Kevin Love’s Exit From Wolves Is An Enigma

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Chip Scoggins
Star Tribune
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

“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.

He’s Gone: Kevin Love Traded by Wolves to Cleveland

Jerry Zgoda
Star Tribune
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

Seven years later, the Timberwolves on Saturday morning once again traded away an All-Star named Kevin.

Yes, finally.

This time around, it was the guy named Kevin Love, their unhappy three-time All-Star who officially was sent to Cleveland in a three-way trade that also included Philadelphia.

Long after the team traded former league MVP Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007, the Wolves completed a trade that has been expected for weeks but couldn’t be finalized until Saturday because of NBA salary-cap rules.

The Wolves received No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett from the Cavaliers, and veteran forward Thaddeus Young from the Sixers while sending Love to Cleveland and Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved to Philadelphia along with a 2015 top-10 protected first-round draft pick they’re getting from the Cavs.

The trade’s announcement was delayed until Saturday because an NBA rookie can’t be traded for 30 days after he signs a contract. The Wolves and Cavaliers needed Wiggins signed because his $5.5 million salary helped financially balance under those salary-cap rules a trade that sends Love and his whopping $15.7 million salary away.

Love was traded away before he could opt out of his current contract next summer and leave the Wolves without any compensation in return.

Love received that opt-out clause when he reluctantly accepted a four-year, $61-plus million contract extension in January 2012 instead of a maximum five-year, $80-plus million “designated player” deal he sought.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor and then-president of basketball operations David Kahn held firm, offering Love only the four-year contract because they presumably believed the NBA’s new supposedly restrictive labor agreement — hammered out two months early after a two-month player lockout — would allow the team to guarantee Love more money on his next contract extension than any other team.

It also kept the Wolves’ option open to offer that one singular designated-player contract allowed each team to promising young point guard Ricky Rubio. The Wolves, in theory, could then sign Love to a five-year extension in 2015 or 2016 while keeping Rubio long term with a five-year deal as well.

That was all in theory, of course.

When Love was presented by Kahn with the offer in the team’s Target Center training room late after a game one day, he inevitably crumpled it up and called it, well, no good.

Two days later, Love accepted the offer that included the chance to get out of his contract after just three seasons, in July 2015.

On the day Love signed, his brother Collin tweeted that the Wolves had just rented their best player for the next three years, implying his future in Minnesota was limited.

Turns out, the Wolves had rented Love for just the next two seasons.

They were forced to trade him Saturday when Love’s representatives made it clear to team executives in recent months that he planned to opt out of his contract next summer and sign with another team.

He presumably was willing to do so even if it meant forgoing a fifth year and an extra $26.5 million that only the Wolves could have paid him.

Love likely forced his way to Cleveland — where he will play alongside superstar LeBron James and pal Kyrie Irving — both because of that contract snub he never quite fully put behind him and because he lost faith in the franchise’s ability to build a winning team around him.

Selected fifth overall by Memphis and acquired by the Wolves in a 2008 draft-night trade, Love played six seasons for the Wolves. In that time, established himself as the NBA’s best rebounder and most feared outlet passer but never reached the playoffs with a team that for years failed at nearly every turn to put equal talent beside him.

He transformed himself from a pudgy undersized rookie at his position whom Wolves coach Randy Wittman implored not to shoot three-point shots into a chiseled three-time All Star who is now the NBA’s best “stretch” power forward.

Written off by some critics early in his career, Love now — just days shy of his 26th birthday — is also the league’s most unique big man, a relentless inside presence who shoots three-pointers like a guard.

Love missed the start of his second season because of a broken hand and played just 18 games during the 2012-13 season after he broke that same hand not once but twice. The first time, he said he did so while doing knuckle pushups during a workout on his own during preseason in October 2012.

He returned healthy last season and in 77 games averaged 26.1 points while shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range and 12.5 rebounds.

Love refused to address his future repeatedly last season, saying only “I want to win” wherever he plays in coming seasons.

But it became increasingly obvious as the weeks after last season turned to months that Love wanted out of Minnesota. A very-public weekend visit to Boston — one of several teams that sought to trade for him — in May seemed to announce his intentions even if he never publicly asked to be traded.

Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders preferred a trade that would have brought young but established NBA players in return. He approached a deal with Golden State that would have brought Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and David Lee to Minnesota but the Warriors pulled Thompson from the package when advisor Jerry West advised Golden State owner Joe Lacob not to trade Thompson.

The Cavaliers seriously joined the pursuit after James declared himself a free agent and returned home to Ohio and Cleveland earlier this summer, despite their early public protests that they wouldn’t trade Wiggins.

Now Love joins a Cavaliers team poised to contend for an NBA title.

The Wolves, in return, receive in Wiggins and Bennett the No. 1 overall picks chosen in the last two NBA drafts and in Young a seven-year veteran who’s just 26 years old.

