Tougher Love

Britt Robson went and wrote a tough love piece yesterday much more articulate than the one I tried to write earlier today.

At first blush, it is ridiculous to liken the Wolves, who haven’t even won 40 percent of their games for six straight seasons, to the marquee success stories in Miami and Oklahoma City, or even New York.  I do it to dramatize how premature it is for fans to be gnashing their teeth over the negative remarks made recently by Kevin Love about the Wolves management — and to dramatize how immature it was of Love to make them.

The comments sections are spilling over would-be Wild fans’ comments on where Love should take his talents.

But before unpacking that, I want to reiterate the good news, or mixed blessing, which is that the Wolves are worthy of a semblance of controversy in the first place. There is actually something at stake here, made no less real by being in the glimmering early stage of a credible rebuilding process.

Here’s the good news: you’re good enough for people to care.

Wolves fans remember the contract jealousy that tore Stephon Marbury away from Kevin Garnett and the Wolves. They vividly recall how Latrell Sprewell foolishly dismantled the chemistry of a 58-win team, with the baffling loudmouthed assistance of Sam Cassell, because of unhappiness over his deal. By contrast, the various dysfunctions and disgruntlements of Chuck Person, Christian Laettner, and later J.R. Rider — with coaches, the front office and each other — are sordid footnotes of team history only the die-hards recall.

Writers and casual fans love to go back in franchise history like it has any relevance to today’s situation to anybody other than the fans. Part of me finds it amusing because it shows the eras of most familiarity, but mostly it’s ridiculous. Kevin Love doesn’t care what happened to Latrell Sprewell or if his kids ate well or not. I get it, he’s saying ‘fans remember’ — but why is there chronological detail to add texture to irrationality that is NBA contract-related hubris. It just makes the crazy go crazier. Speaking of crazy…

Which brings us back to the unfortunate remarks Love made to Yahoo! sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this month. If you know anything about Love’s outspoken but thoroughly contextual mien in conversation and Woj’s longstanding enmity toward David Kahn and the rest of the Wolves’ front office, it was easy to surmise that Love got played; that he gave an on-balance negative but still nuanced assessment of his history and current status with the Wolves, and that Woj printed only the negative stuff and ladled in his own vitriol for good measure.

For some reason, it’s refreshing to hear writers call out their colleagues for what they are. I’m no Kahn fan, but it is hard to criticize someone for acting like a buffoon, when someone else is calling him a grease spot on humanity. Brit goes on…

Kevin Love is simply not stupid enough to sit down with a prominent national NBA columnist and indiscriminately rip the most talented roster of teammates in his tenure with the Wolves. He was stupid enough to sit down with Woj in the first place and be baited into comments that were immediately ill-advised but look even worse when stripped of the positive, balancing context he says he uttered, then have them further distorted by Woj’s own bias and hostility.

Again, it’s just so refreshing to see Woj get some. Back to balance…

It’s telling that after the story prompted headlines on the front page of the local sports sections and the damage had been done, Woj tweeted: “Abundantly clear talking w/kevinlove: Feels deeply connected to the Wolves fan base, loves Minny as a sports town. He wants badly to win THERE.” That’s almost 180 degrees away from what was “abundantly clear” when one read the initial story.

Love did not deny any of the quotes attributed to him, a candor that lends credibility to his statement that he also said many positive things during the interview, especially about his current teammates and situation. Even so, it was a self-inflicted wound to his image and standing, and in this past week after the remarks were published, he has received his karmic comeuppance. His team was able to overcome his horrible 7-for-35 shooting performance to post a pair of victories over Denver and New Orleans.

Britt gives Love credit and then gets out the belt…

Here is where Love needs to stop pantomiming team leadership and start delivering the goods. Negative words and attitudes about the Wolves organization need to be shelved for the rest of the season. Complaints over fouls need to be handled with more tact and intelligence and not detract from the team’s capability on the court. His commitment to defense needs to improve, and his effort at that end of the floor needs to be constant, undeterred by whatever difficulties he is having with his shot or the officials.

Tough love for the front office, as well…

For its part, the Wolves’ brain trust needd to recognize that Love is the horse they ride into the postseason. Coach Rick Adelman’s ball-movement offense choreographed by Rubio is fabulous to behold, the fidelity to playing smart, non-fouling defense has been a life-saver thus far, and the team’s depth gives it a resourceful edge absent for nearly the entire history of the franchise. But getting Love enough touches, plays and looks to re-establish his rhythm and confidence is crucial to this team’s success. Featuring Love in full flower from the low block and the three-point line and having him battle for boards at both ends of the court appropriately relies on Minnesota’s signature talent, and provides its calling card for respectability in the grueling Western Conference playoff chase.

And for the most egregious offenders…

For the Wolves’ fans, it is time to grow up and decide what you want. You don’t like what Kevin Love had to say to Adrian Wojnarowski? That’s entirely understandable. You want to penalize Love with caustic comments from the peanut gallery, label him selfish and demand that he be traded or marginalized on behalf of Rubio or Pekovic or Andrei Kirilenko? Well then, you’d rather bemoan your fate or wallow in the potential for schadenfreude than do the patient, steady work of rooting on a successful rebuilding project one step at a time.

That doesn’t mean Wolves’ fans can’t or shouldn’t be critical. But put your controversies into a proactive perspective. A team without issues that stir passion is a team mired in irrelevance. By the same token, a fan base consumed with past events is embittered and practically doomed to further disappointment. Short of a ring ceremony, there is never a team when the oceans part, the heavens open and ecstasy pervades a professional sports franchise.

Amen, sir.  And lastly, inspiring words…

No, on the contrary, the higher up the ladder a team climbs, the more intense are the frustrations as well as the thrills — ask the Heat before last year’s Finals, or the Thunder or the Knicks. Controversy follows every team — the successful ones put it in perspective and move forward.

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Tags: Britt Robson Kevin Love Minnesota Timberwolves

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