekovic is more necessary to move. Players like Wiggins and LaVine might naturally play shooting guard, but at least they can capably line up at other positions and play alongside Martin. 

Dieng, however, should not be playing anything other than center. 

As shown by both Basketball-Reference.com and 82games.com—which don’t always agree on positions, mind you—Dieng played all 818 minutes of his rookie season at the 5. And remember how much he thrived when injuries finally gave him a chance to spend extended periods of time out on the court? 

During the last 18 games of the season—15 of which he started—Dieng averaged 12.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 52.8 percent from the field. He wasn’t the scorer Pekovic was when healthy, but his rim-protection skills, versatility and slightly better passing may actually have made him the more valuable player. 

He’s not a power forward, and his development will only be blocked by the highly paid big man in front of him on the depth chart. 

So long as the Wolves can get back a young piece or two by dealing Pekovic, he’s the man to move. He opens up more for the incumbents, he’d free up more cap room than Martin would if Minnesota can bring back some expiring contracts and the talent level of the return would likely be greater. 

Even in the post-Love era, Saunders has plenty of options at his disposal. Dealing the Montenegrin big man is just the route he should pursue most strongly. 

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Kobe Bryant trash talked LeBron James after ‘The Decision’

The Los Angeles Lakers had just defeated the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, making them back-to-back NBA champions, but all of the attention was on LeBron James and his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. That did not sit well with Kobe Bryant. From Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding: With a brutal seven-game victory over the Celtics in the bank for Bryant, the 2010 offseason is dominated by LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. What matters to Bryant is Phil Jackson agreeing to return to coach the Lakers again in pursuit of a third consecutive NBA title. Bryant sends James a text message. It goes like this: “Go ahead and get another MVP, if you want. And find the city you want to live in. But we’re going to win the championship. Don’t worry about it.” James went on to win two NBA titles during his four years in Miami, while Bryant has failed to make it out of the second round with the Lakers since the summer of 2010. [Boston.com] The post Kobe Bryant

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Fordham’s Ryan Canty Hopes to Return ‘Stronger’ and ‘Better’ After Surgery

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora was hoping that Ryan Canty would have a healthy and productive offseason, putting the 6’9″ center in position to have a big senior year.

Canty was obviously hoping for the same.

But a back injury that Canty has had to deal with for the entire time he’s been at Fordham has worsened, and now he’ll have to have back surgery and will be out for a few months.

“The back pain is pretty bad right now,” Canty told Bleacher Report on Saturday, two days after the school announced that he’d be out indefinitely. “Hopefully the surgery gets it out of the way.”

Pecora said that the surgery was the last thing anyone wanted. But it became clear over time that the pain wasn’t going to be manageable any longer, and surgery was the only option.

“Like we always do, we exhaust every option prior to putting someone under the knife,” Pecora said. “This isn’t an ACL where it’s automatic [that] you have to get [it] done.”

“We feel comfortable with him going into the operation, as he does and his family does, knowing that we’ve exhausted every other option,” Pecora added.

The best-case scenario here is that the surgery takes care of the issues and that Canty is able to play consistently at a high level.

“It had been here from day one,” Pecora said about the back pain. “Back issues are very commonplace with the bigger guys on basketball teams. It’s just to what extent and to what extreme they are.”

“This has been something that’s kind of been chronic,” Pecora added. “That’s one of the reasons why I think he’s been up and down. He’s gone stretches where he hasn’t been able to practice [the] day after games. All of that carries into it.”

Pecora told Bleacher Report that the surgery would take place close to Canty‘s home in Massachusetts, and that it would be performed by the Boston Celtics’ team doctor.

“If they go in there and things aren’t worse than they anticipate, we’re hoping that he’ll be back [after] a three-month rehab,” Pecora said, which means a December return.

“He goes into it in great physical condition,” he added. “He’s done a great job actually taking weight off and getting himself in great shape prior to going into the operation.

“These things are out of your control. All you can do is handle them the best way—not only by having the best surgeons working on him but also his mindset going into rehab.”

Canty, who missed six games early on in the 2013-14 season, came on strong at the end. He’d been working hard getting ready for his senior season, and the Rams were counting on his leadership and production.

“I had a great offseason,” Canty said. “When they told me I had to have surgery, that just wasn’t good news.”

“It won’t sink in probably until the first game comes and I’m not playing,” he added.

Canty is optimistic that he can make a full recovery and get back out on the court.

