10 days before the trade deadline. 30 games left in the season. One contract year remaining.
To say this is one of the most important time frames in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise isn’t overly dramatic or hyperbolic. It’s reality.
Minnesota has never won a championship. 25 years, no rings, and an overall winning percentage below 40 percent. There isn’t much of a history to be forgotten when making statements like the one above.
In fact, very few transcendent talents have ever even suited up for the Wolves. When you think back of all the players over the years, only the two Kevins really spring to mind.
The first Kevin, of course, showed tremendous loyalty and stayed with the team for 12 years. At the peak of his powers, Garnett was able to turn Minnesota into a consistent winner, but he wasted his prime on bad rosters that were mangled by management. Wally Szczerbiak was genuinely one of the best players Garnett got to play with. Yes, it was that bad.
The second Kevin has dealt with worse, though. Whether it was a coach who wouldn’t play him early in his career, management that wouldn’t pay him coming off his rookie deal, or the same failure to put enough talent around him, Love hasn’t even felt the small success of a playoff series to tide him over halfway through the same amount of time KG spent in Minnesota.
Garnett was loyal to a fault, sure, but at least he had some semblance of hope that the Wolves could reach the next level with him on board. He had reason for his faith.
The same can’t be said for Love, and so the Wolves are essentially on the clock to somehow change that.
That means there’s 10 days to make a franchise-altering trade, 30 games to make up a seven-game deficit in the standings, and just one contract year left before Love can bolt in free agency.
History won’t be kind to Minnesota if they fail again with such a talented power forward in tow. We may remember the details of why Minnesota has struggled now with perfect clarity — David Kahn, all the injuries and bad luck, all the losses that should have been wins — but if Minnesota loses such a tremendously talented player after just six seasons? It will be a complete failure on every level.
So what should Minnesota do? Each potential course of action comes with great risk. Trade future draft picks for an impact player now, and maybe that handicaps the rebuilding period if Love ends up leaving anyway. Trade Love now before he can leave for nothing, and maybe it’s the Al Jefferson era all over again.
That being said, doing nothing at all might be the most indefensible decision available. Without Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic in the lineup, the Wolves lost by 18 at home to the Houston Rockets, a team that didn’t seem that far off in the distance just a few weeks ago. But the game illustrated a point: the Wolves are getting weaker, the West is getting stronger, and Love’s big games aren’t making much of a difference anymore.
It begs the question: how much longer will Love accept this as his fate? One more full season? Less?
We’ve seen in the past that superstars can get out of situations they don’t want to be in. Carmelo Anthony did. Deron Williams and Chris Paul did, too. Love wasn’t always on that level, but he is now, even if he’s still a flawed defender and a generally high maintenance player. Regardless, he’s good enough to have every team want him at any price. He holds all the cards here.
Flip Saunders and the rest of Minnesota’s front office know this. They are at the mercy of his pending decision. At this pace, though, Love’s patience is going to run out well before his contract does. There are excuses available for Minnesota’s lack of success, but none are going to be good enough to keep Love around. He needs real reasons to want to stay.
Love may be short on those right now, just as the Wolves are short on time.
10 days, 30 games, one more year. Minnesota, you’re on the clock.