Wiggins and rookie guard Zach LaVine, the team’s own first-round pick this summer, give the Wolves two athletic 19-year-olds who each can vertically leap 44 inches or higher from basically a standing start.

Young gives them a proven player — if undersized — who can start at Love’s power-forward position.

USA Announces Final Roster for FIBA World Cup

K.C. Johnson
Chicago Tribune
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

Now, the only question becomes whether Derrick Rose reclaims his starting spot.

Rose, the starting point guard when USA Basketball captured gold at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, was named one of 12 finalists for the FIBA World Cup that begins Aug. 30 in Spain.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced the roster overnight Friday. It contains Rose, Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, James Harden, Mason Plumlee and Klay Thompson.

“Since taking over the USA Basketball men’s national team program in 2005, this was without doubt the most difficult selection process we’ve gone through,” Colangelo said. “I can’t stress enough the outstanding effort and commitment that has been given by each finalist. I also want to make it clear that this is not just about talent; each player is incredibly talented and each player offered us unique skills. In the end, it was about assembling the best team, selecting guys who we felt would be able to best play the kind of style we envision this team playing.”

After sitting out Wednesday’s exhibition in New York because of fatigue and soreness, Rose came off the bench to spell Kyrie Irving in Friday’s exhibition victory over Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden.

Team USA was scheduled to leave for Spain on Saturday afternoon and open preliminary play against Finland in Bilbao on Aug. 30.

Rose’s inclusion in the final roster followed a bumpy week in which Rose missed two practices and one game, which seemed to set off alarm bells for a player who has suffered two season-ending knee surgeries. But Rose all along privately expressed confidence, as did Bulls coach and Team USA assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.

“I think Derrick feels very confident,” Krzyzewski told reporters in New York following Friday’s game. “Thought he played great (Friday). And these guys want to play with him. Part of getting back is to be around a group of peers. These guys are peers who want (Rose)to be really good. Hopefully, that will help Derrick as he gets ready to keep participating in this, but also for the NBA season.”

The final cuts were former Bull Kyle Korver, Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward.

International Collaberation of Sports Scientists Create A Better Diet For Basketball Players

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As players in the NBA wind down after a hectic schedule of matches at the close of season, coaches and strategists will be looking ahead to work out how improve on performances for 2014/15.

Now an international collaboration of sports scientists, involving researchers at the University of Bath (UK) and Westmont College, California (US), have joined forces to develop new nutritional guidance that could help players preparing for big games.

Their research points towards how sodium bicarbonate ‘baking powder’, and carbohydrate supplements could be useful in countering the physical challenges players face playing competitive basketball. From dribbling, to lay-ups and slam-dunks, basketball requires frequent bursts of intense physical exertion, interspersed with active recovery. It’s thought that better nutritional guidance could improve their performance and offset fatigue over the course of a game.

In a recent research paper, published in the leading International Journal of Sport and Exercise Nutrition (IJSNEM), the researchers outline how much of what is known about the limitations to physical performance in basketball comes from lab-based tests, therefore is not reflective of the challenges of a real game.

Dr James Betts from the University’s of Bath’s Department of Health explains: “Almost all the nutritional advice available to intermittent or team-sports players in general, and to basketball players in particular, actually comes from laboratory-based studies using continuous fixed-intensity exercise on a treadmill or cycle ergometer.

“Through our study we questioned whether it is a fair assumption that these guidelines would truly apply to basketball players during the unique physiological challenges posed in their sport.”

The researchers argue that the current nutritional advice for players also fails to take into account that basketball players are far from average in size and weight. An average player in the NBA towers above most, at 6ft 7, and weighs over 220 pounds (around 15 stone).

Through their study, they enlisted 27 well-trained male basketball players, and monitored their vital stats and performance throughout a game and in high-intensity shuttle runs.

Their results showed how swallowing carbohydrate shortly before exercise caused hypoglycaemia – or low blood sugar – during the first quarter and resulted in poorer sprinting ability and lay-up shooting performance. However, sprint times were actually faster in the final quarter when either carbohydrate or sodium bicarbonate had been ingested before exercise, although neither directly resulted in any increased skill from players.

Lead-author, Professor Gregg Afman from Westmont College, added: “We looked at how nutritional practices, carbohydrate and sodium bicarbonate, may enhance basketball skill during a simulated game.

“We also validated the testing protocol to be a valid measure of the metabolic costs of a basketball game. Our results show that within the context of this design, ingestion of carbohydrate and/or sodium bicarbonate shortly before basketball has the potential to offset fatigue and thus improve aspects of performance late in exercise, although both supplements require balanced consideration of individual tolerance prior to competition to minimize acute negative side-effects.”