“I was never 100 percent, but it was manageable,” he said about playing through the pain, a testament to how tough a kid this is. “I was just fighting through the pain every practice. It was tough. In the games, the adrenaline’s going, so that kind of helped.”

“Hopefully I get the surgery and I’m stronger [and better] than I was before,” Canty added.

Down the stretch last season, Canty came alive, grabbing 10 or more rebounds in five of the Rams’ final six games, including 19 against George Mason in the play-in game of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Fordham got a glimpse of what could be.

“He came on strong last year,” Pecora said. “In that sense, we were counting on him… He’ll still have a very positive effect being around the team in the locker room and being with us everyday in practice.”

Pecora is also confident that Canty can make a full recovery.

“This isn’t a scenario where he’s having it done in December, where you say ‘that’s the year,’” he said. “Those kind of decisions will be made after his rehab. If you look at a mid-December date, you’re still looking at playing at least 25 basketball games. I think he can still have a great senior season.”

Asked if he felt the team would be alright without one of its best players, Pecora said it’ll have to be.

“I have no choice,” he said. “We’ve got to be alright. We move forward making those kind of adjustments.”

 

Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. A full archive of his articles can be found hereFollow him on Twitter: @CFCostello

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Kevin Love Out of Excuses After Joining LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers

At long last Kevin Love is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, his days with the lottery-crossed Minnesota Timberwolves officially over, his time beside LeBron James finally beginning, his well of excuses scorched dry.

Months of rumors, anticipation and anxiety—all borne out of waiting—came to a merciful end when the Cavaliers announced Love’s acquisition, confirming what became common knowledge, yet couldn’t quite be accepted as fact.

This is the ending Love has wanted from the beginning, since May, when Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first relayed his intent to leave. It’s perhaps what he’s wanted for a while now, since the days of David Kahn, when he wasn’t deemed good enough, or important enough, for a five-year extension—the same commitment Minnesota would inevitably make to Nikola Pekovic, he of lesser importance and status.

Indeed, this breakup between devalued player and tumultuous team has been brewing for years. The outcome—this outcome—is fairly new. It’s the concept that’s old and time-worn.

If and when Love left Minnesota, it would be for a winner. And the more the Timberwolves lost, the more likely it became that his future lied outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 

Only recently did the Cavaliers qualify as an upgrade, their meteoric transition from clown to contender further compounding an already complex and delicate situation for Love.

 

Goodbye, Safety Net

Leaving the Timberwolves would always increase the pressure Love was facing. That’s what happens when a superstar jumps ship.

Pressure amounts. Safety nets are pulled. Excuses evaporate. 

But it could have been different for Love.

Where there was resentment for Carmelo Anthony, spite for Dwight Howard and reluctant acceptance for Chris Paul, there would be sympathy for Love. Six years without a playoff berth justified his aim. The very postseason drought often used to diminish his individual standing was actually his license to leave. The Timberwolves were the culprits; Love was the victim.

“Their power plays made them villains, in their home markets and beyond,” Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck writes. “But Love might be the first trade-demanding, franchise-hopping superstar to walk away unscathed, unvilified. Love’s motives seem pure, his rationale unimpeachable.”

Acceptable though Love’s intentions are—or rather, were—the armor shielding him against outside criticism and impatience has been removed in one fell swoop. Forcing his way off the Timberwolves and onto the Cavaliers exhausts Love’s last bit of goodwill.

The Cavaliers are unlike any other team Love could have gone to. Pressure would have existed wherever he went, but not like this. There would have been grace periods in Boston and Chicago. More time would have been afforded to Love if he waited until free agency and journeyed to Los Angeles or New York.

Life in Cleveland is a different animal. 

 

Unparalleled Circumstances

Playing alongside James drains Love of most excuses. Catching passes from—and throwing touchdown outlets to—the NBA‘s best player has that effect. 

Competing next to the freshly maxed out Kyrie Irving and numerous James trucklers—Mike Miller, James Jones, Shawn Marion, etc.—is gravy. It’s talent complementing talent, rendering Cleveland the league’s newest superteam

And as a superteam, like ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton (subscription required) discusses, the Cavaliers’ success is viewed as a formality:

The Cavaliers’ window to win is now, while James is the league’s best player, and Love’s versatility makes him one of the best possible offensive complements for the four-time MVP. Further, it’s hardly like Cleveland is sacrificing its future by dealing for a 25-year-old player. Health aside, Love is a sure thing, which is something that can’t be said of Wiggins.

