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“I just think that they need to realize that I love being here. I don’t know where the misconception came along, but I love this team. I love this organization, and somewhere along the line it went the other way. I think that wholeheartedly they need to realize that I do want to be here.” — Kevin Love, February 2013
Did you believe him? Did you buy his contrite tone?
That was just 18 months ago, but it feels like a lifetime. Despite all the resentment he carried on his All-Star shoulders, Kevin Love tried to convince fans, media, perhaps even Timberwolves management, that he was willing to make this work.
Maybe he was sincere. Or maybe he was conning everyone. Just saying what he thought people wanted to hear, knowing he would bolt out the door as fast as he could orchestrate his exit.
He’s always been a tough nut to crack. Doesn’t matter now.
Love’s final day as a member of the Wolves was Saturday, when his trade to Cleveland can become official. He’ll leave a villain to a segment of fans, another star athlete who forced his way out of town.
Love’s legacy is more nuanced than that. He became an enigma, a complicated character who showed the best and worst of himself in his six seasons with the organization. His timeline doesn’t fit neatly into one box.
How will you remember him? How should you remember him? For me, that’s not an easy answer.
Let’s start with this fact: He is undeniably the second-best player in franchise history, behind Kevin Garnett, of course. Few would have predicted that outcome the night the Wolves traded for an undersized, chubby forward. Did anyone honestly believe Love would become one of the top 10 players in the NBA?
In that regard, Love’s dedication deserves admiration. He transformed himself and his game. He worked tirelessly in the offseason to lose weight and reshape his body.
He developed his outside shooting touch to go along with his rebounding, making him one of the NBA’s unique talents at power forward. He led the league in rebounding one season and made 190 three-pointers this past season. His long outlet passes are a thing of beauty.
Love gave the organization hope post-Garnett. Remember when he nailed that three-pointer at the buzzer against the Los Angeles Clippers? Felt like the Wolves were on the right path.
Love’s climb to stardom created optimism amid a vortex of organizational missteps and nonsense.
No wonder he got fed up with this place.
Yet, this professional divorce is Love’s creation, too. He undercut goodwill that he earned by becoming increasingly detached through his own mistakes.
His explanation for a broken hand — knuckle pushups — still engenders skepticism. His interview with Yahoo came across as whiny and turned off fans as he unloaded on his contract snub again. His lack of hustle to the defensive end as he flapped his arms in disgust at the officials grew tiresome.
For all his talent, Love earned a reputation as a player who collects stats but couldn’t lead the Wolves to the playoffs in six seasons. That’s not entirely fair. A star should be able to elevate his team, but you also can’t ignore circumstances and talent put around him by management.
But a definite woe-is-me undercurrent existed that seemed to create a disconnect between Love and his team. Love desperately wanted to be the face of the franchise, but he never really figured out the leadership part of it.
Teammates admired his individual talent and how hard he worked to improve, but they didn’t necessarily view him as someone who could rally a locker room in any situation. One comment this season felt particularly revealing.
“For me, I’m allowed an off game every now and then,” Love said following a tough shooting performance. His tone reeked of a guy who felt he is being dragged down by a dead-weight organization.
This ending is unfortunate because Love seemed to genuinely embrace this place at times. His annual coat drive was a heartfelt gesture. Occasionally, he’d tweet a location downtown and ask fans to come meet him. He took out a full-page ad in this paper in February to thank fans for voting him an All-Star starter.
“These are exciting times for all of us,” Love wrote.
Seems hollow now, doesn’t it? Uneasiness over Love’s future always lingered, creating a perception that he had one foot out the door, to the degree that his departure became a question of when, not if. Love moved the needle to full throttle this summer when he informed the team he would opt out of his contract after this season.
Ultimately, he got his wish.
The Wolves will close the book on Love with this trade. Some fans will miss him, others will say good riddance, and that’s a telling conclusion to his six seasons.
Love made himself one of the best players in the NBA, but his legacy here is a complicated one.