Earlier this week, the Timberwolves put together a video to promote what was perhaps their biggest game of the season — a Saturday night home contest against the Cavaliers.
LeBron James is always a draw, but of course, this wasn’t about him. It was about Kevin Love returning for the first time as a member of the opposing team, after forcing his way out of town via trade last summer.
The video was clearly meant to be funny; it touted “The Return” of Mike Miller, who played one season with the Timberwolves back in 2009, and mentioned every relevant player on the Cavaliers roster — omitting Love from the clip entirely, and on purpose.
While Love himself said it was “hilarious,” Timberwolves president and head coach Flip Saunders criticized the organization for a gesture that he deemed to be disrespectful.
“I didn’t know about it,” Saunders said. “I didn’t approve of it. I think as an organization, we should be above that. We have to acknowledge that Kevin, when he was here, he was a great player for us. He was an All-Star, won an Olympic gold medal, did a lot of positive things.
“Last year at this time, everyone was patting themselves on the back for helping him get selected as a starter in the All-Star Game. And for us to not to acknowledge that and go the other way, I think it was hypocritical. As I had to address some of the people and I just told them that as an organization, that’s not the direction we want to go.” …
“It doesn’t matter if he thinks it’s funny,” Saunders said. “You have to decide what you want to do as an organization. Would San Antonio do that? No. They wouldn’t do that. Our players didn’t like it. They have to play against him too. They don’t like it. It just doesn’t set the right message and if you’re here and then you leave, all of a sudden it’s not.
“Was it funny? Maybe people thought it was funny. For me it wasn’t. I had to deal with three and half, four hours the last two days having people calling me and talking about it while I’m trying to prepare for games. Maybe you think it’s OK. That’s up to you. You can look at it that way, but I don’t look at it that way. As someone running an organization and has to go out and recruit players and to get those player. He may have thought it was funny, but I know deep down in his heart no one likes it. No one would like that. It’s human nature.”
Some may view it s harmless, but Saunders has a point, here.
The Timberwolves were unable to retain Love in free agency because they were unable to put together a winning roster around him during his six seasons in Minnesota. At some point, Saunders is going to acquire some top-level talent via trade or through the draft (like Andrew Wiggins, for example), and he’d like to be able to get those players to re-sign.
If the winning remains slow to come, and they see the organization as one that acts disrespectfully toward its players (even if that doesn’t happen until after they’re gone), it simply sends the wrong message.
Saunders knows that trying to recruit star free agents to sign in Minnesota will be difficult enough due to the constraints of the city itself. If the organization is viewed as a clown show around the league, it will make his job downright impossible.