To access a copy of the paper, ‘Effect of carbohydrate or sodium bicarbonate ingestion on performance during a validated basketball simulation test’, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism see http://opus.bath.ac.uk/39097/.

Under Armour Is Banking On Kevin Durant’s Global Reach

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August 21, 2014
Greg Price
Displayed with permission from International Business Times

Under Amour has dared to challenge Nike for a share of the $4.5 billion basketball shoe business.

The Maryland-based company reportedly offered Oklahoma City Thunder forward and reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant a new endorsement contract worth as much as $265 million or $285 million, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported Thursday.

The deal includes stock and a community center to be built in Durant’s mother’s name.

Nike does have the right to match, and if it does, Durant legally can’t switch to the rising Under Armour. Rovell called the potential deal “the most intriguing” one he’s ever seen, with Under Armour looking to gain its first significant foothold in a market Nike has long dominated.

Forbes reports, Nike and its Jordan Brand subsidiary held a 92 percent market share last year, compared to 0.7 percent for Under Armour.

Durant, represented by rapper Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, has been a client of Nike’s since he entered the league in 2007. Yet, since he hired Roc Nation last year, he’s already spurned beverage titans Gatorade for Talking Rain.

Under Amour hopes bucking the norm turns into a pattern for Durant and that it can continue to grow in a global sports apparel market expected to reach $178 billion in revenue by 2019, Forbes reported in March.

Under Armour has essentially gone all in on Durant, much the same way Adidas did when it signed Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose to a 13-year, $185 million deal in 2012. The gamble thus far hasn’t helped Adidas’s market share. Last year it had 5.5 percent, up only half a percent from 2012.

Rose has played a total of 10 NBA games the last two years due to serious injuries in both of his knees, and sales of his shoes were flat last year, at $40 million, when compared to 2012 figures.

Barring a similar string of crippling injuries, Durant is on pace for a Hall of Fame career and could be the NBA’s top endorser in the future. The Thunder are perennial contenders in the Western Conference, and last year Nike totaled $175 million off products tied to Durant and his signature trademark “KD.”

Durant could earn as much as $28.5 million per year from Under Armour, but he would still be second to Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who’s expected to rake in roughly $30 million from Nike this year.

Though the NBA’s two top players can’t come close to legend Michael Jordan and the $100 million in royalties he earned from Nike in 2013.

Founded in 1996, Under Armour has gradually built up its brand and market share by designing and selling sports apparel, and then shifting to running and football shoe wear. Basketball would seem like the next logical step, but Nike’s stranglehold on the sport and its superstars has limited new challengers.

Under Armour started to lure top NBA players last year when it signed Golden State guard Stephen Curry, but the possible addition of Durant could be a tipping point.

“A bold move like KD, and overpaying him, I think is a nice strategic play for them,” said Matt Dzamba, director of Sports Marketing for Zambezi. “From a global perspective, any article you ever read about Under Armour it talks about their global growth. When you look at the global landscape there’s a saying that ‘if you want to go global, you go to China.’ The NBA guys there are superstars to the nth degree.”

And though losing a player of Durant’s caliber would hurt most companies, Nike has much more staying power and depth in its current roster of clients.

“This deal is far more important to Under Armour than Nike,” said Marc Edelman, sports law professor at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. “Nike already has a huge portfolio of elite athlete athletic endorsers, across all sports; Durant would be just one more.

“By contrast, for Under Armour this poses a unique opportunity to secure a premier athlete sponsorship. With the stock option component of this sponsorship, the deal can be compared with some of the deals Oiselle has made with elite women’s runners, albeit likely on a far larger monetary scale

Durant has worked hard the last seven years, molding Oklahoma City into one of the top teams in the West. He’s notched four scoring titles, been named to the All-Star team five straight times and took the franchise to its first NBA Finals since relocating from Seattle. But he will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2015-16 season, a small window of two years that Under Armour likely hasn’t overlooked.

James dominated the headlines last month after he announced his return to his home state of Ohio, and Durant could follow suit. He grew up in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, and the nearby Washington Wizards have been tabbed as early front-runners should Durant decide to bolt Oklahoma City. TV By The Numbers ranks Oklahoma City as the 45th largest television market in the country, drastically lower than No. 9 Washington. Durant could earn far more in local endorsements, on top of his salary and shoe deals, while playing in front of his hometown

“If the Wizards are a young, growing team, which they are, and they make sense from a basketball perspective, I think it can’t hurt him considering going home,” Dzamba said. “The irony of the situation is the two most likely suitors for him in two years will probably be a New York team, either Brooklyn or the Knicks, or the Lakers. Then you get into the argument it is a nice story, and it’s nice to have our big basketball guy playing in Under Armour’s market. But from a business perspective I would almost rather he play on the Lakers, which has great global visibility, a blue- chip brand, tradition and the built-in Chinese audience to kind of make him more of a global play.”