TREVISO, Italy — There has already been one big change to the Minnesota Timberwolves this offseason, with Flip Saunders deciding to step out of the front office and back onto the sidelines after interviewing others for a head coaching position he ultimately decided would be best filled by taking the job himself.
Another, far more substantial change is potentially on the horizon.
Kevin Love reportedly wants to leave the Timberwolves in free agency as soon as that time comes, which would be at the conclusion of next season — if he remains in Minnesota for that long. The team is reportedly considering trading him before then in order to get something in return, which may be the right decision depending on the compensation offered, and assuming that Love can’t be convinced to stay.
Ricky Rubio was in attendance for day two of adidas Eurocamp on Sunday, and spent some time speaking with the Next Generation group of 15- and 16-year old international players. He was open in discussing Love’s situation and how it may affect the franchise, and of course, would want his teammate to stay. But seeing as he hasn’t yet heard it directly from Love himself, Rubio was speaking mostly in hypotheticals rather than accepting Love’s reported feelings as a foregone conclusion.
“It’s a lot going on,” Rubio told NBCSports.com. “He’s a great player who has been playing for the Timberwolves for six years, and gave everything. And he think he can still give us a lot of things, but it’s something more on the business part that the front office has to do, to try and convince him (to stay) if he wants to leave. Because I really only know that he wants to leave because of the media, but what I saw last year was him giving everything in every game, and that’s all you can you ask of any player.”
Love put up his traditionally impressive numbers last season, averaging 26.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists, while shooting better than 37 percent from three-point distance and playing 36.3 minutes per contest. But the Timberwolves failed to make the playoffs, which extended the team’s postseason drought to 10 straight years.
That recent history of failure is right at the top of Love’s list of reasons for wanting out. But despite missing out on the playoffs yet again, Rubio believes last season was a step in the right direction.
“I would say that every year we have improved,” Rubio said. “That’s something that you have to be proud of. Maybe everybody was expecting something more last year, but actually we won 40 games, something the franchise hadn’t done in the last eight or nine years. So it’s something to be proud of, but we know we have to improve. We know we have to make it to the playoffs. And with a lot of young guys with talent, I think we are playing the right way, but we really need to add some veteran players who can help us to understand what we need to get to the postseason.”
The last time the team won at least 40 games was in 2004-05, which ironically was Saunders’ final one in his first stint as Minnesota’s head coach that lasted into a ninth season. Rubio didn’t expect Saunders to take the job this time around, but looks forward to seeing what his role will be under his new head coach.
“I was kind of surprised,” Rubio said. “Because we were looking for a coach, and then suddenly he came down (from the front office) and wants to coach. But he’s been a coach for a team, so he knows the franchise and he knows the team. We’ll see how it goes, I want to sit down with him and talk because as a player, I want to know what the coach expects from me, expects from the team. But I was kind of surprised.”
Saunders can only do so much, and a lot of his success will depend on whether or not Love stays — or at least what may come back in a package for him if a trade is made this summer. One day it will be Rubio’s turn to make a similar free agent decision, and like many players, he said that being in a situation that offers him a key role on a winning team would be the one he’d be most likely to consider.
“The fact is, it’s about winning for me,” Rubio said. “It’s about being on a team that really has, I would say, a project with me involved. If that happened in free agency, and I’m not (already) on a team where there’s a project where you can get far enough to get a ring and win … I would say I would like to be on a winning team.”
That brings us back to Love. Rubio hasn’t spoken to his teammate about his reported trade request or his upcoming free agent decision, but plans to do so soon. If the reports are true, however, and that’s the way Love is leaning, then Rubio would try to convince him to stay — even though he knows that could be a very difficult process.
“It’s hard to convince someone who wants to leave,” Rubio said. “But I don’t know if he wants to leave or not; that’s the media. So I want to know his opinion. And it’s something that I don’t know yet, so I don’t know what to say to him. But of course, if I talked to him I’d say that I love to play with him and we can do great things tougher.”