Forget the endurance James’ return essay highlighted. The Cavaliers aren’t in the business of rebuilding and waiting anymore. Instant results are the standard.

“I don’t even really care about the 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds], I care about his basketball IQ,” James said of Love before the trade was official, per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein. “His basketball IQ is very, very high. I had the opportunity to spend 32 days with him in the 2012 Olympics. He was huge for us…he’s a great piece.”

Love is the sidekick James—who spent four years alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Boshnever had. More importantly, James is the sidekick Love has neither had nor even sniffed; he’s a sidekick unlike any other.

Meshing with anyone else would have been a process, but because of the clout James carts as a champion and active legend, Love can no longer hang his hat on progress. His new teammate is so good, so talented, he basically negates the line of credit Love established while playing on a team that ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh found curbed his potential with the absence of a consistently strong supporting cast:

Few will show empathy for Love’s past—and future—now. Such is the cost of playing with James. Such is the cost of, well, what Love cost.

Being seen as the perfect complement to James is different when the risk is marginal. But the Cavaliers traded away a No. 1 pick in Andrew Wiggins, a projected All-Star once heralded as the second-coming of James himself.

Love is, without question, more of a sure thing. He’s proved to be a top-10 superstar worthy of relocation. Sacrificing potential for guaranteed production was just part and parcel of his scenery change.

Even so, Love has only increased the burden upon his shoulders by costing that much. Teams don’t trade No. 1 overall picks. It just doesn’t happen. 

That Love was complicit in Cleveland matching the bounty Minnesota placed upon his talent only raises the bar of expectations. And he was complicit.

Does this deal get done, do the Cavaliers trade Wiggins if, as reported by Wojnarowski, Love doesn’t provide assurances—or whatever you want to call it—of his return after next season? Perhaps, but it’s less likely James and the Cavaliers endorse Wiggins’ departure if the return could be a one-year rental. 

Except Love apparently isn’t going anywhere. He went from showing what ESPN Boston’s Jackie MacMullan described as having no interest in playing with the Cavaliers, to purportedly committing the next six seasons—2014-15 plus a five-year contract—to their cause, further depriving himself of any excuses. 

 

Picking His Own Path

It’s not like the Timberwolves are sending Love somewhere he despises. Cleveland isn’t Los Angeles or Chicago, New York or Boston, Oakland or Houston, but it seems to be Love-approved. The factors that spawned his approval are almost irrelevant.

If we’re being led to believe that Love’s long-awaited free agency is now a non-issue almost one year before it takes place, it stands to reason that Cleveland is where he wants to be. And if Cleveland is where he wants to be, the clock starts ticking like it never did in Minnesota. 

Promising the next half-decade or so to the Cavaliers is the equivalent of Love publicly endorsing the Timberwolves as championship contenders. Had he ever done that, the clock would have started ticking in Minnesota, too.

Once a player shows that he believes, the moratorium period is over. Once they gain control of their future and make a decision, displacing blame becomes impossible. 

No remorse will be shown for Howard if he doesn’t win in Houston, or Paul if he doesn’t succeed in Los Angeles. They chose to their path. So, too—assuming reports are accurate—has Love.

Criticism will be dispersed accordingly if Love, James and the Cavaliers fail. Their fate is not on Love alone. It’s on everyone, from James and Love, to Irving and head coach David Blatt, to the second unit and front office. Like the 2010 Miami Heat before them, these Cavaliers will fail or succeed together.  

On an individual level, though, Love’s standing has never been more indeterminable. 

“If Love is really a winner, contrary to all previous evidence, it will be revealed very soon,” our own Kevin Ding writes. 

Ending his career-long playoff dry spell no longer qualifies as success. Escaping the excuse-heavy Timberwolves for the pressure-packed Cavaliers is but a small victory. The real victory—or loss—will be in how Love fares with his new team.

Individual production will no longer be his safe haven. The Cavaliers have plenty of it. The absence of help will no longer be his saving grace. He has plenty of assistance in Cleveland. 

There are only mandatory expectations—for him and Cleveland—he’s never faced before. He and the Cavaliers will be tasked with doing things he’s never done, and going places he’s never been.

Thrive or flop, Love’s reputation is truly on the line for the time. Cleveland is giving him what he wants and needs, without the comfort of legitimate excuses.

All of those are back in Minnesota.

 

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